'It’s our year (again)' – Interview
Friday, 11th Sep 2020 11:00 by Clive Whittingham
Nottingham Forest’s 2019/20 eleventh hour collapse was like few ever seen but with the usual collection of summer additions they’re ready to go all over again for 2020/21 according to our resident optimist Jack McCormick.
A remarkable end to last season, what on earth happened?
That’s a very good question. Was it the 93rd-minute equaliser we conceded in the first game back after the restart? Perhaps it was the 97th-minute equaliser we conceded at 10-man Derby (after absolutely bossing the match, I might add). Maybe it was the 93rd-minute goal we conceded to lose against dead certs for relegation Barnsley in the penultimate game? Otherwise I suppose you could say it was the 4-1 reverse against Stoke on the final day — you know, the one where we didn’t even need a point to make the playoffs. Just avoid a six-goal swing with Swansea, lads. It’s 1-1 after 72 minutes. Even Forest can’t mess this one up. Can someone set up a Zoom call for the playoff semis?
While it’s easy to look at the Stoke match as the worst of the lot, we had been pretty woeful in most matches since the restart. A single point more from any of those would’ve seen us over the line.
If you couldn’t tell from my intro, the biggest theme seemed to be the players falling asleep in added time (we also conceded Fulham’s goal in a 1-0 loss at the City Ground in first-half stoppage time). I’m not sure where that trait came from, considering how solid our defence had been all season — nerves, I suppose. Or a feeling that even Forest should see this one out. Even after we fell away from chasing the top two, playoffs were the least we could expect, weren’t they?
It was just the most Forest of Forest things to ever Forest.
Who got the blame in the fall out?
The manager for his very defensive team selections, none more so than in that loss to Barnsley. Although, had we held onto that point we had in the bag for 92 minutes, nobody would remember the line-up now.
The players, for their inexplicable inability to see out a game. Joe Worrall — who had been a giant at the back all season and had barely put a foot wrong before the restart, and who had cleared one off the line two games prior to preserve a point — got a lot of frankly disgusting abuse for giving away a needless free-kick in that Derby match, which they somehow bundled the ball home from.
The owners and recruitment team, for failing to add the quality we needed to pursue the top two in the January window.
Any question marks over the manager after that? I know he got a new contract just before the implosion…
Absolutely. There were crunch talks with the chairman but I think sense prevailed and we are about to — for the first time in a decade — start a new season with the same manager who started the last one. He’s the best we’ve had at the City Ground for a long time so it would have been madness to let him go, even if he did very rightly have a lot of tough questions to answer. The word is the owners have decided to back him with the players he wants this summer (and you can see that from our acquisitions so far) but I imagine that means if we’re not at least in the top six by Christmas he’ll be gone.
Another typically quiet summer I see, run us through the business done and what you make of it?
Every summer, the biggest job at Forest is trying to clear out some of the deadwood left over from the previous four or five blokes in the manager’s office. Aitor Karanka, for example, signed about a thousand players in the first January window after he took charge and they’ve mostly been frozen out while we pay their wages. We’re still paying Zach Clough, a Warburton signing who hasn’t played a game for anyone above reserve level since his last run-out on loan at Rochdale in 2018. You get the picture.
That’s why actually keeping the same manager for more than a single season is so exciting — and so foreign — to us. It means Sabri Lamouchi can get in more of the kinds of players he needs to make his system and his ethos work.
And, so far, the players we’ve brought in look like exactly what we need: solid, experienced Championship performers. Luke Freeman you know well, and I’m probably most excited about his arrival. Jack Colback is as good a box-to-box destroyer as you’ll find at this level. Lyle Taylor ran the show in both games against us for Charlton last season. Tyler Blackett is a decent, versatile addition. And all of the above were on frees.
The only unknown is a midfielder from Malmo described as the N'Golo Kante of the Swedish premiership, Fouad Bachirou. As I understand it he’s a busy midfielder who will press high up the pitch, win the ball and give it to the likes of Freeman — someone who fits Lamouchi’s style of play and should add another dimension to what was at times an extremely pedestrian midfield last term.
Otherwise, we’ve just agreed to sell Matty Cash to Aston Villa for around £15m. He’s been terrific for us, especially since being converted to a right-back, but you can’t really turn that sort of money down for a Championship player — and he’s done enough for us to merit a crack at the big time. We probably don’t need to replace him directly as we have ample cover at right-back, but I’d like to see us invest a little of the money in another winger to support the likes of Joe Lolley and Sammy Ameobi. I think we’ll need to bank the rest to see off our old foe FFP for another year.
We’ve also shipped back a bunch of loan players who barely contributed, and the world’s oldest player, Ben Watson, has left at the end of his contract. Positive steps in reducing the wage bill.
Ins >>> Fouad Bachirou, 30, DM, Malmo, Undisclosed >>> Lyle Taylor, 30, CF, Charlton, Free >>> Jack Colback, 30, DM, Newcastle, Free >>> Tyler Blackett, 26, LB, Reading, Free >>> Miguel Angel Guerrero, 30, CF, Olympiacos, Free >>> Luke Freeman, 28, AM, Sheff Utd, Loan
Outs >>> Matty Cash, 23, RWB, Villa, £14m >>> Tyler Walker, 23, CF, Coventry, Undisclosed >>> Liam Bridcutt, 31, DM, Lincoln, Free >>> Luke Steele, 35, GK, Released
Where is the squad strong and weak?
With the signings we’ve made, there’s no position that stands out as particularly weak. We may be lacking a little cover at centre-back, especially if the rumours linking Joe Worrall to Burnley don’t go away, and as I said above I’d like another winger.
I’d say we’re pretty strong up front, with Taylor now supporting Lewis Grabban — who was the first striker to score 20 in a season for us since David Johnson and Marlon Harewood both did it many, many moons ago. I also like the look of our other attacking players, with Freeman bringing much-needed guile and creativity alongside the dribbling of Lolley, the wonderful unpredictability of Ameobi, and the pace and direct running of youngster Alex Mighten, who’s just signed a new contract. I also fancy Nuno Da Costa, a winger/striker signed and then injured in January, to have a decent season — and, if we’re lucky, we may even see record signing Joao Carvalho make a few more appearances than he has for the past 18 months.
Is there ever any suggestion that the sheer amount of players Forest turn over might be part of the problem?
As I mentioned above, that’s a resounding ‘yes’. It’s probably our biggest challenge. You’re never going to find a settled squad, formation or playing style if you swap out the man in charge ever six months or so. Every new manager will have his own ideas and will want to bring in his own players. The problem is we say “OK, here are 10 new ones”, then sack him and bring in a guy who doesn’t fancy them — but they’re on fat contracts and we’re stuck with them for at least three years each.
Fingers crossed, if Lamouchi last another season, we’ll be rid of most of the deadwood from previous regimes. I dread to think how much we haemorrhage on wages each year for players who don’t even make the bench.
Is it your year again?
Yes. Always. After 22 years out of the top flight — and three very dark ones in League 1 — there is no other option than to be a hopeless optimist. Because, if you face the reality that we can no longer really, truthfully claim to be a ‘big’ club, that we’ve spent longer outside the top flight than in it, that we’re one of only two or three clubs in the entire football league to have never played at the new Wembley, that we haven’t even made the playoffs for a decade, or that we’re going to have to keep selling our best players every year just to stay afloat, you might just decide to pack it all in. And where’s the fun in that?
Links >>> Official Website >>> Nottingham Post – Local Press >>> LTLF – Message Board >>> Bandy and Shinty – Fanzine >>> Forza Garibaldi – Blog >>> LFW Reciprocal Interview >>> Matchday with Max – YouTube Channel
The Twitter @jack_mccormick, @loftforwords
Pictures – Action Images
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