'Super dad' Steve Cooper is plotting another Nottingham Forest miracle

'Super dad' Steve Cooper is plotting another Nottingham Forest miracle

Nottingham Forest’s home form kept them in the Premier League – Getty Images/Robbie Jay Barratt

It is around 10.30am at the start of another double training session and Steve Cooper is standing in the centre-circle with a ball under one arm and a whistle in his hand.

The scene is Nottingham Forest’s training camp near Valencia, with the Parador de El Saler golf course and Mediterranean coast in the background, and these are the crucial moments of pre-season for Cooper.

In broiling temperatures of more than 30 degrees celsius, Forest’s players listen intently to their head coach as he delivers instructions ahead of a drill which focuses on playing out from the back.

Small details are vital for Cooper and his staff, and this week in eastern Spain is where they build the culture, behaviours and working environment for the squad.

Forest are preparing for only their second Premier League campaign in 24 years and the message is clear: everything needs to be better this time around.

They were the club who infamously signed a record 30 players last season, eventually avoiding relegation by four points. Another year in the top division offers the club an opportunity to further grow and improve.

There have been major changes within the club’s infrastructure and, again, more new players are expected to arrive.

Yet this training camp is regarded as essential by Cooper, with the sessions accompanied by three team meetings a day.

Injured players including Brennan Johnson, plus the medical and nutritional staff and data analysts, were all flown over to make it feel like home.

Team workshops last up to an hour and are translated into Portuguese for the large contingent of Brazilian players by Willy Boly and Gustavo Scarpa.

Brennan Johnson celebrates scoring their first goal against Leicester - 'Super dad' Steve Cooper is plotting another Nottingham Forest miracle

Brennan Johnson and Morgan Gibbs-White were key players in Forest’s battle against relegation last season – Reuters/Tony O’Brien

We are invited to watch two training sessions on Friday and this is clearly an area where Cooper excels. He is first and foremost a coach, and on the training pitch is where he first established his reputation.

Cooper plans to play with a back-three in many games this season and during the first session is frequently imploring the players to be calm when in possession near their own goal.

While he has a close bond with the squad, he can also be tough if standards are lower than expected.

Later that morning there is another exercise focusing on building the press and transitions in play, offering a clue as to how Forest could line up this season with midfielder Ryan Yates operating further up the field almost as a No. 10.

Cooper wants his team to be more dynamic and athletic when they kick off the season at Arsenal on Aug 12.

Felipe, the Forest defender who counts Diego Simeone and Sergio Conceicao among his former managers, says Cooper’s man-management makes him stand out.

“On the personal side he’s like the ‘paizao’ [super-dad] as he’s so easy to deal with. He respects your space and vice versa, so there’s a very cool connection that works like a family,” he says.

“He’s very flexible to everything and we have good conversations about diverse topics, and not just football.

“He is clearly someone who’s still building his own path on the technical side and professionally he’s a great manager.”

Forest’s squad urgently needs new additions, which to some observers may sound faintly ridiculous after the club signed so many players last season.

Yet although they have signed Anthony Elanga and Ola Aina this week, Cooper’s team is still short in key areas.

This summer their transfer policy will focus on striking a balance between being ambitious and strategic.

Talks remain ongoing with Manchester United over a deal for goalkeeper Dean Henderson, which will be an initial loan move with an obligation to buy.

Henderson is expected to miss the start of the season as he recovers from an operation on a thigh injury, so another new goalkeeper will be required.

Forest are also scouring Europe for a left-back, after Renan Lodi returned to Atletico Madrid from his loan spell while there is uncertainty over the future of Harry Toffolo after he was charged with 375 alleged breaches of gambling rules by the FA. Toffolo submits his response to the FA on Wednesday.

Monaco’s Ismail Jakobs is their main target, and Monza’s Carlos Augusto is also under consideration. Chelsea’s Ian Maatsen has been linked but is not a serious target at this stage.

The top priority for Cooper is the signing of a new defensive midfielder, and Forest are prepared to break their transfer record to get the right player.

PSV Eindhoven’s Ibrahim Sangare is perhaps the No. 1 choice but he has a £32 million release clause and interest from bigger clubs including Paris St-Germain. Leeds’s Tyler Adams and Leicester’s Wilfred Ndidi are both on a long list of potential alternatives.

Another centre-back could now be an option after Moussa Niakhate sustained a dislocated shoulder in a friendly against Valencia. The complexity of the injury means he could be ruled out from anything between six to 12 weeks.

Cooper’s transfer business for the new season will also depend on players leaving the club to bring down numbers.

The future of Johnson, the Wales international, is still up in the air and he is likely to be sold if a club pays over £40 million. Brentford have already had a £30 milllion proposal turned down and remain interested, while Aston Villa and Tottenham are admirers.

Forest are determined to avoid breaching Financial Fair Play regulations and Johnson’s sale would unquestionably help. It would be unpopular with fans yet the stark reality is that clubs of Forest’s size, who lack the commercial revenue of the ‘big six’, have to operate in this way.

There is also the threat of losing players to Saudi Arabia’s Pro League: Boly, Serge Aurier, Emmanuel Dennis and Cheikhou Kouyate are all understood to have received offers.

Forest will try to offload players not in Cooper’s plans. Dennis, Jonjo Shelvey, Steve Cook and Harry Arter did not travel to Spain and are available as the club aims to lower the wage bill.

Jonjo Shelvey of Nottingham Forest playing against Aston Villa - 'Super dad' Steve Cooper is plotting another Nottingham Forest miracle

Jonjo Shelvey is one of the players Nottingham Forest would be willing to let go this summer – Getty Images/Simon Stacpool

They will also loan out a number of players, including Costa Rica international Brandon Aguilera who has caught the eye of Cooper in pre-season.

A pivotal figure in Forest’s summer has been Ross Wilson, the newly appointed chief football officer. Wilson has overseen a huge overhaul of the club’s infrastructure, recruiting Alek Gross (head of performance) and Adam Burrows (head of strength and conditioning).

Forest felt the appointments were vital after data revealed 93 per cent of injuries last season were sustained in games. Jon Fearn, previously of Chelsea and Reading, will officially start soon as the new head physio and his appointment is regarded as a significant coup.

Craig Mulholland is the new head of football development & talent management after following Wilson from Glasgow Rangers.

Wilson has also devoted much time to improving the club’s academy, which was in a poor state when he arrived. With many players and coaches disillusioned under the previous regime, it is understood the atmosphere around the academy is now vastly improved.

Many changes have also been made to the training ground, with a new dressing room and nutritional centre. Ed Henderson, the club’s head of football business, has been working with Wilson on restructuring of the medical department.

Changes have also been made at the City Ground, the venue where Forest secured 30 of their 38 points in the club’s escape from relegation. The pitch has been ripped up and re-laid, at a cost of over £2 million.

Plans are in place for the team bus to travel from the Nigel Doughty Academy to the stadium before home games, to maximise the matchday experience.

Evangelos Marinakis, the club’s owner, remains very ambitious and rewarded all club staff with a pay bonus of over 10 per cent at the end of last season. He believes Forest need to think bigger and continue evolving to become a stable Premier League club.

On the field, Cooper’s pre-season will continue this week with a friendly against Leeds, before games against European opposition in PSV, Rennes and Eintracht Frankfurt.

Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium is where Forest’s second adventure kicks off next month, and the first target must be to try and avoid another nervy season.

Improving their poor away form is another priority – Forest won just one game away all season –  and Cooper’s staff have analysed everything from last year including match preparation, travel and accommodation.

Statistics revealed that the club would have finished 12th if last season had started in October.

Cooper and his players would gladly settle for that this time around.

You might also like...

P