Nottingham Forest win Play-Off Final, Steve Cooper, analysis, video, highlights, Brian Clough, comparisons, highlights, Premier League, promotion

Very few clubs can say they’ve been crowned as kings of Europe not just once, but twice.

Only one can say they’ve done that and also been relegated as low as the third tier in the national football pyramid.

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But now, at long last, Nottingham Forest are finally back where many feel they belong.

A 23-year exile from the Premier League finally came to an end for the Reds with a 1-0 victory in the Championship Play-Off Final enough to secure a return to the top flight.

It’s the latest chapter in what’s been nothing short of a rollercoaster spanning over four decades which has yielded seven trophies, four relegations and more false dawns than one’s sanity should typically be able to withstand.

The Premier League is light years away from when it last graced the turf at the City Ground in the 1998/1999 season.

But Forest, at least for now, has caught up with the times.

Yet the man who has returned the club to the promised land could not be more different than the one who led Forest in its most successful era.

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THE LEGEND BEHIND GREATEST ERA… AND IMMEDIATE DOWNFALL

You have to be something else to compare yourself to God, but then again, legendary manager Brian Clough was something else.

After a successful six-year period managing Forest’s arch rivals Derby County, Clough resigned along with Peter Taylor in 1973 after a bitter feud with the club’s board of directors.

Ill-fated spells with Brighton and Leeds followed, before Clough and Forest found each other in 1975.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Clough got the club promoted from Division Two (now the Championship) in just his second season in charge and would go on to keep the club in the top flight from 1977/78 until the 1992/93 season.

In that time, Forest achieved unprecedented success both in England and in Europe, with some of the top clubs in the country and the continent yet to match the club’s success.

Only Real Madrid, AC Milan, Bayern Munich, Liverpool, Barcelona, ​​Ajax, Inter Milan and Manchester United – a who’s who of heavyweight clubs – have won more European Cups than the East Midlands outfit.

In fact, since Forest won the famous back-to-back trophy in 1979 and 1980, only two clubs have achieved the same feat.

Brian Clough oversaw Forest’s most successful era. Picture: Allsport UK / AllsportSource: Getty Images

However, after the latter of the European Cup triumphs, Clough failed to lead Forest to another trophy until 1989 when the club won the League Cup.

As Clough had previously demonstrated, good things always come in two as Forest won the same trophy in the following season.

What made the manager so revered was that he never failed to speak his mind and reveal his true feelings on matters.

It was a primary reason as to why he was often overlooked for the England job, despite his tremendous success.

Clough was also never short on an iconic quote, either.

Forest’s stadium sits on the edge of the Trent River, a body of water that Clough describes as “lovely”.

Why?

Because he has “walked on it for 18 years.”

But for all of Clough’s God-like status he rightfully earned through his many achievements in Nottingham, there was nothing he could do to halt the club’s slide into the second tier in 1993.

He immediately resigned upon the club’s relegation and despite many, many managers who have sat in the City Ground dugout after him, none have ever quite had the same hold over the Forest faithful since.

That is, until September 21 last year.

Clough resigned after Forest were relegated from the Premier League in 1993. Picture: Allsport UK / AllsportSource: Getty Images

HOW COOPER KILLED FOREST WITH KINDNESS EN ROUTE TO HISTORIC RETURN

An unassuming character who had just one managerial gig at senior level, there were questions surrounding Steve Cooper’s appointment.

Before being hired by Swansea City in June 2019, Cooper had spent five years working with the younger age groups in the England set-up and even led the U17 team to victory in the 2017 U17 World Cup.

Cooper guided the Swans to the Play-Off Final in 2021, but fell agonisingly short as Brentford emerged victors before he left the club via mutual consent in the off-season.

Forest desperately needed new blood in the managerial position after Chris Hughton had led the side to its worst start to a season in 108 years, with Forest sitting in last place for 35 days.

Hughton was, unsurprisingly, moved aside.

But who could come in and take over what had become a poisoned chalice, given Forest had churned through 11 managers in the past decade?

Cooper was the man tasked with the gig, but he wasn’t exactly an inspiring hire.

TalkSPORT pundit Simon Jordan was one voice who expressed concerns about Cooper taking over at the City Ground.

Cooper didn’t arrive at the City Ground to widespread fanfare. (Photo by Tony Marshall / Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

“He (Cooper) can lift them in the very nature of his presence and he can give a different voice and change the direction of travel for a period of time,” Jordan said in September.

“But they (Forest) will revert to their level and he’s going to need to recalibrate the playing squad and the interesting bit will be if he’s given that support.

“Cooper must be seeing something there in an opportunity for Forest for him, because his stock is quite high, he’s gone to Nottingham Forest. So he must be told something different or he’s taken one hell of a punt. “

It was a punt that paid off.

Under Cooper, Forest went from staring relegation to League One in the face and didn’t just put smiles back on the faces of Reds fans.

As The Athletic’s Daniel Taylor writes, Cooper has done so much more than just win over the most important organ of any football fan.

“But it is more than just results that have earned the 42-year-old Welshman a place in the hearts of Forest supporters,” Taylor said.

“It is the fact Cooper just seems to have an intrinsic grasp of this club and what it means to their fans.

“He gets it.”

Cooper killed his players with kindness. (Photo by Michael Regan / Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

Even Curtis Davies, the captain of Derby County, can appreciate the incredible job that Cooper has done at the Rams’ bitter rivals.

“He’s found a way of keeping people onside,” Davies said The Athletic.

“He keeps them ready and keeps them motivated.

“A hands-on coach but one who people want to work for.”

Perhaps Joe Worrall, a Forest academy product who made his debut in 2016, is best positioned to comment on the gargantuan impact Cooper has made on the club given he has played under six different permanent managers at the Reds.

Worrall used the metaphor of how to treat a dog as a way to describe the impact the Welshman has had on the team.

“If you treat any dog ​​with kindness, then they become a nice dog,” Worrall said after the Play-Off Final triumph.

“If you mistreat one, then they’re aggressive, and we were, we’ve been a mistreated team.

“He’s come in and he’s given us that hope, given us that belief and he’s just been so nice.

“He’s just killed us with kindness and the fans absolutely adore him, absolutely adore him.”

Steve Cooper has got Forest back to where they feel they belong. (Photo by Adrian DENNIS / AFP)Source: AFP

Cooper is no Clough, but he doesn’t need to be.

He’s brought joy and hope to a club that was oh-so-close to slipping into a state of hypnosis that would simply accept mid-table mediocrity.

Now, with the club back in the Premier League for the first time in 23 years, fans can dare to dream.

Staying up will be no simple feat, especially with the alarmingly wide gap between the teams at the top end and bottom end of the top flight.

But ever since Cooper has arrived, the impossible has now become possible.

With a contract until the end of the 2022/23 season, Forest will want to tie him down to ensure dreams continue to turn into reality for years to come.

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