To sit and analyse the issues and ongoings at Nottingham Forest football club extensively is a task greater than many in the world of football writing. Shady leaks and reports deriving straight from the top of the club regarding everything from manager sackings and removal lorries, trickling all the way down to what we simply see week-in week-out on the pitch. Bereft of ideas and severely lacking in quality (and points), the club have, and there is no other way to put this, had a horrendous start to the season. And with more and more fingers being pointed towards Chris Hughton for this tough run of form, the window has (eventually) spat out 10 fresh faces for him to choose from.
As we know, new signings and Nottingham Forest do not always go hand in hand. In fact, as I look through a long list of Leo Bonatini’s and Rafa Mir’s, it’s more of a shock when a signing comes in that actually works out. But ever the optimist, this time it seems like we have 10 new boys on the books with a real edge about them. In this article, I’ll be having a brief look at our latest reds, and what they can offer in Nottingham Forest’s fight to fix their form and get away from the wrong end of the league.
Were Forest crying out for a new goalkeeper at the start of the window? Eh, not really. Could Forest do with a goalkeeper with real ability to come in and push both himself and Brice Samba to the best of their abilities? Absolutely. Enter Ethan Horvath. The 26-year-old American shot-stopper enters a goalkeeping department that only really contains Samba as his real competition, with Jordan Smith unlikely to be too busy this season and other options Abdoulaye Diallo (assuming he was a real person) and George Shelvey both departing in some fashion this summer.
A Colorado native, Horvath had trained with a host of English clubs, namely Stoke, Bristol and Manchester City, before being recruited into the Tippeligaen by none other than Ole Gunnar Solksjaer, then head coach at Molde. After making his debut as a substitute for Orjan Nyland, who was sold the following summer of 2015 to Ingolstadt, the 20-year-old was thrust into first-choice action, and shone brilliantly, helping Molde to concede just 31 goals all season, second only to the champions.
How does this help Forest? Well, we’ve already had a taste of what he can do, with two fine performances in the Carabao Cup against Bradford and Wolves (despite the heavy scoreline against the latter) showing us what he is capable of, particularly against Wolves, where he made 4 fantastic saves and stopped the scoreline being much more drastic than it already was. Horvath is a top-level goalkeeper with Champions League experience; holding clean sheets over Atletico Madrid, Borussia Dortmund and AS Monaco to his name, and he is exactly who Forest need to revitalise or, dare I say it, replace Brice Samba as Forest’s number one. Competition is always healthy in professional sports, and if someone can light a fire under Samba to get back to his best, it’s Ethan Horvath.
Oh, he barely needs any introduction or explaining does he.
Forest fans were desperate for James Garner to return to the East Midlands after his tantalising half-season loan from Man United, and now they have their wish. A dynamic and progressive box-to-box midfielder, Garner oozes class all over the pitch and he was a massive part to Forest’s improved form towards the back end of the season, as well as bagging in the East Midlands derby, as if he wasn’t enough of a hero already. After tallying 4 goals in a Forest shirt last season, including an absolute belter on the final day versus Preston, Garner can provide the spark from midfield once again that Forest so dearly requires at the moment.
Defensive-minded and not moving the ball into the pockets quickly enough to create meaningful attack, the common midfield pivot of Jack Colback and Ryan Yates simply doesn’t have enough about it. That’s where Garner can bolster the squad perfectly; he recorded one of the highest pass accuracies in the league over his half-season stay, as well as being one of the leaders in forward passes and progressive passes, making him ideal for a midfield that needs a forward-thinking man.
Causer of debates, and hopefully scorer of goals; Xande Silva.
There is absolutely zero doubt in my mind that Forest really need a new striker; Grabban and Taylor simply don’t look up for it these days, and even if they were there isn’t much depth there. A deal for Josh Maja was well on the way on deadline day, until he reportedly failed a medical, leaving us with the duo as our only striking options. After some late contacts and negotiations, however, the club came up with this man.
An Iron by way of Vitoria Guimaraes, the Portuguese forward is comfortable both as a central striker and out wide, giving Forest depth in 2 areas of the field. As a goal scorer, however? Less impressive. 9 goals in his last 107 matches isn’t exactly lethal firepower, but a quick look at some of his performances will show you that his record in front of goal isn’t the whole story.
Firstly, he’s fast. Really fast. And explosive goodness on the ball is something that will work excellently in a counter-attacking system, as will his ability on the ball. He’s tricky and silky but works the fundamentals well, crucially. On top of that, he does have the ability to find the back of the net well; he was a decent scorer in the West Ham Academy and shows composure when clear chances are presented to him.
Is he going to waltz straight into the team and solve everything? Unlikely, but do I also think the large portion of fans writing him off already are purely doing it because his name isn’t Josh Maja? Definitely. A bit of depth and flair can go a long way to helping the team, and Xande Silva has the potential to do that well.
Oh, don’t we love some controversy. Bringing in a former Derby player is always an eyebrow raiser, but Max Lowe is out to expel any doubts over him with his playing.
Explosively fast, well-drilled on the ball and gifted with a fantastic delivery, the new man is certain to impress in a position that required reinforcement, with Tyler Blackett, Nicholas Ioannou and Yuri Ribeiro all departing in the window.
Life at Sheffield United in the Premier League didn’t exactly go to plan; a string of underwhelming performances led to manager Chris Wilder stating he was “starting games too early”. He subsequently lost his spot in the team and made just 2 appearances in the Premier League between December and March, playing just 8 times from 33 matchday squad appearances.
There should be no qualms about the quality of Lowe, however. In his Derby days we could (albeit begrudgingly) admit the quality he possessed across his 29 appearances in his final season with the Rams. It may be another loan, which many understandably want to steer away from, but Max Lowe is a gem of an acquisition in a position he was needed in.
At the start of the summer, what with the departure of 3 left-backs and one right-back, a lot of questions were raised about the lightness of the full-back department at Nottingham Forest. Now at the end of the window, the question is about the overload of choices we have at the club. Osei-Tutu, an Arsenal academy graduate who had most recently endured an injury-ruined spell at fellow championship side Cardiff City, is one of them, but there’s every chance he could be the best of the lot.
While his debut for the club didn’t turn out well result-wise, the performance he put in certainly did. Tough in the tackle and disciplined on the ball, he was one of few who could come out of the Bournemouth fixture with his head held up. He managed to record a tackle and 2 successful dribbles in his short cameo in the next game, a midweek clash against Blackburn with the same outcome as his debut (2-1 loss), before a leg injury forced Fin Back on to replace him for his league debut.
It was a hamstring injury, in fact, that limited him to just 9 appearances in a Cardiff City shirt the season before now. He made 7 appearances before then, which had left fans and manager Mick McCarthy impressed with what they saw, but 6 months on the side-line saw him only make 2 more showings for the Bluebirds, before a separate ankle injury cut his stay in Wales short.
After picking up an injury in a Forest shirt already, some may be worried about the availability of the Gunner, but should he be fit and able to play, I have little doubt that he could be a fantastic get for Forest. As versatile as he is talented, Jordi showed immense talent across his season in Germany with VFL Bochum, registering five Bundesliga 2 goals in his time there, as well as a long string of impressive performances on every wide area of the pitch. Some questions were raised by the German fans over his defensive capabilities towards the start of the season, but he soon squashed those murmurs later in the year, recording 6 clean sheets in 7 as a wing-back towards the end of the season. As the old saying goes, the best ability is availability, but if the Slough man can stay available as often as possible, Nottingham Forest may be the next side to benefit hugely from his talent.
Another player brought in on loan from the Premier League who we have already been lucky enough to see in action, introducing Philip Zinckernagel.
When fans of a Premier League side are disappointed with the club for loaning out one of their players, it usually bodes well for the side who are signing him. And Watford fans were not too pleased when the Danish winger joined the Reds towards the middle of the window.
What to say about him? Well, he’s an absolute winger. He’s blisteringly quick and has lightning-fast feet and tricks up his sleeve, but also has a dangerous passing range and is a fan of a cheeky shot from distance every once in a while. Forest have been crying out for an explosive, tricky winger to come to the club and give them that extra spark; like Joe Lolley did circa 2018. We saw our first taste of Zinckernagel in the 2-1 opening day loss to Coventry but got a real showing out of him in the cup victory over Bradford, where he set up Joao Carvalho twice with a beautiful cross and a ball over the top. Following this along with a bright performance against Bournemouth and his first goal for the club, a fantastic effort from long range against Blackburn, both unfortunately defeats, leaves Forest fans very excited over their new acquisition.
Hear me out; Forest should have one of the better attacks in the league, and Zinckernagel looks like he can be a big asset to have in it, if his early performances are anything to judge him off. The real question may truly be whether Forest’s football is the system to fully unlock what the Dane is clearly capable of.
Okay, I’ll be honest, I’m not too sure what to make of the signing of Mohammed Drager.
Yet another gift from the ever-present Marinakis-Olympiakos-Nottingham Forest love triangle, the Tunisian wing-back might be better judged off his performances in Germany on a 2-year loan spell with Paderborn, where he featured 50 times across both the Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2. In a similar path to former Forest man Matty Cash, now of Aston Villa, he started his senior career as a right-winger, but has been re-trained in recent years as a right-back.
So, what can we come to expect of him? Well, there isn’t much to judge him off from his time with Olympiakos; he endured a torrid time in Greece, being limited to just 8 league appearances and a solitary Champions League game and cup game apiece. From his time in Germany though, we have reason to be excited.
Like fellow summer signing Jordi Osei-Tutu, Drager spent his time in Germany up each area of the right flank, showing ability in all. Possessing pace and power combined with fine crossing technique in his arsenal, he is a considerable threat going forward in attack. At times, his commitment to going forwards can result in some lax defensive positioning, causing teams to target his side on the counter, which may hold back players like Joe Lolley, Philip Zinckernagel and Brennan Johnson if they have to abort their duties as a winger to cover him. When present defensively though, Drager is a great tackler, recording a 67% tackle success rate in his first season in Germany.
Brutally, Mohammed Drager may end up as being somewhat of a needless signing; coming from a club where he wasn’t wanted to a club who A) arguably don’t need him and B) was the only place for him to be sold to, with Marinakis at the helm of both clubs, but depth is never a bad thing and should he be able to play as well as he did in his Paderborn days, there is no reason for Forest fans to be disappointed with the Tunisian’s arrival.
If the response from fans in South America to this signing is anything to go by, Nottingham Forest fans have something to buzz about in their new Paraguayan centre midfielder.
A recently capped Paraguay international, Ojeda came through the ranks at Paraguayan Premier Division side Olimpia, making his debut in a 3-2 win over Sol De America, and since went on to make a further 27 appearances in the league, scoring 1 goal in the process alongside a league title win: Olimpia’s 42nd in their history. He was capped multiple times at U17, U20 and U23 level for his national team, before receiving his first senior cap as a 65th minute substitute in a 2-0 away loss to Ecuador in the most recent round of World Cup qualifiers.
What really matters, however, is how he is going to get on with life in Nottingham. A more demanding league, and a fan-base who are begging for instant quality, Ojeda must hit the ground running as he comes through with the Reds. Luckily, he looks like he has the spark to do just that.
Roberto Rojas, a journalist and producer from Paraguay, said this about him when speaking to Nottingham Forest News,”Braian Ojeda, for me, is a player that is capable of playing in the centre midfield, either being able to track back and help defensively or start attacks moving forward.
“He’s not the most imposing character but he is a player that is very technical and can change angles of attacking with his passing range. I think he is best suited in a midfield line of four where he is able to have the space to use his skills to win the ball and play it to the forwards.”
Described as ‘one of the brighter gems’ in his home country, Rojas does go on to say that Ojeda could face a challenge in adapting to the fast-paced footballing environment synonymous with English football.
So, to summarise, Forest seem to have secured a very bright talent indeed. However, untried and untested in English football at the young age of 21, it could be a big task for him to perform at the peak of his powers straight away. If he can though? Well, then it seems we have reason to be excited.
The club truly cannot get enough of right backs in this window. Defensive reinforcement was something that would’ve always been welcomed, but there may always be the worry that some may simply play cameo roles in the circus show that is Nottingham Forest.
The onus is on Djed Spence, then, to break out of the group and be the best of the lot. And there’s every chance he may.
Another player with versatility in his locker, Spence spent as much time as a right midfielder as he did as a full back with Neil Warnock’s side last year. Standing at just over 6’2, he cuts a physically imposing character on the field, using his size and strength to his benefit to keep the ball in possession under challenge. His quick feet are beneficial here as well; the man loves to dribble and uses his deceptive quickness to race away in possession and down the touchline when out of it, creating space through the usage of his own explosiveness.
However, with so many full backs joining the club this summer, it would be unfair to not speak of his weaknesses. And his main weaknesses lie in both his passing and his defending.
Over the course of his 38 Boro appearances last term, he averaged only a 70% passing accuracy, alongside an average of 0.8 tackles and 0.7 interceptions a match. When going forward, his pace and power provide a fantastic outlet for his team-mates to slide into the pockets of space he leaves in his wake, but when the ball comes to him, he isn’t the most naturally gifted playmaker on earth. Additionally, he can also fall victim to the occasional lack of defensive positioning.
Overall, though, Nottingham Forest appear to be adding another young, hungry talent to their ranks. Someone with a point to prove and the raw ability to back it up is a dangerous player to face. While some of the fundamentals may fall slightly short for Spence, he 100% has the potential to be a star turn in this side. It all remains to be seen as the season drags on.
There is every possibility that I am saving the best until last here. Introducing Rodrigo Ely: the signing nobody saw coming.
Starting his professional career at AC Milan by way of Brazilian side Gremio, the 27-year-old had most recently played for La Liga side Alaves, where his career had been stop-start due to injury problems. He had been a rock at the back during his first full season at the club (he had initially been there on loan) across 31 appearances, but injuries kept him limited to just 5 showings in the season after. After recovering from that setback, Ely made a further 25 appearances for the club in the 19-20 season, but a serious knee injury in December of the season after made sure his last appearance for Alaves, a 2-0 loss away to Celta Vigo, was to be his final one in Spain. He was released at the end of the season.
However, there is every reason to believe that Ely can be a success with the reds. At 6’2, Ely is a fantastic threat in the air, recording a fantastic 1.7 aerial dual victories a match across his entire stay with Alaves. In fact, during his one season with Avellino in Serie B, he was only beaten to the ball in the air 18 times across the entirety of the season.
What he can bring to Forest, like a few of these signings, is a bit of real quality, as well as depth in departments of need. Is he going to walk in and immediately displace fan favourites like Joe Worrall and Scott McKenna? Absolutely not. But I have little doubt that he could be a fantastic option to have as a back-up ahead of Tobias Figueiredo. At 27 years old, he’s got years left in the tank and if there were ever a time or a club to put your problems behind you and kick on in front of fans who will love you if you get it right, it’s right now, and at Nottingham Forest football club.
No, we didn’t sign Josh Maja and sure, the striker department is still somewhat light. But Forest have stepped out and brought in 9 new faces and a fan favourite, as well as bringing the average age of new signings down by 7 years from the year previous. 7. Years. Forest need to turnaround their form, there is no secret of that at all, but bringing in a group of players who not only look to have a real edge of quality and talent about them, but also will be hungry to succeed, can only do them good. Its going to be a long old season, but this transfer window has been nothing to grumble about.
*Article provided by Louis Wheeldon (Nottingham Forest Correspondent).
*Main image @NFFC the Forest players celebrate during a tough season.