Nottingham Forest have signed 30 players this season to help them fight off relegation following their return to the top flight. Morgan Gibbs-White and Serge Aurier will get most of the plaudits for their impressive performances in their new team – but I think there is another player worthy of signing of the season, Brazilian centre-half, Felipe Monteiro.
It’s not quite gone according to the script for Nottingham Forest. Ok, Steve Cooper’s side are still above the bottom three, but only just, and their backline is one of the leakiest in the Premier League; which may cause some confusion as to why I’m suggesting a defender has been Forest’s best signing. Well, allow me to explain.
In all my years supporting Nottingham Forest, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a defender quite as good as Felipe put on the Garibaldi. He reads the game incredibly well, always appearing in the right place at the right time, to get a foot, leg or head onto any ball that enters the box.
Even against West Ham – the only mistake I can remember him making – Felipe was on hand to make up for his mistake. Felipe tried to play a first-time pass out from the back, but instead found the path of Jarrod Bowen, Bowen played through Danny Ings who cut inside of Joe Worrall, but just as he aimed for the goal, guess who was there to knock the ball to Keylor Navas? Felipe. Maybe it’s just the calibre, or lack thereof, of player next to him, but Felipe has settled in nicely to life in the Premier League.
Recently, Forest have endured their worst form since the start of the season; and in that time their defence has struggled. They shipped two at home against Everton and again against Newcastle United and conceded four on the road against West Ham before Spurs put three past the Forest defence in North London – all in their last four fixtures. I don’t want to base how good Felipe has been by using statistics, but to put in into perspective, in three out of those four fixtures, Felipe was Forest’s highest-rated player.
It’s clear that Felipe isn’t the quickest – and at the ripe age of 33 and with his 6ft 3 frame you can’t expect him to be. What the Brazilian lacks in pace, he more than makes up for with his expert reading of the game. If you’re a player as smart as Felipe, his lack of agility doesn’t matter as he has the ability to get himself into the right positions where he is able to incept a pass, block a shot or put off an attacker. One moment that stood out for me was Brennan Johnson’s second goal against Everton. Everton cleared a Forest corner and look to counter, but an excellent Felipe block won back possession high up and into the feet of Johnson – a quick one-two with Ryan Yates later and the Welshman was able to fire into the back of the net.
Felipe’s value to this side has really shown over the past few weeks, often looking immovable in a backline that can be so brittle to break down. Against Manchester City, Erling Haaland beats Felipe to a header before playing Phil Foden through on a 2 vs 1 situation. Felipe sprints back, keeping up with the two Man City attackers. When Foden stutters with his pass. Felipe is there to kick the ball away before it reaches Haaland’s feet – preventing what would have been a simple tap-in.
Aside from his defensive attributes, Felipe offers something those around him do not and that’s his ability to get forward. For a centre-back, he’s incredibly calm and composed on the ball; possessing the ability to not just move the ball out from the back put also progress high up the pitch; something his fellow defenders and some midfielders struggle to do. This confidence also sees him playing a bit higher up the pitch than his defensive counter parts, which can be exploited due to his lack of pace but also gives Forest another player in midfield to play the ball forward.
The Brazilian is not perfect, it’s clear his best years are behind him; but that doesn’t stop him from being one of the stand out players in this Nottingham Forest side. Him alongside goalkeeper Keylor Navas have been the two best January arrivals and are some of the best transfers Forest have made all season. If Forest had the former Atletico Madrid man from the start of the season, I like to think they wouldn’t be fighting so close to the bottom of the table.
In just six matches, we’ve seen a lot of quality from Felipe, quality which shows you he knows how to play at the highest level – but I can’t help think he’s let down by those around him. Don’t get me mistaken, Aurier is fantastic at right back, and Renan Lodi has been superb in recent weeks, but when you see Felipe playing alongside someone like Joe Worrall, who’s still adjusting to Premier League football, it’s easy to see a gulf in quality. Is this a bad thing? Well, right now yes – however, if Forest manages to avoid relegation the 33-year-old could be the ideal leader to help push on players like Scott McKenna and Joe Worrall who are so inexperienced at the top level.
Having played just six Premier League games, it might be a bit too soon to suggest Felipe has been Forest’s signing of the season – but I’m here to make that claim. Now with Moussa Niakhate alongside him, the Forest backline has drastically increased in quality, should the former Mainz live up to the hype. In these conditions we could quite easily see Felipe lead a revolution in defence, turning Nottingham Forest from a team who can’t stop conceding to one that deserves it’s place in the top flight.
At 33-years-old the La Liga winner is still showing his class at the City Ground. Felipe and a tight-knit defence will be key to retaining Forest’s place in the Premier League. And if they do manage to survive in the top flight then there is no reason why Felipe shouldn’t be offered a new contract.
There are still 11-games to go until the end of the season, 11 cup-finals as they say. That’s 11 games for Felipe to help transform this Forest backline, and if it does not only would he go down as Forest’s signing of the season, he’ll also go down in Forest history. No pressure then.