Embracing the club’s illustrious past, turning the City Ground into a fortress and helping Morgan Gibbs-White blossom – How Steve Cooper has gone from facing the sack to giving Nottingham Forest a fighting chance of beating relegation
- Steve Cooper’s prospects look bleak when Forest were bottom in October
- Cooper has led Forest up the Premier League table despite facing challenges
- Sportsmail takes a look at how Cooper has boosted club’s survival hopes
Nottingham Forest are one of only four clubs in the bottom half of the table who haven’t changed managers this season.
Steve Cooper’s survival prospects looked bleak on October 3 when Forest were hammered 4-0 at Leicester and were last with four points from eight games.
But in his darkest moment, the supporters made their support clear and owner Evangelos Marinakis backed him with a new contract.
Since then, Cooper has helped Forest and their 30 post-promotion signings rise to 14th though Sunday’s home game against Everton still looks a six-pointer.
Sportsmail takes a look at how and why Cooper has defied the odds so far..
Steve Cooper appeared on the brink of being sacked in October but has defied the odds
Nottingham Forest owner Evangelos Marinakis backed Cooper with a new contract
ACKNOWLEDGING THE HISTORY
Steve Cooper is adored in Nottingham for the way he has embraced the club’s illustrious past rather than be cowed by hit.
That philosophy has created an enormous sense of goodwill towards him and the club, both inside the stadium and throughout the city itself.
Cooper’s experience as an academy coach at Liverpool has been invaluable in him understanding how you can ally a big club mentality yet keep it family and community-friendly.
Kenny Dalglish was a regular presence at the Kirkby academy. Cooper understood and appreciated what he meant to Liverpool. He’s similarly respectful to the legacy Brian Clough at Nottingham Forest and sometimes joins his former players for their Thursday lunch club.
‘Steve uses the club’s history as inspiration and loves hearing the old tales,’ says Frank Clark, a European Cup winner with Forest. ‘But he’s also astute. Of course he realises that was then and this is now.’
Cooper’s understanding helped buy him time when the team was struggling and there are many who would want to keep him in post even if Forest are relegated – believing he’d be the best man to bring them back up.
Cooper has embraced the club’s illustrious history and the legacy of Brian Clough
FORTRESS CITY GROUND
There have been few better sounds this season than a packed City Ground belting out Mull of Kintyre at full volume.
The benefit has been felt on the pitch. 19 of Forest’s 25 points this season have been achieved on home soil, the ninth-best in the division.
Liverpool have been defeated, Manchester City and Chelsea held at the City Ground. Their last league defeat at home was back in September against Fulham.
The atmosphere is old-school in the best meaning of the word. Liverpool were visibly shell-shocked by the enthusiasm that greeted Taiwo Awoniyi’s winner against them.
‘The Liverpool win was big, around the nostalgia of the game as well. We pleased many generations of fans,’ acknowledged Cooper.
Even under pressure against very good teams, the support has given Forest defence extra energy to keep the ball out. In four home league games since the World Cup, they’ve conceded only twice against Chelsea, City, Leicester and Leeds.
The City Ground has become a fortress with 19 of Forest’s 25 points having been won at home
Liverpool are among the sides to have suffered defeat at the City Ground this season
GIBBS-WHITE IN THE CONTACTS BOOK
As England Under 17s coach, Cooper worked with the cream of English talent. He won the World Cup with Phil Foden, Jadon Sancho, Marc Guehi and Conor Gallagher and also had a good relationship with Morgan Gibbs-White, who became Forest’s marquee signing last summer in a deal that could reach £42.5million.
Though the price tag was questioned by many, Gibbs-White has blossomed under Cooper, giving them a creative edge all teams near the bottom crave.
Even the great Casemiro had trouble with Gibbs-White even though United ran out Carabao Cup semi-final winners against Forest.
‘Gibbs-White was a threat and Casemiro had a couple of difficult moments against him, having the ball pinched off him,’ reflected Gary Neville.
Cooper’s time with The FA means he can pick up the phone to a wide range of people including England manager Gareth Southgate.
It also helped develop his coaching style in handling and getting the best out of excellent young players. Brennan Johnson has been a revelation in his first season in the Premier League and is Forest’s top scorer with seven goals, also adding a couple of assists.
The fee paid for Morgan Gibbs-White was questioned but he has blossomed under Cooper
Cooper’s time at the FA boosted his contacts book and proved he could develop young players
DIPLOMACY AT THE UNITED NATIONS
Forest have famously signed 30 players since promotion in May. So many that Cooper hasn’t even been able to fit them all into his Premier League squad.
His players come from all over the globe, from Costa Rica to New Zealand, Switzerland to Ghana. Forging a team spirit is not easy and it’s testament to Cooper’s man-management skills that the dressing-room has appeared united in trying circumstances.
The group have regularly met up away from the club to have dinner and get to know each other better. Even those who haven’t kicked a ball this season like Lyle Taylor are invited so nobody is excluded and they all feel in it together.
Cooper demands high standards – some games like the FA Cup defeat at Blackpool or last weekend’s 4-0 defeat at West Ham have been slammed as ‘unacceptable’ – but in the everyday working environment, he prefers to put an arm around the shoulder and understand players rather than berate them.
Cooper has faced the challenge of building a united dressing room amid an influx of players
Chris Wood is among 30 signings made by Nottingham Forest since their promotion
Cooper had labelled Forest’s 4-0 defeat to West Ham on Saturday as ‘unacceptable’
‘There has never been a thought of not having enough investment. Now we have gone up a league the owner has provided best he can,’ says Cooper.
‘We want to make sure we do as well as we can. We’ve tried to put a squad together that gives us the best chance to compete at this level. There is no hiding place in this league.’
It’s a sign of the times that experienced Steve Cook, brought in to provide knowhow, couldn’t force his way into the squad for the second half of the season but his influence might still be important around the training ground.
‘If you don’t believe, you will be relegated but I’ve not seen any lack of confidence in this group,’ he says.
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