The sharpened scythe of the Grim Reaper hands over Nottingham Forest’s season.
Already in the thick of a relegation battle, the Tricky Trees have now fallen into the crosshairs of the Premier League’s accountants over possible Profitability & Sustainability Rule (PSR) breaches. Their top-flight survival is as such even more under threat.
The arrival of Nuno Espirito Santo as head coach has largely been greeted with positivity by the Forest faithful, but will that be enough to keep them in the Premier League come May?
Spend in Haste, Repent at Leisure
Having spent around £165 million over the course of the 2022/23 season, plus another £105 million during 2023/24 to date, you don’t need your maths GCSE to know that the Forest hierarchy are playing with fire financially.
Of that combined £270 million outlay, only around £60 million has been recouped in player sales. The decision to offload Brennan Johnson came as much out of fiscal necessity as anything else.
It sill leaves a black hole of around £200 million to fill. Not even the curious moving on of Jonjo Shelvey can cater for that and given that Forest are not a huge club in terms of global commercial appeal, you do wonder where that shortfall will be made up.
The PSR rules allow a club to lose £105 million or less over a three-year accounting period without any sanction forthcoming, but any more than that and it could be trouble. Everton have already found this out the hard way this season.
The issue Forest face is that their PSR threshold is lower. They played in the Championship during their current three-year window, which means that last season’s splurge has left them in hot water….and lots of it.
Those in the know have intimated that Forest’s rule breach is on a par with Everton’s, which given the precedent set by the Toffees in terms of punishment, could leave the Midlanders facing a ten-point deduction.
By the time you read this, the situation may have evolved and more might be known. But as it stands, you can be sure that Forest are planning for a ten-point deduction that will threaten their Premire League status.
Are there three teams worse than Forest in the Premier League this season?
The raw stats. Points won, goals scored/conceded etc suggests as much. Other metrics, be it xG for/against, shots on target per 90 minutes or big chances created/yielded, also confirm that Forest have enough to keep their collective head above water this term.
But there are complications. Between now and the second week of March, they must play Arsenal, Liverpool, Aston Villa and Brighton, while dates with Newcastle United, West Ham and Bournemouth in that timeframe also not guarantors of a positive result.
The situation is exacerbated by the fact that Forest simply have no idea if or when any points deduction will be applied to their current tally. All we know is that the verdict of the independent panel investigating their spreadsheets will be heard before the start of April.
When you consider the timing of that, and their upcoming fixture list, it’s quite possible that Nuno and co. could be heading into the spring in the relegation zone if that points deduction is forthcoming.
What the Tricky Trees really need is to be blossoming on the pitch….
Times are tough in that regard. As many as six first-team squad members have been away at AFCON during January, while Taiwo Awoniyi, who scored ten Premier League goals last season and four in ten games this, is injured and may not return until late in February.
The good news is that Anthony Elanga, showing the sort of form that saw him break through at Manchester United, and Morgan Gibbs-White are picking up the baton left behind by former orchestrator Johnson, while in Chris Wood they have a surprise package in attack.
The New Zealander has been a revelation while filling the void left by Awoniyi, and now averages a goal every 100 minutes or so this term after notching eight in as many starts and six in his last five outings in all competitions. To describe his hat-trick against Newcastle on Boxing Day as unexpected would be as large an understatement as the 6ft 3in that the striker stands.
Can he sustain that form for a prolonged period of time? Wood hasn’t done so, as a rule, at the top level during his career, and so Forest may need all of Nuno’s managerial nous to keep them free of trouble this term.
Given the rather tawdry nature of his three months in charge at Tottenham, naysayers had all the ammunition they needed against Nuno Espirito Santo.
But that tenure wasn’t all doom and gloom. The Portuguese won the Premier League Manager of the Month award in his short time at the club after guiding Spurs to their then best-ever start to an EPL campaign.
All told, Nuno has won that Manager of the Month award four times, and while it’s hardly an accolade to sit front and centre on the mantlepiece at home, it does reveal his ability to coach his team to a chain of high-quality performances and results.
Mike Bassett would have got Wolves promoted from the Championship during the 2017/18 campaign, such was their advantage provided by Jorge Mendes and his conveyor belt of outstanding Portuguese talent.
But the fictional English manager would have struggled to lead the Midlanders to seventh place in their first season back in the top-flight as Nuno did, delivering Wolves’ highest finish in the football pyramid for nearly 40 years.
The fact that they would again finish seventh on his watch, and reach the quarter-finals of the Europa League, reveals Nuno’s suitability for head coaching at football’s top table.
Quite what went wrong at Spurs is anybody’s guess. Successor and elite manager Antonio Conte hardly did any better in North London, and don’t forget that the Portuguese ponderer also led Saudi Arabia’s Al-Ittihad to a league and cup double; a classy feat, regardless of how highly you rate the quality of football played in the sport’s new Middle Eastern frontier.
This is a stacked CV, and it’s little wonder that Forest wanted to tie Nuno down. Points deduction or not, they have a safe pair of hands at the helm.
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