Nottingham Forest boss Steve Cooper has urged his side to “stand on the shoulders” of past heroes as they bid to end their long Premier League exile by beating Huddersfield in the Championship play-off final.
Sunday’s match at Wembley – often dubbed the richest game in world football – will be played between the teams that finished the regular season in the English second tier in third and fourth places.
Huddersfield, who ended in third spot, played in the Premier League as recently as the 2018/19 season but for Forest it has been a long and painful spell in the wilderness.
Forest dislodged Liverpool to be crowned English champions in their first season back in the top flight in 1977/78 under manager Brian Clough, going on to lift the European Cup in the following two seasons and also enjoying domestic cup success.
But the club have not been in the Premier League since 1999 and even spent three campaigns languishing in the third tier.
The two sides shared a win apiece in the Championship this season, with Forest emerging on top in an FA Cup clash but just two points separated them after 46 league games.
Forest boss Cooper wants his men to take inspiration from past glories as they strive to join automatically promoted Fulham and Bournemouth in the Premier League.
“Embrace the past, stand on the shoulders – we want to do that but at the same time, understanding what might be possible,” said the 42-year-old.
“What is at stake is a massive motivation and what can be achieved is a dream, of course.
“But we have to stay focused on the job, know what it takes to win. We know what the possible outcome may be but it is sticking to the process that matters.”
Forest were rock bottom of the Championship when Cooper took over from the sacked Chris Hughton in September.
“I always had the mindset of aiming for the maximum,” he said. “We always strived to do that but we have taken it step by step. It has been an exhausting but exciting season.”
Huddersfield boss Carlos Corberan said he had taken advice from former Leeds manager Marcelo Bielsa in the build-up to the Wembley match.
The Spaniard, 39, spent two seasons as a member of Bielsa’s first-team coaching staff at Leeds before being appointed head coach at Huddersfield in July 2020.
Corberan, who revealed Bielsa had watched his side’s play-off semifinal win against Luton, said: “In the last week I have spent a good time talking with him because Marcelo’s someone that has always given me the best support.”
“He has been watching our games and he was watching the play-off games,” he added.
🎞 Pre-Championship Play-Off Final: Steve Cooper
— Nottingham Forest FC (@NFFC) May 27, 2022
The prize on offer is huge – with experts saying victory in the play-off final could be worth at least £170 million ($215 million).
Analysis carried out by Deloitte’s sports business group suggests future revenues for the victors could rise to more than £300 million over the next five seasons if they manage to retain their new-found Premier League status at the first attempt.
That is something only five of the past 10 winners have achieved.
But for now the future can wait as the two teams focus on the glittering prize of a place in the Premier League after a gruelling season.