For the past few seasons, the January transfer window has been regarded as a big opportunity for Nottingham Forest to do business and strengthen a squad which was pushing for a place in the Premier League. Ultimately the manager and fans were left disappointed every time as the window came and went with little or no activity at the City Ground. The rumour mills might have gone into overdrive and we may have hoped to finally see a permanent left-back arrive on Trentside, but alas it never happened.
Ironically, Forest could be one of the most active clubs in this coming window – arguably the most pivotal in the club’s recent history – as manager Steve Cotterill attempts to wheel and deal to build a squad which can pull the Reds away from the Championship drop zone.
On the financial side, things are changing at the City Ground. Chairman Nigel Doughty – as has been so often discussed – will no longer be ploughing great sums of money into the club and Forest have to adopt a more frugal stance when it comes to refreshing the squad. Despite the club being in debt to Doughty, his money and generosity allowed Forest to pay transfer fees and wages to bring new faces in, in the face of criticisms he received from some Forest supporters. This approach has meant there are some big earners at the club, hence the need to trim the wage bill.
Doughty will continue to fund contracts signed during his chairmanship, some lasting until May 2014. However there are players whose contracts run out far sooner than that and Cotterill understands that some of the playing staff must leave to free up funds for offering new deals to existing players, not to mention bringing new ones in.
Wes Morgan, Paul Anderson, Joel Lynch and Luke Chambers could all leave on free transfers in the summer unless offered new terms and would be able to speak to potential new employers in January, as Kelvin Wilson did before agreeing to join Celtic last year.
Despite the club’s poor current league position, there are players who would attract interest from other sides so Forest will have to act fast to tie down those they want to keep. A criticism levelled at the club in recent years is that contracts have been allowed to run down and good players, who they could have demanded a decent fee for, have left for nothing. Wilson was one, Kris Commons before him as well as Robert Earnshaw and Nathan Tyson most recently.
Allowing Wes Morgan to leave would surely be a bad move, as he’s been a first-choice centre-half and stalwart of the backline for the last eight years. Fellow players in the Championship have said he is one of the toughest opponents in the league and despite his limitations, he is an honest pro who gives his all for the Red shirt. Fellow centre-back Luke Chambers has been heavily criticised for some lacklustre performances this season so some supporters would be happy to see him leave, while Joel Lynch has improved hugely this year since breaking into the side. However if any of those three were to depart, it would see Forest short on defensive cover unless the manager can find a few adequate replacements.
A great challenge which faces Steve Cotterill is finding a way of restructuring an imbalanced squad. Forest have many midfielders on the books and at least five first-team strikers in Ishmael Miller, Dexter Blackstock, Marcus Tudgay, Matt Derbyshire and David McGoldrick. Miller and Derbyshire were signed by Steve McClaren on sizeable wages along with Jonathan Greening, Andy Reid and to a lesser extent, George Boateng. Last week Cotterill showed his frustrations with the tools at his disposal when he said “We have 101 strikers, 101 midfielders but on Saturday (against Crystal Palace) we only had 4 defenders.”
One of Forest’s most saleable assets would be Lewis McGugan. The midfielder is talented and was reportedly interesting the likes of Newcastle United after some standout moments in a Red shirt last season. He has blown hot and cold throughout his Forest career but is a match-winner on his day, capable of the spectacular. He could still play a vital role in dragging the Reds away from the relegation spots but at the same time, should the club receive a decent fee for the 23-year-old then it would be sensible to sell him. His value has gone down thanks to indifferent displays and Forest’s current league position. £1 – £1.5 million may be the best Forest can hope for, despite a fee double that size being banded about last season.
This is all pure speculation of course, there is no guarantee that clubs will be queuing up in January to take players off Forest’s hands given their league position and inconsistent form so far this season, along with potential fees and wages to be paid.
The wage bill will be a contributing factor to players coming in and out of the club. Some of Forest’s players are on wages which few Championship clubs could match. McGoldrick, Reid, Derbyshire, Miller and Greening would all attract interest but clubs would be put off by wage demands. Greening and Reid have begun to find their feet in the Forest side recently, so they would certainly be worth keeping. McGoldrick cost £1 million from Southampton three years ago and has struggled to nail down a starting berth at Forest, showing signs of what he can do in occasional appearances. Unless Cotterill wants him to play more of a role in the first-team he could be on the way out.
Matt Derbyshire’s situation is an intriguing one. A former Premier League player with Champions League experience, it was hoped the former Blackburn Rovers man would get goals at Championship level. The striker has not featured as often as he would have liked and only has two Forest goals to his name. He has struggled to adapt to life in the second tier, but signed a three-year deal in the summer and should still have something to offer up front, however getting him off the wage bill would help financially.
Ishmael Miller was bought for £1.2 millon in August and is one of the biggest earners at the City Ground. It is unlikely he will be moving on and the former West Bromwich Albion frontman has proven in the past he can perform in the Championship. A strong player with a good turn of pace, Miller is a versatile option in attack, the kind of player Forest need.
For all the strikers Forest may have at the club, none of them is regarded as a twenty goal a season player. Blackstock may get ten to fifteen a campaign, but he is just coming back after a year on the sidelines with an horrific knee injury so it is unfair to expect him to start banging in the goals just yet.
Marcus Tudgay meanwhile is a hard-working forward who plays more like a supporting striker, he has got goals to his name already but has struggled to find the back of the net in recent games as Forest have gone the last four matches – or six hours – without scoring. Derbyshire has struggled for form, McGoldrick is not prolific and Miller’s goalscoring ratio is similar to that of Dexter Blackstock. Strikers are at a premium at the best of times, so it would take some excellent business for Forest to find a consistent goal poacher.
One reason Reds chairman Frank Clark brought Steve Cotterill to the club is for his ability to work on a tight budget and these qualities will be tested to the limit during the next few weeks as he tries to get his squad in order. He is clearly unhappy with its imbalance and will want to change things to give Forest the best chance of staying in the division. Given the form shown by some of the team so far this season, it may be for the best if we see new players arriving in January. As a priority, the defence and attack are departments which need addressing and the squad as a whole would benefit from freshening up.
For the immediate future, supporters have to accept that a rebuilding job is needed at the City Ground on limited resources. As frustrating as it may be after being so close to promotion under Billy Davies, success this season would be Championship safety with a view to developing the squad further in the summer.
Forest are expected to do some business in the January transfer window and it will be interesting to see just how Steve Cotterill rings the changes.
Written by Steven Toplis, We Are Going Up podcast member and Nottingham Forest blogger
Steven tweets at @steven_toplis