Nottingham Forest: Season 1, September
So, I know I said it would be back to Sheffield United but, as much as that save appealed, I realised that I'd been talking about a Forest save for more than a year and never got around to it. So, I decided the time was right...
Normally at this point we'd be talking about all the great players I'd signed to make up for all of the holes in the squad. Forest present a rather different problem - the squad is ridiculously large, with a number of loan signings who aren't much (if at all) better than players already at the club, and we were paying a huge amount of money for them. In central defence we had five CBs on the books and had loaned in Molla Wague for an extra £10k a week - perhaps justifiable if we were going to play three at the back, but we don't have the wingbacks to play that setup. Wague was sent home. Speaking of wingbacks, we have two decent-ish RBs, including loan signing Saidy Janko, but had also loaned in Sam Byram from West Ham, for whom we were paying around £30k a week in wages plus loan fees making him the most expensive player in the squad. And he starts with a long-term injury. Bye Sam!
In midfield, we have more than enough bodies to cover either a 442 or 433, but had loaned in Pele from Monaco for £33k a week. Good player but a luxury we can't afford. Terminated! For reasons known only to the idiots on my board, we were also paying £35k a week for the services of Jack Colback. Er... no thanks! On the right-wing, we have Joe Lolley and Matty Cash, two good players, but have also loaned Diogo Concalves from Sporting Lisbon. Unfortunately, his loan can't be terminated; fortunately, he's only costing us £4k a week; unfortunately he's the worst of the trio, so we just have to live with it.
Up front, we are also paying a fortune for the loan services of Leo Bonatini from Wolves. Leo has good days and bad days, but not enough of the good ones to justify paying Wolves £26.5k a week. Sadly, since I'm resolved to play a classic 442 with Forest, I need him as a fourth striker and can't find anyone better. Reluctantly, I allow him to stay. The only alternative was to put my faith in an ageing Daryl Murphy, and having managed him at Ipswich last year I had very little faith. When US clubs started showing an interest, it was easy to let him go to DC United for £100k. Also leaving was Liam Bridcutt, a decent player but good for only a DM role, which I had no intention of using; he went to West Brom for £2.6m. Also aboard the outbound train was 32-year-old Jamie Ward, who joined Orlando City for £400k. All told, we raised more than £3m in transfer fees, and freed up more than £150k a week in wages.
Did we actually sign anyone? In fact, we did. On first joining, the squad has no LB, with only Colback providing makeshift cover. Languishing in the u23 squad was 24-year-old Jack Robinson, who looked to me more than capable of doing a job. No sooner had I brought him back to the senior squad than Middlesboro and Swansea showed transfer interest, which was duly rebuffed. But that still left us short of cover. There was talk on the (virtual) street of a hot young Spanish LB at Real Madrid who was available for loan. Enquiries were made and quickly Sergio Reguilon was lured to the exotic realm of Nottingham (@Jogo Bonito: cheers, buddy!!)
Pre-season presented the usual lack of obstacles and nothing is to be read into the results. Except, perhaps, the fact that in 7 games we scored 33 goals and conceded only 3. Whatever...
Happily, we carried that form into our first competitive game, beating Sheffield Wednesday away. Less happily, we followed that with a pretty dismal home draw against a poor Ipswich side who did just enough to prevent us finding the net for the first time since I took charge. By the beginning of September, we are unbeaten in the league and with just a single defeat - in R2 of the Carbao - to blemish our record.
So, third place - got to be happy with that.
Board expectations are top-half finish; media prediction is 8th; my own expectation is a playoff place but, inevitably, hoping for better. The only downside so far (apart from the early Carabao Cup exit) is the form of Lewis Grabban up front - despite tipped as a candidate for the league's top scorer, he's found the net only once, and that from the penalty spot. Well, that and the performances of CB Yohan Benalouane, who thinks he's god's gift to football but in fact has the worst record of all our backline. Two players who need to buck up their ideas!