As the window closed on September 1st, Nottingham Forest announced the signings of; Willy Boly, Loic Bade and Josh Bowler, taking their total summer signings to a British record of 21-new arrivals. Many opposing fans believe the club have overspent on an ill-thought scattergun transfer strategy, but that is quite the opposite of what actually unfolded. Here is the reality of Nottingham Forest’s record-breaking transfer window.
Before we get into the thick of it, let’s address a couple of things: I’m not saying Forest are going to avoid relegation and I’m not saying all the signings are going to be a success. What I am saying is that this summer, Nottingham Forest made necessary additions to not only improve but rebuild their promotion-winning side from last season – which, on paper, gives them enough quality to not just avoid relegation but look up the table rather than down.
Including loan players who returned to their parent clubs, Nottingham Forest lost a staggering 19 players. For any club this would present a significant challenge for the upcoming season, but now consider the fact Forest had begun preparing for life in the Premier League – they would not only need to replace many of these outgoing players but add more to improve the quality of the squad.
Out of the 19-players who departed Forest this summer, roughly 11 were in or around the starting XI. Brice Samba was one of the better goalkeepers in the second division, and single-handedly got Forest to Wembley, his move to Lens and Ethan Horvath’s loan move to Luton Town meant Forest needed at least two new, Premier League quality, shot-stoppers.
Looking at the defensive outgoings, backup defenders Tobias Figueiredo, Jonathan Panzo and Richie Laryea all left the club, with the former leaving on a permanent basis. Wing-backs Max Lowe and Djed Spence both returned to their parent clubs, as did James Garner and Philip Zinckernagel in midfield. In attack, Keinan Davis returned to Aston Villa whilst Lewis Grabban – who scored 12 goals last season, left the club at the end of his contract.
Joe Lolley, Gaetan Bong, Braian Ojeda, Alex Mighten, Xande Silva – who all had some role to play last season – have all departed the club either permanently or on-loan. Would these players made the squad in the top-flight? No, but they could have been backup options who are now being replaced.
With so many key players at the City Ground on loan, and a couple more at the end of their contracts, the core of Forest’s squad was ripped out from underneath their feet the very second the final whilst blew at Wembley. The squad that beat Huddersfield back in May would have struggled to start in the Premier League, even if Forest kept most of that team they would have been looking at another 8-10 signings to add the quality and depth to compete in the Premier League. This was never going to be an ordinary transfer window.
After the Wembley hangover wore off, the rumours started flying in as to who Forest were going to sign and it was relatively clear what Dane Murphy and Miltiadis Marinakis wanted to achieve. They didn’t want to build a team that could survive in the top-flight, they wanted a team that could thrive.
They started off with a bang, signing highly-rated Union Berlin forward, Taiwo Awoniyi for a then club-record £17.5m. He was swiftly followed by English international Dean Henderson, and French defensive duo Giulian Biancone & Moussa Niakhate. Suddenly the loss of Brice Samba didn’t seem so big and the quality of the backline had instantly stepped up to a Premier League level. Djed Spence was replaced by another promising British wing-back, as Neco Williams arrived at the City Ground, Omar Richards also arrived to defend the opposite flank.
With Garner and Zinckernagel out of the picture, Forest’s midfield options looked below par. With Morgan Gibbs-White’s price tag rising higher and higher, Forest looked elsewhere and Jesse Lingard was signed on a rumoured £80,000 a week – a big swing from the rumoured £180,000 Forest were supposedly paying out for him. Orel Mangala arrived from FC Mainz to fill the gaps in midfield, and Lewis O’Brien & Harry Toffolo both arrived from Huddersfield Town for a combined £10m fee. Already 10 players through the door and Forest are starting to build a competitive Premier League squad.
There can be no denying how improved the squad was by this point, but it still lacked depth and Premier League experience. Wayne Hennessey, Cheikhou Kouyate, Emmanuel Dennis and Willy Boly probably won’t all start but do provide some fantastic depth and some much needed Premier League quality.
More additions were made, with Remo Freuler arriving from Champions League side, Atalanta, Renan Lodi joined on-loan from Atletico Madrid and Loic Bade arrived on deadline day from French side Lens. The pick of the bunch, however, was transfer target number 1 – Morgan Gibbs-White. The 22-year-old signed for a club-record £26m. His signature cemented what had been a very successful window for Nottingham Forest.
Brandon Aguilera, Ui-jo Hwang and Josh Bowler also all arrived this summer but have instantly been sent out on loan to Guanacasteca and Olympiacos respectively.
DID THEY GET IT RIGHT?
As I said, on-paper Nottingham Forest have a side who can compete in the Premier League and avoid falling back to the Championship – whether they will or not is a different story all together. There was one clear goal when Forest got promoted this season, build a squad who can compete in the top flight, it was never going to be about making up the numbers the Reds are here for the first time in 23 years and they want to stay.
They’ve spent more than any other promoted side in Premier League history, exceeding the £140m Aston Villa spent when they were last promoted. They’ve gone on to establish themselves as a solid Premier League side and Forest will be hoping to do the same, rubbishing any association with Scott Parker’s Fulham side who were relegated after spending over £100m
Steve Cooper has added well to his squad, actively seeking out players who fit his identity and style of play. Awoniyi, Gibbs-White, Niakhate all played in similar systems previously and those who are in new territory at Nottingham Forest are big improvements and those who they replaced. O’Brien, Mangala, Henderson, Dennis, Freuler, Lodi and Bade are all better than the players Forest had in those positions six-months ago. With no disrespect, having someone like Dennis or Mangala on the bench instead of Ojeda and Taylor is a massive improvement which was required.
You could ask the question did Forest need to sign all of these players? And in reality, I don’t think they did. Lodi has only come in because of Richards long-term injury, I imagine Cooper anticipated we would be much stronger defensively than we have proven to be which is why Bade and Boly were signed on deadline day. There could also be some question marks around why we signed Kouyate but the former Crystal Palace player has looked impressive so far when playing in midfield and can also slot into the backline.
Yes, Forest might have ‘over-signed’, but it’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to injuries and players underperforming. Niakhate, Richards and Mangala have already picked up injuries this season and Cooper now has the depth to replace them without hindering the quality of the squad. Even if Boly makes less than five appearances, or if Bade is only ever used as a sub their low-cost deals means they won’t miss out if they don’t feature but they add some much needed depth in the meantime.
Looking at this window as a whole I think Forest have got it spot on. They’ve faced the immense challenge of rebuilding and improving a promotion-worthy squad into one that can compete in the Premier League. The core of the team has been completely overhauled and improved and you can’t ignore how good the depth now is. I still believe there is probably one-or-two too many signings, but I also don’t think they would have happened had early injuries never occurred.
This summer, Forest spent around £140m, one of the highest in the league, and I still can’t think of anyone they’ve overpaid for. All bar one of their signings have been for less than £20m and all show good value for money, with many having the potential to see their price-tag skyrocket. Many of the new arrivals were pursued by clubs higher up the table but opted for a move to the City Ground for one reason or another.
Still, there is no guarantee that any of this business will work and Cooper has to get it right on the pitch. But one thing is for sure, Forest have put their money where their mouth is and turned their squad from Championship quality to a mid-table Premier League side. It’s the best transfer window any promoted side has ever had, now they’ve just got to make it work on the pitch.