As Nottingham Forest face their first Premier League campaign this century, it remains to be seen what will happen. But after spending around £80m on transfers, it’s safe to say Steve Cooper’s team is not just here to make up the numbers
Nottingham Forest are the seventh biggest spenders in Europe. Or England. Or, maybe, Nottingham. Anyway, having spent around £80m on 12 players — with more to come — lots of pundits seem to be having tantrums about it for some reason.
The Reds are also one of the four best-backed teams to finish in the top four, at 200/1,
according to Betfair. It’s probably a very good way of losing money, but it demonstrates the excitement, expectation and enthusiasm for Forest’s return to the Premier League.
We haven’t been outbid or in crazy competition for any of our targets. We’ve followed a very sensible, methodical approach to transfers — seeking value and potential, as well as experience. And the final few additions were always going to take longer; sometimes you can’t get your first choice, sometimes it’s a matter of working out where you have to spend time as well as money.
It was always likely that having broken our transfer record for Taiwo Awoniyi, we’d probably break it again. Defensively, you’d argue we were pretty sound. But goal-scorers and -makers are always in high demand. And when the only other player you’ve bought from another Premier League club (Neco Williams) was a defender — where the club and player were open to a move — it’s likely that another, such as Morgan Gibbs-White, would cost well in excess of £20m.
But this doesn’t answer the question. What’s going to happen? Nobody really knows. We haven’t faced this test in 23 years (in case you haven’t been reminded in the past few weeks) and we have 11 new faces in the squad who have yet to face a competitive game together. Only Steve Cook, Jack Colback, Dean Henderson, Wayne Hennessey and Jesse Lingard have any real Premier League experience — and if we’d wanted a first XI with Premier League experience, we’d be looking at a transfer budget in excess of £200m.
You only have to look at what established Premier League clubs are spending on players to know the difference — Lisandro Martinez cost Manchester United £46m, Marc Cucurella cost Chelsea £80m, Erling Haaland cost Manchester City £51m, Darwin Nunez cost Liverpool £85m…
And while we all know that ‘doing a Fulham’ is just lazy journalism… the fact remains that 2018 was a disastrous summer of recruitment for the West London side, while the likes of Wolverhampton Wanderers, Aston Villa, Brighton & Hove Albion and West Ham United have all spent big money after promotion from the Championship — and survived.
But key to the whole equation is Steve Cooper and the new structure at the City Ground — Miltiadis Marinakis has taken a more hands-on approach, Dane Murphy has quietly ushered in a new era of professionalism, and the recruitment team are driven by a data-driven, sustainable strategy. For once — perhaps the first time in a decade — everyone is pulling in the same direction.
Some have concerns that we won’t have the same feeling, the same spirit, as last season. The togetherness that was there, the belief, is something that will be hard to replicate. But the Nottingham-born spine of the team remains — Joe Worrall, Ryan Yates, Brennan Johnson — and that’s really where it starts. If we can create that bond between the fans and the players, the club and the city, with a bunch of loan players, then there’s no reason we can’t recreate it with a new squad ready to prove themselves in the Premier League.
Arguably, this team could become more Steve Cooper than last season’s… Having parachuted into the club last September, the players he inherited suited his style of play. But he was working with what he had, and the astute additions in January only bolstered that. Now shaping the club, team, squad and players as he wants, Cooper’s philosophy can be firmly embedded with the new additions. As Jesse Lingard describes it, “the project” could become the full realisation of the manager’s vision.
Undoubtedly this will take time, but the continuity that remains in the side (Worrall, Yates, Colback, Cook, McKenna) and Cooper’s coaching will ensure we aren’t sending out a first XI of strangers. All of his methods, man-management, training and experience will be in play, and you know that regardless of the result or the performance, the team will give it their all.
Cooper told the BBC this week: “There is focus. We are under no illusions and it will be incredibly tough, game in, game out. Everyone is trying to get as prepared as possible. We have to believe in our work, ourselves. If we don’t then why should anyone else?
“You have to try to thrive off the challenge. So many players and staff work to try to get an opportunity in the Premier League. We don’t want to have negative emotions going into it. We really believe in our work — what we can do — and that we can be more than a good match against any opponent. We will have that approach and other objectives internally.”
Maybe we’ll hit the ground running; keep it tight at the back, contain the opposition, create a chance or two. Maybe we’ll grow into the league, losing games but keeping belief in the process. Maybe we’ll, on occasion, surprise everyone.
The real answer is that we don’t know. What we do know, is that we’re not here to make up the numbers. What we’re certainly not doing is ‘a Norwich’. And what we all know — based on everything that’s happened in the past 12 months — is that we have every reason to believe in the club and the manager, in a way that we haven’t had reason to this century. Enjoy the ride.