So What Happens Now? A Review of Nottingham Forest’s Time in the Premier League

Hope, as any football fan will tell you, is the cruelest emotion in the world. A lack of it is fine since you’ll never be disappointed. But sometimes the stars align and you think everything will be alright, only for it to be ripped away again, you go back to wishing things could be different. Nowhere is this more evident than Nottingham Forest.


It wasn’t meant to be like this. Promotion in 2022 was the start of a new era, the former European champions were back where they belonged, ready to reclaim their place as one of England’s premier sides. Sadly, rather than prosperity all the last two years have brought is chaos.



On the field, an expensively assembled set of individuals who can’t buy a win. Off it, FFP trouble and a genuine fear of what next season will bring. So how did a team so full of optimism end up in 17th? Safe only because of the poor quality of lower teams? Let’s take a look at Forest’s predicament and see how they can fix it.


The Long-awaited Return to the Prem


2022 was a great year to be a Forest fan. After 23 years in the footballing wilderness, they’d returned to the Premier League, beating Huddersfield 1-0 in the playoff final. To make sure they stayed there their owner, Greek shipping billionaire Evangelos Marinakis, did what good owners do and opened his cheque book.


The club proceeded to scour the globe for talent and spent £168m on 31 players. While the club struggled initially, a run of good form between November and February (14 points from a possible 21) proved to be enough to keep them up, finishing 16th.


Second-season Syndrome – The Teething Problems


While the club might’ve liked to finish higher than 16th, they had the pieces to progress. So how have they managed to fall so spectacularly short?



The Signings


While 31 signings in their first PL season might seem excessive, years of poor recruitment meant Forest didn’t have much choice other than to sign anything and everything. Thankfully, a number of those players turned out to be shrewd additions and helped guarantee survival.


For their second season, the club decided to repeat this tactic. They signed 17 more players including seven on deadline day. Now, there’s two issues here.


  • Signing this many players can lead to squads being unbalanced
  • It takes a lot of time and effort to seamlessly integrate one player, for seventeen it’s a nightmare.


Forest have learnt both of these the hard way way. Sure, there’s been some hits. The likes of Murillo, Chris Wood and Callum Hudson-Odoi have all hit the ground running. Other than that, it’s not been the best:



  • They’ve used 3 goalkeepers, none of whom have established themselves.
  • While Murillo has been fantastic, the club have yet to find an adequate partner.
  • Club-record signing Ibrahim Sangare has struggled to adapt to life in England.
  • They’ve signed two right backs, neither of whom has unseated the player they already had.
  • Then, due a lack of quality left backs a right back is now playing the position.
  • Former Liverpool striker Divock Origi was signed on loan for an estimated £120k p/w for a return of one assist in 18 games.


Achieving Premier League survival is hard enough as it is, when signings don’t perform, it soon turns into pushing water uphill for 8 months.


Financial Fair Play Issues


To add insult to injury, Forest’s shopping spree has not only hurt them on the pitch it’s also hurt them off it by falling foul of Financial Fair Play (FFP). Premier League clubs are allowed to lose up to £105m over a 3 year rolling cycle, for newly promoted sides it’s £61m.


In March 2024, the club were docked 4 points after analysis of their accounts showed they lost £95.5m between 2019-2023 (2020 is ignored because of the COVID-19 pandemic). On top of this, the Premier League report into the case suggests that Forest are in line to exceed acceptable losses by around £10m next season and need to raise between £10m-£20m before 30th June to avoid being deducted more points.



So, not only have signings failed to make an impact, but squad improvements will now require the sale of one of their stars, probably Morgan Gibbs-White. Well, if the club can’t make any signings or get the best out of the players they have, can culture bridge the gap? Erm…


The Culture


While the 48 signings they’ve made grabbed the headlines, perhaps just as important is that 53 players have left the team either on loan or permanently. This means the club now have only one player left from their promotion season or with any connection to Nottingham, Ryan Yates.


While quality players obviously drive results, team culture is just as if not more important. The likes of Ipswich and Luton have proven that a positive internal culture and shrewd tactics can more than make up for any deficit in talent. Forest are the opposite, their pursuit of quality players has made building positive team culture much harder than it needs to be:



  • Players don’t know one another so they have little to no chemistry
  • Nobody has a connection to the fans or the city and doesn’t want to get attached. Why would you? Since you’re likely to get moved next season.
  • Since the first team is new signings, nobody’s been there long enough to establish themselves as a leader, or they’re not good enough to do so.


When teams don’t have a positive winning culture, poor performances go unchecked, intensity slips and players stop caring. Why would you? You can just leave. So, there’s no winning culture and players aren’t very good. But a good coach can fill that gap? Right? Sort of.


The Manager


In December 2023, Marinakis finally got his wish and was able to sack Steve Cooper. He replaced him with former Wolves manager Nuno Espirito Santo. A proven Premier League manager, Nuno’s philosophy is simple. Adopt a defensively solid low block and use fast transitions to hit teams on the counter.



When it works, it’s great. It helped Wolves to successive 7th placed finishes and helped the club get results against both Newcastle and Manchester United. For the system to work, two things need to happen. Players need to be well drilled and defensively solid. Sadly, the failure of the above, combined with a lack of time to implement anything have led to the failure of…


The Tactics


Since Nuno’s counter attacking system needs players to be well drilled, it works best when a small number of players get consistent minutes. At Wolves, Nuno led the club to successive 7th placed finishes while using the smallest number of players in the league.


Unfortunately, being appointed in midseason has forced the Portuguese to have to tinker. Forest have used the most players in the league this season as he experiments with his setup, making it impossible for anyone to learn their role or the system well. On top of this, for counter attacking football to work players have to be defensively solid. Forest aren’t.


They’ve conceded the 5th most goals in the PL and have a nasty habit of conceding from set pieces (5 more goals from set pieces than any other team). As a result, they’re often playing from behind. In a system that sacrifices attacking chances for defensive solidity, that’s a death sentence. In the 18 games Nuno’s been in charge Forest have failed to keep a clean sheet.



Well, That’s Terrible. How Do They Fix It?


If the above makes Nottingham Forest sound like a club in crisis it’s because to an extent they are. Given the quality of the sides being promoted, it’s only going to get worse. But the situation can be fixed.


Player Sales


The club has to trim the squad. A focus on signing players from big clubs hasn’t paid off, not only are these players under performing but they’re being paid a lot of money to do so. They need to be moved on. Also, not only is the squad too big, but it’s also unbalanced. As Wolves manager, Nuno used one goalkeeper and rotated four centre backs, that’s five players. As it stands, he’ll start next season with 3 goalkeepers and 7 centre backs.


At their best, Wolves used the midfield trio of Leander Dendoncker, Ruben Neves and Joao Moutinho to perfection to nullify opposition attacks and started the teams own. As it stands, Forest have 7 central midfielders, none of whom can play these roles as effectively as those players. The solution is simple. Sell.



 New Signings and Re-signings


While an abundance of available talent means a lot of issues can be fixed by coaching up current players, Forest will still need to make some signings, particularly at left back but also at centre back and centre mid and striker dependent on player sales. 


Given the club’s FFP troubles, any acquisitions they make are going to have to be shrewd, they should also not be like this season. Signing players from big clubs on large contracts hasn’t worked and needs to be scrapped. 




But, perhaps what’s most important for Nottingham Forest to succeed is time. Given time and proper coaching the club might not need to make any signings, their two season shopping spree means a lot of the players they need are already at the club, they just have to develop.



Nuno Espirito Santo’s system of counter-attacking football is also a proven winner, but it relies on players having time to become well-drilled. If players are given time to familiarise themselves with the system and learn their roles, the club will succeed, but it remains to be seen if the Portuguese manager will be given the luxury of seeing the project through.


By: Kieran Alder / @The_Own_Goal

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Kieran Cleeves – PA Images