In a week of political U-turns in the UK, Forest owner Evangelos Marinakis follows suit by offering Steve Cooper a contract extension just days after holding talks with potential replacements.
When Steve Cooper arrived at The City Ground just over a year ago, Nottingham Forest sat bleakly at the bottom of the Championship. Life in the second tier of English football is incredibly tough, so the grand expectation when the Welshman arrived at the former European giants was to guide them to safety. A year on, Nottingham Forest find themselves competing at their spiritual home; the top of the English football pyramid. To call Cooper’s achievement a footballing miracle is no exaggeration.
Forest had been plagued by poor financial management and woeful transfer strategies for so long that the culture at the club had become toxic. For him to galvanise a battered and bruised squad of players and mould them into the most fierce and feared Championship team was simply astonishing. To exorcise the playoff demons that had haunted Forest for a generation and see them promoted at Wembley was a historic and moving day for the people of Nottingham.
Subsequently, Forest fans have an unrivalled loyalty toward Cooper not too dissimilar to that of the late Brian Clough. To even be mentioned in the same sentence as the great man himself (Clough won, amongst other things, consecutive European cups with Forest in ‘79 & ’80) is a sign of how significant last season’s promotion was.
So despite a poor run of games which has seen Forest lose to relegation rivals Bournemouth and Fulham, Forest fans have not forgotten or forsaken the Welshman. In stark contrast though, following the 4-0 loss to local rivals Leicester just over a week ago, leaked reports to the media suggested that our often tempestuous owner, Evangelos Marinakis, had perhaps grown weary.
Numerous reputable journalists reported that the owner had held preliminary talks with Rafa Benitez and Cooper was on the verge of the sack. This news spread like wildfire amongst the Forest faithful and within hours, Twitter had become a virtual protest scene, with plans to demonstrate their commitment to Cooper at the next home game against Aston Villa in full flow.
The intensity of support for Cooper quickly caught the attention of the Marinakis family and, in a week of political U-turns in the UK, a more significant one occurred for the people of Nottingham. On Friday, despite reports earlier in the week that he was about to be sacked, Nottingham Forest officially announced that Steve Cooper had signed a two-and-a-half-year contract extension.
The surprise and shock shook the City and the Forest fanbase shared a collective sigh of relief. After some robust board meetings, the noises from those inside the club suggest it was the overwhelming support from fans that shifted the odds in Cooper’s favour and saw him entrusted with the long-term control of the club.
So Steve Cooper, in the harsh and brutal world of Premier League football, lives to fight another day. We should not kid ourselves though, the Greek owner and his 24-year-old son Miltiadis are increasingly involved in the day-to-day running of the club, something which doesn’t bode well for most Premier League sides.
CEO Dane Murphy, the man responsible for bringing in Steve Cooper, appears to be on his last legs with the hierarchy appearing to leak damaging stories about the American mastermind. Moreover, Cooper may have narrowly avoided the cull, but Head of Recruitment George Syrianos and Head Scout Andy Scott have been the first Forest causalities of the season.
Regardless, Forest fans are relieved to see the iconic Cooper remaining at the helm. Their 1-1 draw against Aston Villa on Monday was not only a step in the right direction but a resounding reminder to the Forest owners of how important Cooper is to the City and the fans.
At kick-off, the fans behind one goal adorned a huge flag showing a fist-pumping Cooper atop a sign reading ‘Leader of the Garibaldi’. Behind the opposite goal was a tifo display that read ‘We’ve come so far and we’ve only just begun.’
This tasteful statement was a polite reminder to the Marinakis family that whilst he holds the keys to the vault, Cooper holds the keys to the hearts of the people. The vast majority of Forest fans want a culture, not a play toy for the rich. They want stability, not a managerial merry-go-round and they’ll be hoping that their calls for Cooper to stay are adhered to in the long run.
Steve Cooper gave Forest fans their voice back, and Evangelo Marinakis heard them, a testament to people power and the weight of the fanbase’s opinion. How long this lasts remains to be seen, but the Greek owner’s U-turn in giving Cooper a contract extension was a definite victory for the little man.
It served as a reminder that owners are in fact custodians of significant community assets which ultimately belong to its people. Forest fans still believe that, with Cooper at the wheel, he can perform another miracle and keep the club where they belong.
By: Max Battiscombe-Scott / @thered1865
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / NurPhoto