One of the feel-good stories of last season’s Championship campaign was Nottingham Forest’s phoenix from the ashes rise from the depth of the division to play-off winners. The Tricky Trees returned to the English top-flight for the first time in 23 years at the start of the 2022/23 season.
Forest fans probably didn’t expect what happened next, as their club spent over £145m on 22 new players. Yes, that is 22 new players, a whole squad worth of players.
Staggeringly, only Chelsea, Manchester United and West Ham forked out more money in the transfer window than the Premier League new boys. To put it into perspective, the club from the Midlands had a net spend of £35million more than big-spending Catalan giants Barcelona.
List of new arrivals at Nottingham Forest
|Player||Position||Age||Club signed from||Fee|
|Morgan Gibbs-White||Attacking Midfielder||22||Wolves||£26.55m|
|Taiwo Awoniyi||Centre-forward||24||Union Berlin||£18.45m|
|Orel Mangala||Central Midfielder||24||Stuttgart||£11.70m|
|Lewis O’Brien||Central Midfielder||23||Huddersfield||£8.46m|
|Remo Freuler||Central Midfielder||30||Atalanta||£8.10m|
|Omar Richards||Left-back||24||Bayern Munich||£7.65m|
|Renan Lodi||Left-back||24||Atletico Madrid||Loan fee £4.50m|
|Josh Bowler||Right Winger||23||Blackpool||£2.07m|
|Brandon Aguilera||Attacking Midfielder||19||LD Alajuelense||£855k.|
|Jesse Lingard||Attacking Midfielder||29||Manchester United||Free|
|Cheikhou Kouyate||Central Midfielder||32||Crystal Palace||Free|
|Dean Henderson||Goalkeeper||25||Manchester United||Loan|
|Serge Aurier||Right-back||29||Without a club||Free|
|Adnan Kanuric||Goalkeeper||22||Without a club||Free|
A major gamble on and off the pitch
To say that Forest has made a massive gamble in the summer would be an enormous understatement. The club hierarchy undoubtedly believes that the spending and the influx of new players will be enough to keep the club in the English top flight.
However, as we have seen so often down the years with other clubs, spending money isn’t a magic formula for success. The fact that head coach Steve Cooper has to now basically build a new team from the fresh arrivals is a major problem.
Successful football teams are built on teamwork, cohesion and understanding of the head coach’s ideas. Cooper is regarded as a fine up-and-coming young British coach who earned rave reviews as both England’s under-16 and under-17 boss. He also guided Swansea to the Championship play-offs in both of his seasons in charge, despite working on a limited budget.
Those facts, added with Forest’s incredible rise up the Championship table last season, suggest that Cooper is a highly capable coach. However, he is not a miracle worker and cannot just turn a group of strangers into a well-oiled machine. That sort of thing takes time, even for a talented coach like Cooper.
Who are the new signings?
Forest’s seemingly scatter-gun approach to recruitment could really go either way. The men from the Midlands could be successful courtesy of the plethora of new signings. However, it could go horribly wrong, and they could well be left in the red and in the Championship at the end of May.
It all really depends on how the new players perform. The new signings are a mixture of former Premier League players, second-tier stars and players from foreign leagues. So, who are these new arrivals?
In terms of profile, the most significant signing was Jesse Lingard, who, although he arrived with no fee attached, is on huge wages at Forest. For years, the former England winger has failed to live up to the early promise of his career. His best spell of form came in a six-month loan spell at West Ham while still on Manchester United’s books.
At 29, he should have played more top-flight games. This season at Forest could be the last for him to show what he can do and justify his massive wage packet.
The biggest signing in terms of fee in the summer was attacking midfielder Morgan Gibbs-White who arrived from Wolves for a fee that could reach £40million. Everton was reportedly interested in signing the attacking midfielder but baulked at Wolves’ valuation of the player.
White-Gibbs has shown potential with Wolves, but the fee is a big one for a player who is still yet to convince at Premier League level. For some, Forest paid an “English tax’ to sign the player.
One player who looked like a shrewd signing was Nigerian forward Emmanuel Dennis. He joined from Watford. Last season, the former Club Brugge striker scored ten goals in the English top-flight while playing in a poor Watford team. Dennis could be a decent addition if he can hit the heights of last season.
One signing that caught the eye was Dennis’ international teammate Taiwo Awoniyi joining from Union Berlin for a fee of around £18m. The former Liverpool striker impressed in front of goal for Union in the Bundesliga. Only time will tell whether he can adapt to the Premier League’s rigours this season.
The likes of Renan Lodi, Remo Freuler, Oriel Mangala, Giulian Biancone and Omar Richards have arrived from foreign leagues. Meanwhile, Neco Williams, Willy Boly, Serge Aurier, Wayne Hennessey, Dean Henderson and Cheikhou Kouyate come with Premier League experience.
Forest also didn’t leave the lower leagues alone in their pillaging of players, as they brought in Harry Toffolo and Lewis O’Brien from Huddersfield and former-Everton youngster Josh Bowler from Blackpool.
The list of signings is reminiscent of a petition. The management team at Forest must have been thinking we’re going to need a bigger dressing room. All joking apart, the situation could be a concerning one for Forest.
Forest should be cautious of tales from the past
Different clubs have different strategies to achieve their goals in the Premier League, whether that be staying in the league, challenging for Europe or the league title. Some clubs like Norwich have decided not to spend big but seem to bounce between the Championship and the Premier League constantly.
Then some splash the cash. Things have gone disastrously wrong for some clubs with the latter strategy who have stretched themselves in search of success.
Though a slightly different situation, there is, of course, the story of Leeds United under chairman Peter Ridsdale. There is now even a term ‘Doing a Leeds’, which refers to clubs who overspend and end up in a massive financial mess. The Whites enjoyed relative success in the Premier League between 1997 and 2004.
The club qualified for European competition on a regular basis and even made the latter stages of the Champions League. However, just three years after making it to the semi-finals of European football’s elite competition, Leeds suffered relegation to the Championship.
The season after their Champions League adventure, the Whites missed out on the competition. However, Ridsdale decided to keep spending money and bringing in new players, despite the club now lacking that all-important Champions League money.
Due to the club’s mismanagement and continued spending, Leeds were reported to be £80m in debt in the 2002/03 season. The Yorkshire club then had a fire sale to bring in revenue, with Ridsdale leaving his role as the club’s chairman soon after.
The lack of quality in their squad due to sales saw Leeds suffer relegation in 2003/04. In 2007, the Yorkshire club were in League One and went into administration. They should be a cautionary tale for a club like Forest, as it took Leeds 14 years to return to the English top-flight after relegation.
To a lesser extent, the likes of Fulham and QPR have experienced similar situations in the past. Both attempted to bring in vast numbers of new players, ending in relegation for both. Fulham were lucky enough to be on a solid enough financial footing to return to the English top-flight by winning promotion last season.
However, QPR suffered badly financially and has not returned to the Premier League since their relegation in 2013. The Hoops currently reside in the Championship.
Relegation is a real possibility in season 2022/23
Nottingham Forest is a historic club and is one that should be plying its trade in the English top-flight. However, their summer transfer strategy may not just define whether they stay in the English top-flight this season or not, it could define the next few years of the club.
From the evidence shown by Nottingham Forest so far this season, relegation is a strong possibility for the Tricky Trees. The team needs to gel quickly. Otherwise, Forest’s return to the Premier League could be a short one, and it may be a long time until they return to the top-flight, parachute payments or not.