Brennan Johnson is set to become a breakout star of the Premier League campaign, Neco Williams will replace Spence at right wing-back and Jesse Lingard will sought after his best form as Steve Cooper continues to chase history with Nottingham Forest
- Steve Cooper is already Nottingham Forest’s most popular manager for years
- He guided the club from the bottom of the Championship to promotion in May
- The Welshman has also secured the services of Jesse Lingard for next season
- The manager has also promised more signings to add to the 12 already made
Mention ‘Brian Clough’ or ‘European Cups’ to most Nottingham Forest managers this century, and they usually run a mile. But as he prepares for the club’s first top-flight campaign since 1998-99, Steve Cooper is embracing that glorious history.
The Welshman is already Forest’s most popular manager for years, after steering the club from the bottom of the Championship when he took over last September, to promotion via the play-offs in May. And if he was hoping to draw breath this summer, Cooper will have been disappointed.
Jesse Lingard has been the biggest name of an eye-catching recruitment drive that has cost Forest about £85million – with the promise of more signings to add to the 12 already made.
Steve Cooper has already become Nottingham Forest’s most popular manager for years
Ahead of his team’s opening day fixture at Newcastle, Cooper vowed the spending would continue, with Wolves attacking midfielder Morgan Gibbs-White – valued at about £30million by his club – high on the agenda.
‘I think there will be more ins and outs,’ said Cooper. ‘We had no alternative other than to make the amount of changes we have made and are continuing to make.
‘In an ideal world we would have liked to carry on with a large part of the team from last season and added in the areas we thought we needed.
‘We had five players on loan last season and players out of contract this summer. Even if we were still in the Championship we would have made the same number of changes.’
He guided the club from the bottom of the Championship to promotion via the playoff in May
As a result, the Nottingham Forest faithful (pictured above) have fallen in love with the boss
Any club who spend heavily after promotion risk being compared to Fulham, who committed £105m on 10 players in the summer of 2018 and were promptly relegated.
Cooper was careful to avoid such discussion though he knows the answers will come only when the action begins. Forest need players like Lingard to shine from the off, as he is the sole player – with the possible exception of on-loan Manchester United goalkeeper Dean Henderson – with significant Premier League experience.
When Djed Spence, James Garner, Philip Zinckernagel and Keinan Davis returned to their parent clubs after loan spells, it left a hole in the Forest team that needed plugging. Assuming Cooper sticks to the 3-4-1-2 system that won promotion, record signing Taiwo Awoniyi will take Davis’ role alongside Brennan Johnson – a potential breakout star of the Premier League campaign – in attack, while Lingard would replace Zinckernagel just behind the forwards.
The Welshman has also secured the services of Jesse Lingard for the 2022-23 campaign
If his performances for Wales against top opposition are a guide, Neco Williams looks a decent successor to Spence at right wing-back while the jury is out on Forest’s midfield. Lewis O’Brien proved himself a tidy operator for Huddersfield and with Ryan Yates injured, Orel Mangala – signed from Stuttgart – should partner him.
Cooper is a fine coach and a good man but he is facing a huge task. On the field, he must ensure the new boys blend effectively with the old guard – no easy task when players signed after promotion are often given higher salaries than those who delivered it.
Off it, the wealthy but volatile owner Evangelos Marinakis will expect a rapid return on his investment, while his son Miltiadis has considerable influence.
Then there is chief executive Dane Murphy, director of football Kyriakos Dourekas, head of scouting Andy Scott and former CEO Ioannis Vrentzos, who remains on the board. There will be difficult moments this season and unity behind the scenes is as important in the boardroom as on the pitch.
He promises to sign more players and the likes of Morgan Gibbs-White is high on the agenda
You don’t win points for impressive press conferences but so far Cooper has been pitch-perfect. He expressed optimism about Forest’s prospects without being reckless. He has an instinctive understanding of the relationship between the club and its fans in the city. Most of all, he has no fear of the past and cherishes his time with the European Cup winners of 1979 and 1980.
‘I love talking for hours with John McGovern and Gary Birtles and John Robertson,’ Cooper revealed. ‘You often hear people talking about Nottingham Forest being an historic club and one of the big reasons is Mr Clough, the teams he put together and the success that they had.
‘I’m interested in the history. It helps me be the best head coach here because you know who you’re representing.’