The inside story of Nottingham Forest’s remarkable renaissance
Cooper’s philosophy is to play forward and backward with speed, crossing the lines. The focus is always on how Forest can dominate the ball and score goals: Leicester’s 4-1 thrashing in the FA Cup was Cooper’s vision in full HD format.
Against his former club Swansea on Saturday, Cooper’s side had just 30 per cent possession but still missed out on 5-1 wins, proof that it’s not the amount of the ball that matters to him, but what his team does.
Cooper can be flexible – one of his most satisfying moments this season was a tactical adjustment against rivals Derby, when he switched from a back three to a back four in the first half – and is also happy to accept feedback from its players. He prefers a non-hierarchical approach, where experienced squad members are encouraged to speak up.
Forest captain Lewis Grabban and Steve Cook have been invaluable this season, although some fans may be surprised that Gaëtan Bong – who hasn’t played this year – is also an influential figure.
While Hughton was determined to time well, Cooper prefers to trust his players. Anyone who is late is then considered letting the group down, which, for Cooper, is a more serious punishment than a fine.
Cooper also takes a personal touch when signing players: He convinced Cook and Keinan Davis to sign in January by holding lengthy Zoom chats, outlining his philosophy and telling them where they would fit into his team. Another side of Cooper that exemplifies his personal touch is the way he has rounded up office staff, frequently visiting them after training to make it clear that the club has an ‘just as one’ mentality.
Backroom staff and attention to detail are key to success
He will point to his behind-the-scenes staff as crucial figures in the turnaround. First-team coaches Alan Tate and Steven Reid are highly experienced, with long playing careers, while head of analysis Steve Rands worked under Pep Guardiola and Frank Lampard. Former England and Everton sports science manager David Tivey has meanwhile helped make Forest one of the most in-form sides in the division.
“There’s a lot of meeting and attention to detail,” Cook said. “Everything is explained how we play in a certain way and if we lose games we know exactly why.
“The training is very tactical, with a good variety of drills, and everyone is fully prepared for the matches.”
The training ground is vitally important to Cooper. Very early in his tenure, a new £20,000 auditorium was created, where team and individual meetings are held.
Substantial investment has also gone into pitch improvements, cameras and analysis software, with director of football Kyriakos Dourekas and head of football operations Ed Henderson overseeing the restructuring.
It is these small adjustments that usher Forest into a new era and meet the demands of a big club.
Evangelos Marinakis, the club’s owner, is fully on board and speaks regularly with Cooper. Managing Director Dane Murphy was appointed last summer and was recently named CEO of the Year by FC Business magazine.
Marinikas’ January backing is seen as key, with the signings of Cook, Davis and £2m striker Sam Surridge proving a masterstroke, and it can be revealed Forest have also been making serious attempts to sign Spartak Moscow’s Victor Moses in March.
Moïse was available after special dispensation was granted by Fifa and UEFA following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but the talks broke down.
Now the focus is on Bournemouth with the match postponed to February, an intriguing subplot.
Forest were frustrated when Bournemouth called off the game less than four hours before kick-off due to high winds, even filing a complaint with the Football League.
Automatic promotion is now in play, with Forest determined to continue their upward streak. As Brian Clough once said, “I hope no one is stupid enough to write us off.”