With turmoil on and off the City Ground pitch, Nottingham Forest have earned a reputation in recent years as being the wrong destination for someone looking to progress in their footballing career. Managers fail to deliver results, directors quit after a matter of months and players watch their careers stagnate at mid-table in the Championship before they eventually transfer to Rotherham.
But there’s always been one place in West Bridgford where you can still find elements of a well-run football club. The Nigel Doughty Academy – named in honour of the former chairman and owner – is rapidly earning a reputation as being one of the top sources of young talent in English football.
Of course, with such a wealth of talent continually rolling off the production line, the vultures begin to circle. The wealthy Premier League clubs like to snap up the young talent before it gets expensive.
Whilst Forest may not be the best place to come to if you’re a budding young manager or a player looking for promotion to the top flight, they have done an excellent job in recent seasons at allowing their academy products to hold down a first team place.
“It’s clear that the young players need to resist the temptation of the big clubs if they want to go on to have the best career”
So young players face a tough choice: do they stay at Forest where they know they will get the time and opportunities to develop, or do they grab the first opportunity to play at a higher level that comes along?
In recent years we have seen the effects of both routes – and it’s clear that the young players need to resist the temptation of the big clubs if they want to go on to have the best career.
Patrick Bamford moved from Forest to Chelsea after making just two appearances for his hometown club. The striker didn’t make a single appearance for the Blues before signing permanently at Middlesbrough. After five years and just nineteen appearances for his last three loan clubs, you question whether leaving Forest was best for his development.
Admittedly, a couple of transfer embargoes went a long way to ensuring that the likes of Ben Osborn would be safe from new signings coming in to take their place. But now that Forest are free to throw money about in the transfer market again, it does not seem to have endangered the younger players’ chances of getting first team action. Osborn remains ever-present in the starting line-up, Matty Cash is starting games more and more regularly, and whilst he’s struggling to push Michael Mancienne or Danny Fox out of the team at the moment, defender Joe Worrall finds himself involved most match days.
“Brazil’s confidence in his academy youngsters was repaid emphatically”
And in the recent home game to Aston Villa, the faith that Forest put in their youth system was demonstrated once again. Seventeen-year-old striker Ben Brereton was brought on at seventy minutes for fellow academy product Matty Cash. Forest had been in control for most of the game, keeping 71% of possession. But at 1-1, it was still a tense affair. Villa looked like scoring whenever striker Jonathan Kodjia bombed forward with the ball at his feet. The Ivorian completed five out of his six attempted dribbles and was fouled by a Forest player four times. Most fans would have taken the point – but known that there was a good chance of going on to win after Assombalonga stabbed home the equaliser to cancel out Kodjia’s fine first half strike. And after Jack Grealish received his second yellow in the seventy-ninth minute, Forest had to make every effort to get the win.
To bring on such an untested player, when he could have easily deployed the proven options of Apostolos Vellios or Nicklas Bendtner, was a bold move by caretaker manager Gary Brazil. But Brazil, who usually plies his trade as Academy Manager, would have been far more confident in his decision than those fans who had previously seen Brereton play just a handful of minutes for the first team.
Brazil’s confidence in his academy youngsters was repaid emphatically. One last curling ball into the box from Dani Pinillos, who had been getting forward all evening just waiting for someone to be on the end of his passes, was eventually met by the head of Britt Assombalonga. As the Villa defenders scampered towards the lethal striker, they left Brereton all on his own in the box. The seventeen-year-old striker volleyed home the ninetieth minute winner and, as it bounced in off the post, delirium ensued at the City Ground.
It wasn’t long before Liverpool and Manchester United were linked once again with Brereton. Luckily the transfer window is now shut and he will get the chance to play a lot more games for his club than Bamford did before Forest chose to cash in.
“Jamaal Lascelles is one player who showed that leaving Forest allowed him to eventually become captain of what will surely soon be a Premier League club again”
I’m not saying that players can’t move on. Jamaal Lascelles is one player who showed that leaving Forest allowed him to eventually become captain of what will surely soon be a Premier League club again. Oliver Burke, despite now playing a lot less for his new club RB Leipzig than he would at Forest, will head into his twenties surrounded by one of the best groups of young players at the top of German football.
Brereton will surely be faced with similar opportunities in the summer. He will be guaranteed the opportunity of regular football at Forest. But should he choose to leave for something more, he needs to be careful that he goes to a club that wants him, and him in particular, not one that just wants to snap up all young talent across the country.