Nottingham Forest boss Steve Cooper has said he has warned Djed Spence and his teammates that they need to perform just as well in the second half of the season as they did in the first if they want to be ‘established’ players, speaking to Nottinghamshire Live.
The 21-year-old has been one of the East Midlands outfit’s most crucial players this term, contributing both going forward and defensively as he’s managed to establish himself as a firm fans’ favourite at the City Ground already.
He only arrived at Forest on loan from Championship rivals Middlesbrough at the end of August, but has already shown his importance in Cooper’s system as a defender who isn’t afraid to get forward and create goalscoring opportunities.
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It’s currently unclear whether he would be a starter when he returns to the Riverside Stadium at the end of the season with Isaiah Jones thriving as a wing-back under Chris Wilder, fuelling further speculation with several Premier League teams thought to be interested in his services.
Two top-tier heavyweights in Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur are both thought to be in the race for his signature, along with Leeds United and Brentford who will all have to wait until the summer with the full-back confirmed to be staying at the City Ground for the remainder of the 2021/22 campaign.
These comings months give Spence a real opportunity to put himself in the shop window with a starting place at Boro not guaranteed – but current boss Cooper has a simple warning for him as the Welshman spoke in his press conference.
He said: “He’s had some good moments for us and some good periods of how he’s played.
“But as I’ve told him and many others, you don’t want to be good for half a season. You need to make sure you put a full one together – that’s when you start thinking about being an established player.
“It’s maybe not even just a season, it’s a period when you’re at a club. Whenever we leave, you want to look back and go, ‘yeah, I worked hard, I did my best and I made sure I was as successful as I could be’.”
It’s time for Spence to keep his head down and block out all the noise – and you would back him to continue thriving in an environment where he is clearly enjoying himself.
In fact, he probably feels more emotionally connected to Forest than Boro at the moment and this is why a move, regardless of where he ends up, seems likely at this stage unless Jones suffers a long-term injury.
That’s why it would be no surprise to see him move to the City Ground permanently if Cooper’s men gain promotion to the top flight, although a return to Boro shouldn’t be ruled out either with Wilder’s men having their own chance to return to the Premier League under the 54-year-old’s stewardship.
Consistency in Spence’s performances will be key for top-tier teams to retain their interest in the full-back though – because he certainly has a lot to offer when he’s on top form with his ability to play as a wing-back too.
It’s Cooper’s job to keep his feet on the floor and as a coach who has had a considerable amount of experience in working with young players, he’s the perfect manager for the 21-year-old to have at this stage in his career.