Listening intently to Steve Clarke's plaintive appeal to Holyrood asking for supporters to be granted entry into Hampden for the European Championship finals there were a couple of footnotes that didn't generate quite the same headlines but were of greater interest nonetheless.

The Scotland manager's plea to first minister Nicola Sturgeon will likely fall on deaf ears but there was enough for others to digest when he got into the meat and bones of what his squad might look like this summer.

The good news for anyone who helped secure Scotland's first appearance at a major finals in more than two decades is that the time-served will likely keep their jerseys. The other main takeaway was that Scott McTominay will almost certainly move out of Clarke's back three, stepping further up the pitch to occupy his Manchester United role as a box-to-box midfielder with the Scotland head coach saying: “If I feel he is going to give more for the team in midfield I will put him back in that area.”

For someone such as Liam Cooper that might represent a glimmer of hope. The Leeds United man has featured in just five Scotland matches since making his debut in a Euro qualifying defeat by Russia at Hampden in 2019 and is not the first player you might think of on a list of candidates to shore up what has been a problematic position for Scotland for some time.

His status at Elland Road has been debated plenty. When Marcelo Bielsa was appointed manager at the Yorkshire club in 2018 it was expected that he would be part of a major clearout. Cooper had often been the subject of supporter ire under the Argentine's predecessors Thomas Christiansen and Paul Heckingbottom but instead Bielsa stuck by the English-born defender. The latter pair were coaches who played a low-possession game that relied heavily on last-ditch defending. When Bielsa took over, Leeds were encouraged to have more of the ball. Cooper would be tasked with feeding balls to deep-lying midfielder Kalvin Phillips, who would move it forward with greater intent. The transformation was marked and Cooper responded by playing a starring role in Leeds' Championship-promotion season, winning over fans in the process. When Bielsa asked his players to select a captain at the beginning of that season, Cooper was their unanimous choice.

Nevertheless, there were still doubts over his future at the club coming into the start of this campaign – not least when Bielsa dropped the best part of £30m on two new central defenders in the shape of Robin Koch from Freiburg and Diego Llorente from Real Sociedad. Intermittent injuries to that pair and the excellent form of Cooper in between has dispelled those doubts, however, and the speed of his adaptation to the Premier League – the 29-year-old was outstanding in the recent games against Leicester City, Crystal Palace and Wolves – has drawn praise from Bielsa.

“He's a player that defends very well,” said the Argentine last week. “He goes to face [up] very well and he's good with the ball. All of this he expresses with regularity in most games.”

Bielsa knows a defender when he sees one, of course. In Walter Samuel, Ivan Helguera and Roberto Ayala he has worked with centre-halves who were among the best in Europe in their day. Cooper is clearly not in that bracket but he is a survivor and a big character – traits that should not be overlooked in a tournament squad.

Against Aston Villa last night there was a chance to measure the extent of his progress but the course of the game was set very early on.

Anwar El-Ghazi's opener came from what might be considered Cooper's area, the Egyptian arriving with a late run to collect Ollie Watkins' mis-hit shot and side foot under the body of Leeds goalkeeper Illan Meslier after five minutes for what was to prove the only goal of the game. The Leeds centre-half was not culpable, though. The goal had come following an overhit Villa corner and he had merely done his job by sticking to Tyrone Mings, the man he had been detailed to mark

Following the early goal, Cooper settled into a familiar pattern: creating an outlet for his fellow defenders or midfielders to maintain possession and build attacks. There was the odd foot in or header here followed by a missed block there but these were neither crucial interventions nor dreadful rickets – it was by-the-numbers stuff.

One attacking header forced a save from Emiliano Martine in the Villa goal and there were a couple of quick balls forward that triggered dangerous attacks for Leeds: both are attributes that could be harnessed should Clarke need to turn to Cooper in the summer.

In November's Nations League defeat by Slovakia, he played one through ball to Ryan Christie that almost led to an equaliser for Stuart Armstrong. Meanwhile, he hit a post late on in the play-off against Israel. This is what you get with him – a steady defender who has a good range of passing and is an aerial presence in both boxes. There are question marks over positioning and it is easy to understand why there is a reluctance on Clarke's part to introduce him into a three-man backline especially when the wide players in that system have to be comfortable in the full-back areas – both with the ball and without it. Kieran Tierney – another player who is flourishing in English football this season – currently occupies that role and you wouldn't swap him for Cooper, either in a three-man defence or a four.

Nevertheless, he is a more than able deputy. In the second half, Villa allowed Leeds a greater share of possession but it was an even more comfortable 45 minutes for Cooper than he enjoyed in the first half – even if he ultimately ended up on the losing side.