Having completed 45 minutes for the Under-21s against Barnsley on Monday, Chris Cohen is hopefully on the road to recovery at Nottingham Forest. Andrew Brookes has been thinking about the kind of player he might become after injury
Chris Cohen said something recently that brought me great joy. No, not the bit about him being back for the FA Cup (although you can’t fail to wish him well after three serious knee injuries).
No, for me it was something else. It came in conversation with the Nottingham Post and BBC Radio Nottingham when the club captain talked about the restrictions he might have to place upon himself when he finally takes to the field again.
He said: “I was trying to do everyone else’s job. What I have to learn is to focus on my own job. I can talk, I can make sure I am in the right position. I just have to focus. I cannot do everything for everyone, because it will be detrimental to myself and the team.”
If he truly means what he says then I actually think he could yet come back and be an even better player than before.
One good thing to come from Cohen’s injury is that he has the benefit of a rare commodity that almost no one else has: hindsight. Injuries or not, his mistakes in games almost always came when trying to do everything, when he charged around the pitch to try to ‘chase the game’.
As faults go it’s an admirable one – wanting to be involved and wanting to have an impact on a game should hardly be criticised. But a top-class midfielder does also need tactical discipline and awareness.
By trying to cope with the cruel circumstances that injuries have thrown at him, Cohen might well end up – by both hard luck and good judgement – remodelling himself into a different type of player.
As luck would have it – and boy does Cohen deserve some – the sort of player Cohen might become is just the type of player we need. With Michael Mancienne finally returned to centre-half, Dougie will be pondering how to screen his back four. At the moment David Vaughan and Henri Lansbury have forged a decent pairing but both are having to reign themselves in just a little, sitting deeper to avoid leaving us too open. Robert Tesche can probably play there too but, like Vaughan and Lansbury, you feel that this position sometimes becomes a battle with himself, a constant fight to quell attacking urges in order to ‘do a job’.
You feel that, in the long term, we need a midfielder who sits deep – guarding that crucial area the width of the box between the penalty area and half-way line – spreads the ball from flank to flank and offers leadership from a part of the pitch where you can see the course of the action. There would be no need to charge forward to create chances, that’s a job that can be left to those in front, instead they’d need to provide an outlet to help us to dominate possession.
I’m basically picturing the second coming of Paul McKenna, Billy Davies’ midfield general who gave us a more steetwise edge and helped turn us from relegation fodder to promotion contenders. It’s a shame really that the 66 games he played in a Forest shirt were probably a couple of years later into his career than we would’ve liked and there wasn’t quite enough left in the tank for a longer, more successful tenure.
There’s no reason why this can’t be Cohen’s future in a Garibaldi red shirt. He should certainly be watching a few videos of the ex-Preston man while he finishes the long road to recovery. He’s still only 28 too, so there’s plenty of time left to make an impact in a new role.
The embargo makes it extremely difficult to shop around for that sort of player too. As we found with McKenna, teams are always reluctant to have midfield generals swiped from their ranks. Maybe FFP could be another factor that might, unwittingly, finally provide some luck for Cohen. In different times he might well have found the path blocked by a new transfer.
We probably have two options with Chris Cohen. We could have fashioned him into a working left-back, just as Billy did upon his return to the City Ground. However, Daniel Pinillos has made that spot his own and that’s a position that would’ve offered too much temptation to ‘bomb up and down’ the flank. Instead, the sensible, screening midfielder option seems the better fit for what his body will be capable of.
By not trying to do everyone else’s job and concentrating on a more circumspect set of skills, I’d love to see Chris Cohen re-born as the second coming of Paul McKenna. I’m sure Dougie would be pretty happy with that too. Let’s hope he’s written to Father Christmas…