new era | 

Why Nottingham Forest needed to step away from Brian Clough’s legacy to rise again

Echoes of the past are inevitable when you pay a visit to the club Clough guided to back-to-back European Cup wins.

NOTTINGHAM, ENGLAND - AUGUST 14: Steve Cooper, Manager of Nottingham Forest celebrates their sides victory after the Premier League match between Nottingham Forest and West Ham United at City Ground on August 14, 2022 in Nottingham, England. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images© Getty Images

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - AUGUST 20: James Tarkowski of Everton and Dean Henderson challenge for the ball during the Premier League match between Everton and Nottingham Forest at Goodison Park on August 20, 2022 in Liverpool, United Kingdom. (Photo by Emma Simpson/Everton FC via Getty Images)© Everton FC via Getty Images

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - AUGUST 20: Everton player Alexander Iwobi is challenged by Notts Forest striker Jesse Lingard during the Premier League match between Everton FC and Nottingham Forest at Goodison Park on August 20, 2022 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)© Getty Images

GRIMSBY, ENGLAND - AUGUST 23: Cheikhou Kouyate of Nottingham Forest leaves the pitch injured during the Carabao Cup Second Round match between Grimsby Town and Nottingham Forest at Blundell Park on August 23, 2022 in Grimsby, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)© Getty Images

NOTTINGHAM, ENGLAND - AUGUST 14: Steve Cooper, Manager of Nottingham Forest celebrates their sides victory after the Premier League match between Nottingham Forest and West Ham United at City Ground on August 14, 2022 in Nottingham, England. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images© Getty Images

Kevin PalmerSunday World

IT’S almost as if Nottingham Forest needed to get as far away as possible from their glory days under Brian Clough before their comeback could begin.

Echoes of the past are inevitable when you pay a visit to the club Clough guided to back-to-back European Cup wins, with their successes in 1979 and 1980 among the most remarkable in football history.

The trouble is, Forest have never been a ‘big’ club in terms of their supporter base or financial potential – and it meant that those European Cup wins set a benchmark of expectation that could never been matched.

Therein lies Forest’s biggest problem.

The two stars proudly embroidered into their red jersey symbolise the club’s improbable victories against Europe’s giants, but they have also acted as reminder of what has gone before them for those who followed.

Some 18 managers tried and failed to get Forest back into the Premier League since their most recent relegation in 1999, with Chris Hughton the last to be beaten by the City Ground curse as he was sacked last September.

Hughton had a reputation for reviving clubs in the second tier of English football.

When he failed at the City Ground, it seemed as if the rot that has long since set in at Forest was too deep-rooted to reverse.

Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane were another high profile duo that tried and failed to revive the dormant giant who had been sleeping for so long that its golden days were becoming increasingly hard to recall.

Like so many clubs that slipped out of the Premier League, the path back is laced with tripwires that leave lasting scars with each passing year.

“The situation I had at Nottingham Forest was tough to deal with on many levels and it knocks you when go through something like that, there’s no doubt about that,” Hughton told the Sunday World last year.

“There were too many things wrong, and I just couldn’t find a way to turn it around. We wanted to get certain players out and others in, but it didn’t work. It was one that beat me.”

Hughton’s post-mortem could have been read by so many defeated Forest managers and with his exit, it seemed as if the club had run out of options.

Then, from nowhere, the tide turned in unfathomable fashion, as the appointment of Steve Cooper as Hughton’s successor produced instant results.

Cooper was hired with a brief to keep Forest in the Championship, after a woeful start to the season sparked fears that a dip into League One was now a real danger.

So what followed was truly one of the great sporting revivals of the modern game.

With Cooper inspiring a run of results that reached a crescendo at Wembley in May, as Forest won the Championship play-off final against Huddersfield.

For a side that collected one point from their first seven matches last season, their end destination was impossible to imagine, and yet Cooper found a formula that eluded so many before him.

What seemed like an impossible promotion dream suddenly become reality last May, with the man behind the story struggling to comprehend the enormity of his achievement.

“We reminded the world of how special and big this club is and it meant so much to be the manager who took them back to the Premier League,” said Cooper.

“We’ve been desperate for this and the supporters might have questioned if they would ever see Forest back where they should be.

“It is a magical football club and we reminded the world of that.”

What happened next has raised more than a few eyebrows, but not those associated with Forest.

A glance at the Premier League spending charts for this summer’s transfer window confirms that Cooper’s newly promoted side sit second to Chelsea as the biggest spenders, with £143.5m spent on 17 new arrivals that have changed the face of the team Cooper carried to promotion.

Dean Henderson, Jesse Lingard, Morgan Gibbs-White and Cheikhou Kouyaté are among the players who have added a touch of top-flight sparkle to the Forest ranks, with the billionaire bankrolling their spending confirming he will not stop here.

Greek shipping tycoon Evangelos Marinakis bought Forest in 2017, and quickly outlined his lavish plans to take the club back to the top.

Initial scepticism over his arrival, was fuelled by negative media reports questioning how he had acquired his £700m fortune.

Those claims were later dismissed and then Marinakis developed a reputation for hiring and firing managers at an alarming rate.

The owner who also has a controlling share in Greek club Olympiakos was portrayed as something of a destabilising influence, but he hit the jackpot when he appointed Cooper and steered the ship away from the choppy waters that had become all too familiar.

With former Ireland international Andy Reid alongside him as one of his assistants, Cooper heads into today’s game against Tottenham after an encouraging start to the season that has served up a win against West Ham and a draw against Everton last weekend.

“It has been a good start to the season, but we understand this is a big step up,” added the Forest boss.

“We have done a lot of due diligence on the character of the players we wanted to bring into the squad and even though I’d love to have kept the team we had last season, we needed to give ourselves the best opportunity to be able to compete. That’s all we’re trying to do.

Dangerous

“Tottenham Hotspur is another massive challenge for us. The coach they have, the players they have, they are really dangerous opponents, but this is why we want to be in the Premier League.

“You look at the names on their team-sheet and we should be proud to be part of it. We’ve all worked hard to get to this point and we have to believe in ourselves.”

This may be the same club that Clough took to extraordinary successes, but it feels like his imposing shadow has finally been lifted from the man now sitting in his former office.

A new era is underway at Nottingham Forest after more than two decades of relentless misery – and finally, their fans can start dreaming all over again.


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