Leicester City vs Nottingham Forest has become ‘El Sackico’

Steve Cooper (left) and Brendan Rodgers - Leicester City vs Nottingham Forest has become ‘El Sackico’
Steve Cooper (left) and Brendan Rodgers - Leicester City vs Nottingham Forest has become ‘El Sackico’

It is a Midlands derby that has been cruelly dubbed ‘El Sackico’, with Brendan Rodgers and Steve Cooper both under intense pressure. Before Leicester’s crucial clash with Nottingham Forest on Monday night, here's how two respected coaches found themselves on the brink of being fired.

How has it come to this?

Brendan Rodgers: Rodgers has lost six Premier League games in a row and Leicester have made their worst start to a top-flight season since the 1983/84 campaign. With 11 goals conceded in their last two games, Leicester are bottom of the table and fan support has dwindled at an alarming rate. Since his appointment in February 2019, Rodgers has lifted the FA Cup and frequently disrupted the hierarchy, with two fifth-placed finishes - though this also included late collapses in both seasons - and regular European football. However, the last 12 months have been a disappointment, with the football slow and risk-averse. Frustration also built up over the summer due to Leicester’s financial situation, with only one outfield signing recruited in the transfer window, while Wesley Fofana was sold to Chelsea.

Steve Cooper: It was just over a year ago when Cooper was appointed, with Forest bottom of the Championship after the sacking of Chris Hughton. Yet a remarkable transformation under the Welshman ended in those stirring scenes at Wembley five months ago, when the club clinched their return to the Premier League. This summer was equally remarkable after a huge recruitment drive ended with 22 players signed and over £150 million spent. It was always going to take Cooper time to work out his best team, but four defeats in a row have cranked up the pressure. Two of those defeats came against other newly promoted teams, Bournemouth and Fulham. Another concern for fans is the lack of progress on a new contract for Cooper, which was broadly agreed but unsigned in the summer.

Do they still have dressing room support?

Rodgers: James Maddison admitted after the 6-2 thrashing at Tottenham that Leicester’s squad feel responsible for the heat on their manager. Despite the scoreline, there were parts of the performance which were decent - namely going forward - which suggest the players are still with Rodgers. Perhaps Rodgers’ time with the club has simply reached its natural end. Most managers at this level, apart from Jurgen Klopp or Pep Guardiola, are not fortunate to complete more than three years in charge.

Cooper: With so many new players coming in over the summer, finding rhythm early in the season was always going to prove a challenge. A core of last season’s team still remains, however, and the likes of Joe Worrall, Steve Cook, Ryan Yates and Scott McKenna have all highlighted the importance of Cooper. Forest need their summer signings such as Jesse Lingard, Remi Freuler and Renan Lodi - players with Champions League experience - to start performing better and showing consistency.

And what about the fans?

Rodgers: The mood has shifted dramatically in recent weeks, though there has been frustration among some fans for longer than that. If Rodgers was to be sacked, there will be many pundits who repeat the old tropes of ‘be careful for what you wish for’ and ‘it’s only Leicester, what do they expect’? These should be ignored, for the people who actually pay the money to watch games have been concerned for months, stretching back to last year. Many fans fear relegation and that Rodgers is incapable of halting the slide.

Cooper: He was the man who ended Forest’s 23-year exile from the top division, galvanising a club and city. For that achievement alone, the majority of fans are desperate for Cooper to turn this situation around. There is also sympathy with Cooper over moulding a new squad, with 22 new signings, into a cohesive and competitive outfit. The nature of the defeats to Bournemouth and Fulham has triggered concern, though, and Cooper knows more than anyone that time is a diminishing commodity.

How are relations with their boards?

Rodgers: The Leicester manager said on Friday that he has not spoken recently to chairman Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha, insisting the club’s ownership “expect” him to turn the situation around. Srivaddhanaprabha will be at Monday’s match against Forest and, at the moment, hopes to give Rodgers more time with a winnable sequence of games coming up.

Cooper: Evangelos Marinakis, the owner, and Cooper speak frequently, before and after games, and communication has been consistent through the international break. Marinakis is based in Greece but also spends a lot of time in London, while his son Miltiadis is becoming increasingly influential at the City Ground.

Who ultimately makes the decision over their futures?

Rodgers: Any decision will be made primarily by Srivaddhanaprabha, with the support of his brother and the club’s vice-chairman Apichet and chief executive Susan Whelan. With Srivaddhanaprabha attending his first game in over six weeks due to work commitments, the reaction of the home crowd could prove significant. If the atmosphere was to be toxic, in the event of a defeat, Srivaddhanaprabha will be left with a huge decision to make.

Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha applauds fans at the King Power Stadium - NMC
Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha applauds fans at the King Power Stadium - NMC

Cooper: There is little doubt that Marinakis will make the call on Cooper. He has fired two managers this season already at his other club, Olympiacos, but it has to be said that he has been far more patient with Forest. Cooper’s predecessors, Hughton and Sabri Lamouchi, could have been sacked long before the decision was eventually made. However, Marinakis was furious with the defeats against Bournemouth and Fulham and losing a Midlands derby to the Premier League’s bottom club will be difficult to accept.

Is it really all over if they lose on Monday?

Rodgers: The current feeling is that Rodgers may still survive a narrow defeat but a poor performance, and a hostile atmosphere, could force Leicester into reluctantly pulling the trigger. The fear of relegation will be prominent in their thoughts: when Claudio Ranieri was dismissed in February 2017, it was because the board felt convinced relegation was inevitable unless a change was made, and there are parallels between the current situation with Rodgers.

Cooper: While Cooper’s achievements last season should earn him patience, five defeats in a row will undoubtedly push him closer to the brink. There was some surprise that he was not sacked after the 3-2 defeat by Fulham, which was ahead of the international break, so another loss will make his position even more precarious.