Forest must tread carefully this summer – that means selling talented players


Last season, after safety had been secured, Evangelos Marinakis spoke — through a haze of celebratory cigar smoke in the City Ground boardroom — about how he was a fan of the way Brighton & Hove Albion approached Premier League football. 

It was, he said following the win over Arsenal last May, Nottingham Forest’s intention to source good young players, often from the overseas market, who would improve the team and, over time, increase in value.

The occasional sale of those players — after they have evolved and grown with Forest — for a profit would help to sustain the financial health of the club. The money would then be invested in more signings, improving the team year by year. 

Selling players is a reality facing almost every club in the country. But utilised correctly, it is a blueprint that can help a club grow and progress — with Brighton proof of this, as they challenge for European football for a second season in a row, having sold players like Moises Caicedo, Alexis Mac Allister and Marc Cucurella for a vast profit.

There is a separate debate to be had about the successes and failures of Forest’s recruitment — there have been numerous examples from both ends of the scale. For every Jonjo Shelvey or Mohamed Drager, there has been a Murillo or a Danilo. And amid the chaos, Forest have made some astute investments.

This coming summer, the reality facing Forest — made more stark by this week’s four-point deduction for breaching profit and sustainability rules (PSR) — is that they will need to sell before they can buy. But, crucially, that does not automatically mean that they will absolutely have to cash in on one of their prize assets or that there will need to be a fire sale of talent — providing they remain in the Premier League.

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The sale of Brennan Johnson, for £47.5million ($60.4m) to Tottenham Hotspur, would have kept Forest comfortably within PSR regulations, and the plan all summer had been to sell the academy product to balance the books; to enable fresh investment.

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Johnson playing for Forest in August (Nathan Stirk/Getty Images)

The only issue was the timing of the sale. As it eventually went through on deadline day in September rather than by the PSR deadline in June, Forest breached those regulations by £34.5m. The hearing over that breach — and the report from the three-person commission that followed — revealed a great deal.

Forest told the commission that they do not expect to breach PSR limits again at the end of the current financial year. The report itself stated: “Forest appears to understand its PSR requirements for this current season and what it needs to do to avoid being in a similar situation in a year’s time. It has already told the Commission of its positive trend and that it will not have PSR issues at the end of the 2024 financial year. The Commission hopes that will be the case.”

It may not be the end of the story quite yet, with Forest still debating whether to launch an appeal. There are those at the club who believe the punishment could be reduced to two or three points. There are others who believe it would be wiser to take the punishment on the chin and to use it as a catalyst; a spark to ignite the same sense of unity and togetherness that was at the core of survival last season.

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Forest feel as though their mitigating circumstances were not all taken into account. There is a lingering sense of injustice. But having their case heard a second time risks having the punishment increased — and an appeal would be based only on the evidence that has already been submitted.

Whatever happens, despite some stark-looking figures, the long-term future when it comes to PSR might not be as bleak as they immediately suggest.

Forest’s own numbers, disclosed within the report, show a series of losses. There was a loss of £40m during the 2021-22 financial year, when they secured a return to the top flight after 23 years, via the Championship play-offs. That was followed by a loss of £52m during the financial year 2022-23, as survival was secured amid a flurry of transfer market activity which saw 29 signings arrive for a total of around £150m. 

And, most significantly, the report stated that Forest are “projecting to realise losses of approximately £12m to £17m” for the year ending June 30, 2024. Added together, that would amount to a total loss of between £104m to £109m, over the three-year period under which clubs are currently assessed for PSR losses.

As it is their second year in the Premier League, Forest’s allowable losses for the three-year period would be £82m (a lesser figure than the £105m allowed for other Premier League clubs, due to Forest having spent one year in the Championship during that period). All of which means Forest must find somewhere between £22m and £27m before the end of the current financial year to fall within the guidelines and avoid further sanctions in the future. 

They are pretty daunting numbers. Forest know they will have to have a prudent summer; that they will have to tread carefully. But there is more nuance to the situation than that.

Presuming Lyon make Orel Mangala’s loan move to France a permanent one — and it is agreed that they will — that will involve a further £10m payment this summer.

Besiktas, where Joe Worrall is currently on loan, have an option to sign him permanently for £4m. While that is not currently likely to happen, with the defender struggling for game time in Turkey, he remains another saleable asset. His price tag would surely be greater than £4m, if there is any further interest in him this summer, as an experienced 27-year-old with three years left on his Forest contract. 

Beyond that, they will look to move on at least one, if not both of Matt Turner and Odi Vlachodimos. They are unlikely to recoup the full £10m they paid Arsenal or the £7m fee to Benfica for Turner and Vlachodimos respectively. But as full USMNT and Greece international goalkeepers, their value will not have diminished drastically. 

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Turner in goal for Forest last month in the FA Cup (Jon Hobley | MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Lewis O’Brien and Emmanuel Dennis, currently on loan at Middlesbrough and Watford, are also players who would attract a fee if sold. Forest paid in the region of £10m to sign Dennis from Watford in August 2022, while O’Brien arrived in a joint-deal with Harry Toffolo, also for £10m. Again, Forest might not recoup what they paid, but they are still players with value.

Forest have enough saleable assets to make the books balance and avoid further sanctions.

There is a big difference between that and having the flexibility to invest again. If they want to delve into the transfer market and add to the 42 signings they have made over the last four windows — at a cost of around £250m — that would probably mean listening to offers for players they don’t ideally want to sell.

In a short space of time, Murillo is already a player worth far in excess of the £11m they paid Corinthians for him. Forest believe that he is already worth three or four times that amount, as a minimum, such is the impact he has made already, at the age of just 21. He has the physical and mental attributes to flourish at the very highest level.

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Brazilian defender Murillo (MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

His fellow Brazilian, Danilo, also made an explosive impact after joining from Palmeiras in January 2023 and, while he has been a little inconsistent in form, he has shown the potential to be worth far more than the £16m Forest paid for him. 

Morgan Gibbs-White will have a host of admirers after establishing himself as a key figure for Forest following his £25m (potentially rising to £42m) move from Wolves. Forest do not want to sell him but he is a player who would attract a considerable fee, in theory. 

Anthony Elanga’s stock will have increased following his £15m move from Manchester United, with the 21-year-old winger having contributed five goals and seven assists this season. Taiwo Awoniyi’s value might have increased slightly after proving he can cut it in English football, even if his injury record might also provoke a degree of caution.

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If Forest can secure a third consecutive season of top-flight football, they will not be short of options this summer. And nor should the vultures be circling in the belief that they might be able to pick up a bargain, because Forest should not exactly be in a desperate fight to avoid further PSR sanctions.

What will be vital for the second season running is timing.

Forest briefed the Premier League throughout the summer of their intention to sell Johnson; of how their plan revolved around his transfer fee being what would ultimately balance the books. But while he was sold on September 1, that was a long way beyond June 30, which was the end of the accounting period on which they were assessed.

Forest — and every other club — do have some flexibility in when their financial year starts and ends. Many clubs choose June 30 as that generally coincides with the end of player contracts. Other clubs end their financial year in May, around the end of the football season.

June is not typically a month in which much transfer business is done. Deals traditionally happen more regularly as the end of the window edges closer.

Will PSR end up influencing the timing of transfers? Will more deals get done before June 30 this coming summer, as clubs frantically look to balance their books? Will clubs look to move their year end for accounts even further back, to coincide with the transfer window?

The regulations, as they stand, currently deliver more questions than clarity. The biggest one being how teams like Forest and Everton can be punished for financial irregularities, while Manchester City continue to go unpunished for 115 alleged breaches — albeit not charges relating to PSR — between 2009 and 2018.

With Everton still facing another hearing to decide on potential punishments for a second round of PSR breaches, it is a saga that could drag on for a while yet. Broadly speaking, the chaos will continue.

But, as they look to ensure they do not endure any further points deductions in future, Forest’s blueprint will not change significantly from what it was. The key word will be prudence, rather than panic. Forest will sell players this summer but that was part of the plan all along — and, as they proved with Johnson, they will only do so if the deal is right for them.

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(Top photo: PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images)





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