Robin Hood, famous for robbing the rich to the benefit of the poor, is arguably the greatest British outlaw that never was.
And nowhere on the Isles is he more revered than in Nottingham, whose forests he made his stomping ground in carving a place for himself in English folklore.
A statue of him stands in the city, reminding all of a hero unlike any other associated with Nottingham — the sort of hero Nottingham’s football club, Forest, could certainly do with right now.
Forest’s return to the Premier League, 23 years in coming, hasn’t been quite the fairytale many had anticipated.
A ton of players — nearly enough to fill three starting XIs — brought in to fortify the Tricky Trees has, in the opinion of some, had the very opposite effect. Forest have, at times, looked like a disjointed set, a bunch still getting to know each other, hardly having had time to say their hellos.
And at the centre of it all stands Steve Cooper, the manager who brought them up on the first attempt, surrounded by players he is still getting to know by the day.
A familiar face or two would surely make his job a little easier, Cooper must have thought, and that’s just what he did in securing Forest’s final transfer of a busy January 2023 window, Ghana captain Andre Ayew.
Ayew and Cooper have history.
For two seasons, between 2019 and 2021, they inspired Swansea City to the Championship playoffs, with both bids ending unsuccessfully.
Cooper’s coaching worked wonders, while Ayew led on the pitch, scoring more goals than any other Swansea player during those campaigns — 15 in the first, 16 in the second — to take the Welsh outfit, whom he’d initially played for in the Premier League, to the cusp of promotion.
Both manager and player left Swansea at the end of the 2020/21 season, Ayew moving to Qatari side Al Sadd on a free transfer and Cooper — after a couple of months out of work — to Forest, where his craving for a taste of top-flight football was finally satisfied.
This wasn’t a reunion many saw coming.
Ayew was living his best life in the Gulf, where he first played under the technical oversight of Xavi, before the Spain legend departed to take charge of the club where he made his name as a midfielder, Barcelona.
Scoring 21 goals in 39 games across all competitions and winning two trophies qualified his time in Qatar as a success, and Ayew even got to play — and score — on Qatari soil for his nation, Ghana, at the 2022 Fifa World Cup.
But now he has decided to retrace his steps to Britain, terminating his contract with Al Sadd for the opportunity to work with Cooper again. He joined at a time Forest appeared to be finding their feet, putting together a good run of results.
Before Saturday’s 2-0 loss to Fulham, Forest had been beaten just twice in 11 league games, by no mean opponents (Arsenal and Manchester United, both of whom are at the top end of the table).
As the latest defeat at Craven Cottage showed, though, Forest haven’t quite turned the corner, and Cooper will need each of his 39 players — yep, thirty-nine — to contribute to steering the club well clear of the storm.
Yet while Cooper would definitely be counting on the sterling attacking output of Ayew that he knows only too well, more crucial would be the leadership the Ghanaian forward offers in spades and his insatiable appetite for taking charge of challenging situations.
Ayew, to put it simply, loves to play the hero.
And even if Cooper doesn’t think the 33-year-old has the legs to start/last every game — his two appearances thus far have come off the bench — Ayew does have an abundance of the character and heart it would take to figure heavily in Forest’s quest to secure survival.
“It’s a great feeling to sign for Nottingham Forest,” the former U-20 world champion said on completing his transfer.
“I know what I can bring to the team, I’m ready to give my all and make sure that we are able to stay in the Premier League.”
If all goes well, chances are that Ayew’s name — a bit like Robin Hood’s — would linger on the hearts and minds of folks in Nottingham; he does tend to leave an impression, doesn’t he?
Forest may be in no great haste to put up a statue of Ayew by the time his six-month stay is over, but the club would surely feel the electric presence of a player who neither shirks responsibility nor shrinks from the fight.
Enn Y. Frimpong — Ink & Kicks