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Steve Cooper sacked as Nottingham Forest manager

Steve Cooper will never go down as Nottingham Forest's greatest ever manager.

Whatever Cooper has done in over two years at the City Ground – and he has achieved a lot – he's clever enough, canny enough to know that at Forest there is Brian Clough, and then there is everyone else.

But while there will only ever be one Cloughie, there is also only one Steve Cooper, a man who transformed a club in decline and a coach, who even in the final throes of his reign, still enjoyed large swathes of support from a fanbase who owed him so much.

A quiet man, an accomplished man manager, a thoughtful coach and the man who put Nottingham Forest back on the football map, his place in City Ground folklore, behind Clough of course, is both assured and deserved.

Unassuming star who brought Forest back to the big time

The only way was up for Steve Cooper when he succeeded Chris Hughton at Forest in September 2021.

The club were in their 14th successive season in the Championship, had not been in the Premier League since 1999 and were now suddenly fearing a campaign of struggle after a terrible start.

Cooper's credentials were well known. The former head of Liverpool's academy, an age-group coach with England and to prove he could cut it in the EFL in his first two seasons as head coach at Swansea, he guided them to the Championship play-offs.

Cooper's job was relatively easy, in that any success would be clung to by fed-up Forest fans, but it took him a while to put his stamp on the team and the club.

Early murmurs about playing style, however, were quickly forgotten as Forest started to win and win well and a run of just two defeats from the end of January meant a play-off place was banked, when a few months earlier a relegation scrap had been predicted.

Sheffield United were beaten on penalties in the semi-finals, Huddersfield pipped 1-0 at Wembley in the final, and Forest, after a wait of 23 years, had risen back to football's top table. The players were lauded and rightly so but nearly all of the praise went to Cooper.

Second season syndrome claims another scalp

Promotion secured, Cooper went on an almost endless spending spree in the transfer window, bringing in a total of 22 new faces. It didn't stop Forest going off favourites for relegation and there were questions asked about integrating such a huge influx of new faces when they lost six of their first eight league games, including drubbings at Manchester City and Leicester.

They stayed in and around the relegation zone for much of the season, yet despite sustaining blow after blow, the City Ground continued to rock with support for the manager vociferous, both from the fans and also owner Evangelos Marinakis.

His patience eventually wore thin with Forest down in 19th place with only a handful of games left, the Greek businessman suggesting ominously that results must improve.

And in the nick of time, they did. And spectacularly.

Forest took 11 points from their last six matches, including a magnificent 2-2 draw at Chelsea and a 1-0 win over title-chasing Arsenal at the City Ground where the crackling atmosphere was still being talked about long after the dust on the campaign had settled.

This season, the second season, always felt like it would be a struggle, and so it has proved. Brennan Johnson's exit to Tottenham was offset by the arrival of Anthony Elanga from Manchester United and there is still much to like in players like veterans Serge Aurier and Willy Boly, flier Morgan Gibbs-White and striker Taiwo Awoniyi, who started the season so well.

But it's a tougher school the Premier League these days – everybody is improving.

And having been effectively warned by Marinakis in the spring, there was always the sense that another bad run would not be tolerated.

What next for Forest – and Cooper?

Removing a manager is the easy part; replacing a popular one is harder and Marinakis knows he has to get Cooper's successor right.

Marco Silva, the man who guided Fulham to the 5-0 win over Forest which left Cooper on the brink, was being talked up, especially as he had coached for Marinakis at Olympiacos.

Julen Lopetegui, recently of Wolves, and Pedro Martins, hugely successful for Marinakis at Olympiacos are also names in the frame.

However, it seems as though another ex-Wolves boss is set to take on the role at the City Ground, with reports suggesting Nuno Espirito Santo is primed to be appointed.

As for Cooper, he's too humble, too gracious, too able to be out of work for long. 

There are one or two clubs at the foot of the Premier League who haven't jumped yet - the likes of Crystal Palace, Luton and Burnley - and one does wonder if their owners might not be tempted by the thought of Cooper being available.

In four full seasons as a club manager, he has reached the Championship play-offs three times, winning promotion at the third attempt, and kept the jollies for the drop in the Premier League. And that's a top CV by any measure.


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