Cooper contract shows ‘sack race’ guesswork from the media
Steve Cooper’s new contract at Nottingham Forest came out of nowhere, with media speculation that the Welshman was set for the sack having earlier reached fever pitch.
A run of five successive defeats in the Premier League had left Forest sitting in the relegation zone. Losing 4-0 away to the similarly struggling Leicester City in a local derby was widely anticipated to be the death knell for Cooper’s despite his remarkable work at the club to date.
Forest’s owner, Evangelos Marinakis, is particularly unpredictable. He saw things differently. Cooper’s deal had been set to expire at the end of the season, but it will now run until 2025.
“I don’t know how close that might have been,” Cooper said when asked in the wake of penning his two-year extension at Forest if he feared the sack amid the team’s losing streak. “Whether it was discussed, I don’t know. That’s the club’s prerogative with any manager – not just me.”
Cooper’s contract extension has been reported as a u-turn, a volte face, but in reality this story shows how much guesswork there can be within the media when it comes to sacking season.
Rodgers, Hasenhuttl and Gerrard all clinging on
International breaks are often the time when clubs pull the trigger on their managers. Heading into the September break, Cooper was regarded as being close to the sack, with Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers teetering on the brink. Even after beating Forest 4-0, Leicester are still bottom of the table but pressure on both managers has eased significantly over the past week or so.
Steven Gerrard at Aston Villa is another feeling the heat of late. Villa have made a poorer start to the season than in the previous campaign, when many felt Dean Smith was harshly treated.
Smith took Villa to the Premier League and kept the club in the top-flight, albeit with lots of money spent on squad strengthening, and despite another ambitious transfer window from Villa’s billionaire backers the signs of progress within Villa Park are getting harder to identify.
At Southampton, sitting just above the Premier League’s drop zone after a huge shift in transfer policy over the summer failed to reap rewards immediately, Ralph Hasenhuttl could also be in trouble. The Austrian has twice survived overseeing his side conceding nine goals in a Premier League game, yet he may not be seen as the man to lead the Saints through a bold new era.
The strangeness of modern football can be summed up by outlets reporting that Cooper could be among the names in the frame for the Southampton job, were Forest to sack him and Hasenhuttl be given his marching orders after an underwhelming four years at St Mary’s.
What is clear from the Cooper contract story, though, is that such speculation is just guesswork.
Forest stand by their man
The acres of press column inches criticising Marinakis for sacking Cooper had likely already been prepared. Cooper, after all, had taken charge at the City Ground last year with Forest ailing at the bottom of the Championship, in danger of dropping into the third tier. For double European champions, this was an untenable situation. They were in need of divine inspiration.
Enter Cooper. Forest’s run to promotion via the Championship play-offs capped one of the greatest recoveries that the second tier has ever seen. Taking Forest back to the promised land after more than two decades away was seen as a long-term project and arguably even an impossible job given the impatience of Marinakis: the Greek had cycled through managers at a rapid rate, even compared to the now typical Championship churn. Aitor Karanka lasted a year, a similar period to Sabri Lamouchi and Chris Hughton. Martin O’Neill was in charge for only 19 games. Forest were 14th when Marinakis fired Mark Warburton – the first of his Forest axings.
In making it beyond the anniversary of his appointment at the City Ground, Cooper was arguably already on borrowed time despite sensationally delivering promotion for the club.
That Forest invested so heavily in the summer, signing over two whole teams of new players for an outlay totalling more than £150 million – one of British football’s most incredible summer windows – added to the pressure on the shoulders of the 42-year-old going into this season.
It is no surprise Forest have struggled for consistency in selection given the vast options now at Cooper’s disposal, though he has also lost around half of his regular promotion-winning side. Forest looked disjointed in a trio of successive home defeats to Tottenham, Bournemouth and Fulham, though they can be forgiven for having been thumped at a rampant Manchester City.
One major UK newspaper even reported – in a story that apparently needed the contributions of a trio of journalists – that Forest had withdrawn a contract offer to Cooper, with Rafael Benitez supposedly being lined up to replace him in the dugout. Seemingly shamelessly one of the writers on that story, which was proven wrong in quite spectacular fashion, doubled down by reporting Forest had u-turned again in deciding after all that Cooper would be staying on.
It shows how much guesswork is involved in the reporting of people’s futures within the game.
Perhaps the Cooper contract story should be seen as a chance to take a step back, for everyone to remember that they are speculating about the jobs – and lives – of human beings.