Football: Forest in dire need of new recruits

Glenn Moore on the hard task ahead for Britain's last hope of European honours
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The Independent Online
As Frank Clark wearily pulled his bags from the carousel at East Midlands airport in the early hours of yesterday morning he was asked if he would be able to strengthen his squad before the Uefa Cup resumes in March. "I do not know, you will have to ask the chairman," the Nottingham Forest manager replied.

Clark is likely to do just that himself, but he knows he is unlikely to get a positive answer, at least not to the extent required to make a difference. It may seem churlish to talk of strengthening Forest so soon after they earned a 1-0 aggregate win over Olympique Lyonnais, but Clark is aware there are tougher challenges ahead.

Already into tomorrow's draw for the quarter-finals are Barcelona, Bayern Munich and PSV Eindhoven. Milan, who play tonight, are expected to join them. Daunting opponents, especially as Colin Cooper, so steadfast at the heart of Forest's defence during Tuesday's goalless draw in Lyon, will be suspended for the first leg.

Cooper picked up his second yellow card of the competition for kicking the ball away and, though he said he hoped the club might appeal after looking at the video, he admitted a reprieve was unlikely. "It is going to be very hard to watch having worked so hard to get here," Cooper said. "If we get a big one I do not know whether I would rather we were at home first, so I could play in the Nou Camp for example, or away, because there would be a great atmosphere for a second leg at the City Ground."

With Carl Tiler now at Aston Villa, Alf Inge-Haaland is Cooper's likely replacement as their thin squad is stretched yet further. Any new players would have to be signed by 15 January to be eligible for the rest of the competition but there is little money available.

Although Clark has brought in almost pounds 10m with the sales of Stan Collymore, Tiler and Lars Bohinen, more than half has gone in various deductions and on Kevin Campbell and Andrea Silenzi - neither of whom can make the first team. The rest is helping to pay off Forest's multi-million pound debt. However, each tie realises pounds 500,000 and the same amount is in limbo awaiting the Premier League's ruling on Collymore's claim to a cut of his transfer fee.

Should Forest draw the likes of Milan the emphasis, once more, is likely to be on defence. It is almost eight hours since they conceded a goal in Europe and Cooper said: "The way we play has been ideally suited to it. Teams have put us under a lot of pressure but we do not allow them to get behind us because we play fairly deep. They can play some nice football but they cannot play one-twos behind us.

"We are like everyone else, we would love to win three or four-nil, but it does not matter in the end as long as you get through."

Forest's progress has already helped Steve Stone enter the England squad and it may yet earn Cooper a recall. The central defender played two Umbro Cup matches during which England conceded six goals. On both occasions the back four was experimental and it showed.

Cooper said: "You can look at it from that point of view but I am sure there is many an established international who came in because of injuries and took his chance. I thought I did reasonably well and Terry Venables did say players from teams who stayed in Europe will come to the forefront of his thoughts. I would love to be in next summer's championships."