After Leeds United’s ascension into the promised land of the Premier League, there remains two clubs in the EFL to have won major European trophies – 1981 UEFA Cup winners, Ipswich Town, and Nottingham Forest. For the latter, it’s now over 40 years since a John Robertson goal delivered the second of two European Cups in succession. A nice memory, but also one that reminds Forest fans that glory days are firmly in the past.
Fans need no reminding that Forest have just started their 22nd season in succession outside England’s top flight. Their average position in the Championship over the last ten seasons has been a thoroughly unremarkable 13th. 2010/11 was the last time they made the Playoffs.
But fans would be delighted to see Forest even in mid-table at the moment. Four defeats in four games saw them in the relegation zone before the international break, only ahead of Wycombe on goal difference and Sheffield Wednesday who started on minus 12 points. A defeat to high-flying Bristol City was the final straw for the owners, who promptly sacked manager Sabri Lamouchi and replaced him with Chris Hughton. While Hughton is seen as a safe pair of hands and got his Forest tenure off to a fine start with a win over Blackburn, he has quite the task ahead of him if he is to get a tune out of Forest.
Hughton must stabilise a squad in constant flux
The first problem Hughton faces is to get to grips with a squad that contains plenty of talent on paper, but little cohesion. To give you an indication of the kind of upheaval we have seen at Forest in recent seasons, consider that former boss Aitor Karanka, who had a year in charge up until January 2019, signed 24 players across two transfer windows. Lamouchi also signed over a dozen players in 2020. Forest haven’t been spending a fortune, as many players left too, but it’s the constant state of flux that has been hurting the team.
The second issue facing Hughton is to develop some kind of workable understanding with the owner, shipping magnate Stefanos Marinakis. The 53-year-old Greek also owns Olympiakos, but he has shown the kind of knee-jerk decision making that is reminiscent of Venky’s at Blackburn Rovers. Hughton is the sixth man to take his place in the dugout since Marinakis bought the club in May 2017. The onus should be on the board to give Hughton time.
You would imagine that Hughton will see the resolution of those two issues above as a means to achieve stability first and foremost. On paper, Forest look too good to be involved in a relegation battle – although you never can tell in the Championship – but they certainly do not look like they will be anywhere near the Playoff spots even should Hughton quickly get them out of this funk. He might want to resist the temptation to overhaul the squad in January, although there are several players who might seem surplus to requirements.
Soh could be a superstar
The green shoots for Hughton? Some clear quality to build a team around. 19-year-old centre back Loic Mbe Soh, who Forest signed from Paris Saint Germain, looks like a star of the future. Lewis Grabban has demonstrated he has the skillset to get goals in the Championship. And, Jack Colback has settled in nicely, transferring from Newcastle after spending a couple of seasons on loan at the City Ground. You would worry, however, about signings like Cafu (not that one) and Miguel Guerrero, both of whom came from Olympiakos. Neither player would be there had it not been for Marinakis’ influence.
In a perfect world, Hughton would get time to assess the squad and then start building from next summer onwards. He might not get that, however, such is Marinakis propensity towards meddling. It would be a shame as Hughton seems the right man for the job of getting this historic club – the oldest in the EFL after Notts County’s relegation to the National League – back to where many believe it belongs.