We’ve seen a lot of change at Nottingham Forest recently, with the 100% takeover headed by Evangelos Marinakis becoming official on Thursday. At a time when it’s all change behind the scenes at the City Ground, it’s easy to forget that every Saturday a group of players kick a ball about for ninety minutes. Indeed, if the long-awaited changes off the pitch are to be worthwhile, the right things need to happen in terms of transfers and preparation for next season.
Mark Warburton has recently said that he wants ‘a squad of twenty-one to twenty-two players’. With the head count currently standing at twenty-seven, that means Warburton is planning for a busy summer, especially since he is also keen to add quality to the ranks.
The trimming began with left-back Dani Pinillos being released by the club, a move that surprised many fans. The Spaniard put in some top performances in his two seasons on Trent-side. The manager clearly thinks he can get better, however – or that he already has his man in Armand Traore.
So, who might follow Pinillos out the door? Hopefully we won’t see more players of his quality leave the club, but there are certainly some players still here that probably shouldn’t be.
Vladimir Stojkovic is the standout name. The goalkeeper epitomised Forest’s leaky defence this season, keeping just one clean sheet in twenty appearances. Not much more needs to be said really – I would be amazed if he was still at the club come August.
Fortunately, most of Philippe Montanier’s other signings weren’t permanent. The loans of Hildeberto Pereira, Pajtim Kasami, Nicolao Dumitru, Aaron Tshibola, Joao Teixeira (who made no appearances) and Ross McCormack have expired. Pereira is perhaps the only one that will be missed.
Many fans are also keen to see Thomas Lam depart, but I would argue that he deserves more of a chance. He is young, and his performances have suffered under poor management and uncertainty over whether he is a centre-back or holding midfielder. He is very good with the ball for that kind of player, but is too lightweight. With help he could still adapt to the intensity of the Championship, however.
Damien Perquis is also likely to leave. The Polish international has not been picked since the departure of Montanier, despite looking quite good on the rare occasion that he wasn’t injured. Forest can certainly attract better players, which also brings into question the role that fellow centre-backs Jack Hobbs and Matt Mills have at the club. Hobbs is quality if he’s fit enough to play, but that is a big if. Forest have relied too often on injury prone players to be there when they need them in recent seasons.
Mills, on the other hand, is not that blighted by injuries – but more his ability as a footballer. He has a lot of mistakes in him and was signed when FFP wage limits restricted who Forest could attract. To his credit, he has improved this season, which is strange when you think about Forest’s defensive woes. I’m also not sure if he suits Warburton’s style of play. He likes to start the play from the back, keep the ball and break teams down with possession – whereas Mills likes to force the pass with long balls over the heads of the midfielders.
Which brings us back to the goalkeeper. When Forest have the ball, Warburton likes the keeper to be the last defender. They need to have good distribution. Jordan Smith looks like he panics when he has the ball, and his hesitation invites quite a lot of unnecessary pressure. Apart from this, he has done excellently in just a couple of months and represents yet another impressive academy product. He will only continue to get better, and is a fine homemade option between the sticks.
Steven Henderson also did well under Gary Brazil, before he got his injury. He will offer Smith strong competition at the start of next season. Warburton might want better, however, and I still wouldn’t be shocked if Forest signed a first-choice keeper this window.
The centre of midfield is an area that needs a significant addition. Many aren’t bothered about Henri Lansbury leaving for Aston Villa in January, but the fact is that Forest got stuck in a relegation battle after he left. They need to reintroduce that all round midfield playmaker. Chris Cohen and David Vaughan are good defensive midfielders, but Forest need that player who can both attack and defend.
Someone like Ben Watson of Watford would be a realistic target, although the Reds may choose to look to their youth setup again. I get the feeling that Toby Edser is on the brink of making the latest breakthrough into the first team, and sounds like precisely the player needed to fill the void.
Many will also wonder if Jorge Grant might yet hold down a first team place. He has done well on loan at Notts County, but the Championship has seemed too tough for him previously.
“Brereton is the jewel in the crown in terms of Gary Brazil’s academy conveyor belt”
Staying in the midfield, Forest must create enough depth and quality on the wings so that Ben Osborn is not called upon to play out wide for yet another season. He’s been the most consistent, and probably best player for Forest this season, but that doesn’t change the fact that his natural position is in the middle of the park. Forest need to add to their wide options of Jamie Ward and Mustapha Carayol so that Osborn can play where he belongs.
In attack, Forest have some exciting players that they would do very well to hang onto this summer. Britt Assombalonga is perhaps the most instinctive striker in the division, and Ben Brereton is the jewel in the crown in terms of Gary Brazil’s academy conveyor belt. If Oliver Burke left for £13 million aged nineteen, then Forest should be asking for no less in exchange for Brereton, who has just turned eighteen.
If both are to be prised away, that leaves Apostolos Vellios as the only senior option up front. He has provided a decent return with limited opportunities, but Forest will recruit more first choice strikers if they lose their two current stars.
What players Forest can bring in of course depends on the size of Warburton’s wallet under the new regime. The dream is that links with Brentford’s Jota come to fruition. Warburton signed the Spanish magician, who received applause from the Forest fans for his recent display at the City Ground, when he was at Brentford.
The first additions that need to be made are a centre-midfield playmaker, and men out wide. Then Forest should think about giving competition to Eric Lichaj, Michael Mancienne, Joe Worrall, Danny Fox and Armand Traore.
Elsewhere, they have lovely players in Zach Clough and Matty Cash, the latter being another academy product that is attracting vultures. If they can add to the quality amid their ranks and ship out a few, Forest should be able to make significant progress in the next campaign.