For many people the end of the football season provides a welcome break from the rigours of the game. However for managers, chairmen and directors at clubs up and down the country, preparations for next season are already underway.
At Nottingham Forest, manager Steve Cotterill will also be hoping to put his plans into place for the 2012-13 season, having secured the Reds’ Championship status. But this may prove more difficult than expected, as the club is currently up for sale and without an owner, so it is more difficult to buy new players or offer contracts to existing ones.
Since the death of Nigel Doughty in January, there have been shadows cast over future of the club. After resigning as Chairman he generously pledged to cover contracts signed under his chairmanship until 2014, and the club have confirmed they will be funded by his estate until the end of next season at least.
Without Doughty’s money available upon demand, Forest have had to spend within their means. Their January loan signings were funded by the £2.5 million received from the sales of Wes Morgan and Patrick Bamford so with money tight, preparations for next season may have to be put on hold.
The contracts of seven first team players are expiring at the end of June. Garath McCleary and Joel Lynch have already been offered new deals, but it looks like Luke Chambers, Paul Anderson, Paul Smith, George Boateng and Marlon Harewood have not been offered extensions, simply because the funds are not there to do so.
Four loan players are also returning to their parent clubs and there is no guarantee that Adlene Guedioura, Greg Cunningham, George Elokobi or Scott Wooton will be back at Forest next season.
Seven contracts have been allowed to run down together, meaning all the players concerned may walk out of the door for free and leave a big dent in the Forest squad. Next summer could be even worse as thirteen deals expire, including the ones for key players such as Chris Cohen, Lee Camp, Chris Gunter and Dexter Blackstock.
This week Blackstock expressed his concern over the club’s transfer policy, questioning how so many contracts are coming to an end at the same time, when they could have been renewed a year ago or before.
In many ways he is correct. This isn’t the first time Forest have allowed players to enter the final weeks of their contract and risked losing personnel for nothing. Last summer Robert Earnshaw, Nathan Tyson, Paul McKenna, Dele Adebola and Julian Bennett all left on free transfers and Forest had to spend more money to find replacements. In hindsight, some of the funds given to Steve McClaren could’ve been used to extend contracts.
Prior to those departures centre back Kelvin Wilson also left, joining Celtic on a free transfer. As his contract entered its final six months in January 2011, he signed a pre-contract agreement with the Scottish side and we ended up with a situation where one of the club’s best defenders was left out of the first team until his departure. It may well have been Billy Davies’ decision to bench Wilson, but his contract should have been renewed sooner to avoid such a situation. If he was under contract at least Forest could have commanded a fee for his services should he have still wished to move on.
In the summer of 2008 Kris Commons joined Derby County on a free transfer. The move caused controversy as he was one of the club’s best players, signing for our great rivals without Forest receiving a penny. Forest had left it late before offering him a new contract, but he rejected it to move down the other end of the A52. Two years later he moved to Celtic for £300,000, making Derby a tidy profit.
Earnshaw, Tyson, McKenna and Wilson cost Forest over £4.5 million in total transfer fees and in all were allowed to leave for nothing. Had the club sold them there’s no guarantee they could have recouped all of that money back, but they would have received decent amounts sums if those players were under contract. It does not make good business sense to allow players to exit the club for free on a regular basis.
Prior to the sales of Patrick Bamford and Wes Morgan, the only profit Forest made on a player in recent years was the £1.5 million Newcastle paid for James Perch in 2010. Revenue from transfer sales could prove crucial if the club wishes to be financially self-sufficient and this is an area where Forest must improve.
Some will point the finger at Chief Executive Mark Arthur or even Nigel Doughty for the reasons why Forest’s contract policies have not been up to scratch over the last five years. As Financial Fair Play begins to come into force during the next few seasons, Forest will have to take a look at their transfer policy and learn from mistakes made in the past. Either players are sold for good fees or they are tied down to longer deals that will prevent them from walking away for nothing.
For the long-term benefit of the club, the powers that be must sort out a coherent transfer strategy which provides value for money. Most recently teams such as Reading and Swansea have shown that you don’t need to spend big to be successful in the Championship. Through having a good scouting network, a willingness to give academy prospects a chance to shine and a bit of patience, teams can go far.
Joel Lynch, who cost £250,000 when bought from Brighton and Garath McCleary, signed for a £25,000 sum from non-league Bromley in 2008 are two examples where Forest have unearthed good players from the lower leagues, turning them into consistent Championship performers.
This could be a pivotal summer for Nottingham Forest. The prospect of new ownership is exciting and would give the club some much-needed stability behind the scenes. It may also offer an opportunity for Forest to set out a proper plan of how they want to operate as a club in the future. If this is done well, they could be reaping the rewards for many years to come.
Written by Steven Toplis, We Are Going Up podcast member and Nottingham Forest blogger
Steven tweets at @steven_toplis