Steve Cooper led the forest's battle for security. Photo: Twitter
In Steve Cooper's office, next to the portraits of Legendary Nottingham Forest manager Brian Clough, there is a painting by actor Denzel Washington with a quote below it.
“Lightness is a greater threat to progress than difficulties” .
This message perfectly captures Cooper's season in the Premier League, which is now ending in a triumph of survival despite many rough patches along the way. There were 30 new signings, a terrible road record, an alarming list of injuries, a World Cup hiatus and scrutiny of his future, but Cooper did his job, cementing his status as the best forest manager since Frank Clark, or perhaps even Clough himself.
Cooper won't get the Manager of the Year award, but 16th or 17th place is an achievement that cannot be overestimated. Having so many new players from different countries and different leagues and still managing to shape an identity, spirit and culture is why Cooper can think of a great season. He is first and foremost a coach, and almost all the new arrivals have improved over the season.
Take Taiwo Avoni, for example: he was raw in the first few months and clearly in need of work, but finishes the season with five goals in three games. The heroes of last season – Brennan Johnson, Ryan Yates and Joe Worrall – also proved that they belong to this level. Cooper's No. 1 target last summer, Morgan Gibbs-White was arguably the best player of the season and should be in contention for the senior England team.
While many clubs near them in the table such as Leeds, Everton and Leicester appeared to be in various levels of crisis, Forest has always been calm. There was never any doubt about the commitment of the players. They have demonstrated a reputation for responding to setbacks and working under pressure.
A cruel love for players
Tactically, Cooper was shrewd. In Saturday's victory over Arsenal, they devised the perfect plan to nullify the threat of Bukayo Saki and Martin Odegaard by limiting their space and doubling them down.
The secrets of Forest's history have been stitched together on the training ground, where everyone from players to staff are aligned. Cooper is good at communicating and encourages players to speak their mind, always referring to “everyday behavior”. There is a feeling of family and environment where everyone is together, regardless of their reputation.
Even those who weren't on the squad, including injured goaltender Dean Henderson and defenseman Steve Cooke (who didn't make the 25-man squad), traveled to away games to cheer on the players. Cooper will not tolerate anyone hurting team spirit and he can be ruthless. There have been rare instances, but the expulsion of Jonjo Shelvey from matchday teams after he reacted badly to being left out of a team that faced Liverpool last month is indicative of the consequences. While Jesse Lingard's off-pitch attitude was good, his Forest career effectively came to an end after a miserable first-half performance against Tottenham on 11 March.
Cooper's personal approach extends beyond his team. European Cup winners including John McGovern and Harry Birtles regularly visit the training facility. When Forest boxer and fan Lee Wood lost his WBA featherweight title in February, he was invited to Cooper's office a few days later in a show of support.
Nottingham, United The fans helped turn the games into Forest Path. Photo: AP/Rui Vieira
The Cooper effect also uplifted the city of Nottingham. Earlier this year, he held talks with Nottinghamshire Police Senior Constables, where he was thanked for his leadership and positive attitude towards the city where he now lives. The 43-year-old is so popular with fans that shopping trips to the city have to be planned with great care. He likes to relax by running, but even his runs are sometimes stopped by passers-by who ask to take a selfie.
Forest's City Ground has also proven to be extremely important this season, and Cooper has never lost sight of that. The team scored 30 of their 37 points in front of their supporters and every home match seems to be an event that brings back memories of those European Cup days. It looks like a magical place from the golden age, especially when the floodlights bounce off the River Trent during match nights.
It wasn't always like that. For many years, when the Forest was in decline, an uneasy atmosphere often reigned. A video of two fans in the hall arguing over who is entitled to the last pie has gone viral and reflected a mood of frustration. Fans on social media often wrote off new signings even before they kicked the ball.
Nevertheless, since Cooper's arrival, the City Ground has been a happy place: a new version of the famous Venus nightclub in the city center from the beginning of the 90s, when everyone smiles and as one.
For owner Evangelos Marinakis, survival represents the next stage in his plans to grow the club. He is determined to make Forest a solid Premier League club and his relegation would be a major step back.
A few problems remain with Financial Fair Play after their mammoth spending, but staying on your feet is critical in many ways. reasons: for example, it may be found that several players, including Shelvey, Chris Wood and Felipe, did not receive a pay cut during the downgrade event.
Marinakis deserves praise this season as well. Despite the fact that the Greek businessman is a demanding owner who can quickly voice his displeasure, the simple fact is that he did not fire Cooper. The danger of the destruction of the camp was too great, and his public statements in October and April brought clarity. He controlled himself when others would falter. Forest and West Ham are the only clubs in the bottom half of the table to stick to their managers and both have been rewarded.
Nottingham Forest owner Evangelos Marinakis (centre) celebrates in the stands with the victory over Southampton that helped his team on their way to the Premier League Survival Credit: Pennsylvania Academy/Mike Egerton and training facility upgrade
So what's next? It feels like there is still a lot of hard work ahead. After signing so many players during the season this summer, the focus is on a clear recruiting strategy that needs to be improved. There will be no outflow from last year.
Lingard will leave as a free agent and will consider a number of lucrative offers from around the world. Keylor Navas' loan from Paris Saint-Germain is set to expire and Forest will be seeking a permanent deal with Manchester United goalkeeper Henderson. While Henderson is also keen to sign, the situation will be determined by David De Gea's future at United. Renan Lodi, on loan from Atlético Madrid, is being considered for a permanent move, but Forest will first try to lower the option price by around £25m.
Recently appointed chief football officer Ross Wilson will be a key figure. He has already appointed Southampton's Tom Southwell as head of player analysis and a restructuring of scouting and recruitment is expected. The academy is also considered a priority and there are plans to further upgrade the training facilities.
Cooper, meanwhile, has highlighted his reputation as one of the best British Premier League managers. Achieving survival will be judged along with winning the England U17 World Cup and advancing to the Championship play-off final last season.
He leads Forest forward and holds it all together. After this weekend's final game at Crystal Palace, he will be taking a well deserved break to recharge. Only 12 weeks left before the madness kicks in again.
Another quote, this time from Clough: “I hope someone isn't stupid enough to write us off. "