Big-spending Forest making its mark on return to EPL

·4 min read

The phrase “doing a Fulham” entered the British soccer vernacular after a spending spree in 2018 when the newly promoted London club splashed out about 105 million pounds (then $134 million) on 12 new players in the summer transfer window.

It was a record outlay for a promoted club in a single window and, in time, was met with derision, mainly because of Fulham’s apparent scattergun approach and the fact that five of the signings arrived on deadline day. Fulham wound up getting relegated with five games to spare, with the worst goal difference of any team in Europe’s top five leagues.

How, then, will history judge Nottingham Forest’s trolley dash this summer? It’s making Fulham’s 2018 splurge look miserly.

Sixteen signings (so far). An outlay of around $150 million. No. 3 on the list of the heaviest spending clubs in Europe, behind only Barcelona -- marginally -- and Chelsea.

Talk about making your mark after 23 years out of England’s top division. And it might not end there for the two-time former European champions, with a week remaining of the transfer window.

So, how does Forest manager Steve Cooper explain the team’s movement in the market?

“We’ve had no choice,” he said.

In short, Forest lacked numbers and players of the requisite quality in the squad to cope in the Premier League, having languished in England’s lower leagues since 1999.

Four players who started for Forest in its 1-0 win against Huddersfield in the Championship playoff final in May were on loan and immediately returned to their parent clubs. Many in the squad were viewed as simply not good enough for the top flight, especially since Forest’s promotion came as something of a surprise. This was, after all, a team that began last season with one point from its first seven games — its worst start to a campaign in 108 years.

“I really hope everyone is looking into why we have made so many signings and not just putting the narrative out ‘Forest have signed loads of players. Why?‘” Cooper said after the arrival of the club’s 16th signing of the transfer window, Morgan Gibbs-White from Wolverhampton.

“There’s been a real rationale behind it. We’ve had no choice. I don’t mind saying we’d have loved to carry on with our team of last season and made a few additions. Never going to happen.”

The sheer scale of the spree has been surprising, though. As have some of the names on it.

Jesse Lingard stands out. The England midfielder had the pick of clubs after his contract at Manchester United expired — West Ham and Newcastle were among those linked — but he chose Forest, which is reportedly paying more him more than 100,000 pounds ($120,000) a week.

Lingard’s old teammate at United, Dean Henderson, also moved to the City Ground — on loan — while three players have arrived for fees of 20 million pounds ($23.7 million) or more: Neco Williams from Liverpool, Taiwo Awoniyi from Union Berlin in Germany and then Gibbs-White, an English attacking midfielder who has yet to fulfil his potential and was signed for a club-record 25 million pounds ($29.65 million).

Such is the turnaround that from the starting team in the 1-1 draw at Everton on Saturday, only four were at Forest last season.

It sure is a gamble from Forest's owner, Evangelos Marinakis, a Greek tycoon who bought a majority share in the club in 2017 to go with his ownership of Greek champion Olympiakos. He appears to be banking on staying in the Premier League as that will guarantee Forest at least 100 million pounds ($118 million) from this season and the same next season, mainly because of the league’s huge global broadcasting deals worth about 10 billion pounds ($11.8 billion) over three seasons.

Helping Forest's ability to comply with financial fair play regulations is the fact that the club can spread the payment of transfer fees over the length of the players’ contracts. And if the team does survive this season, Forest would likely have to balance the books in upcoming transfer windows, making this summer's heavy spending a one-off.

Relegation would surely guarantee a fire-sale — the likes of Lingard and Henderson won’t hang around — but Forest is hoping that won’t happen, and the start to the season has been encouraging.

After an opening-round 2-0 loss at Newcastle, Forest has beaten West Ham 1-0 and was only denied victory at Everton by a late equalizer.

Tottenham visits the City Ground on Saturday and will represent Forest’s biggest challenge so far, at least on the field.

Because the challenge facing Cooper in getting a completely new squad to gel is something he has never experienced before.

“We’re enjoying it, that’s for sure,” he said, “and we’re definitely facing it because it’s a reality.”

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Steve Douglas, The Associated Press