Inside Nottingham Forest’s £100m survival mission

Inside Nottingham Forest's £100m survival mission - PA

Inside Nottingham Forest’s £100m survival mission – PA

It has been the most drastic overhaul of the squad in the Premier League this summer, with Nottingham Forest’s spending already on course to top £100m.

Twelve new signings have come so far since Forest’s return to the top division, with owner Evangelos Marinakis keeping his promise to give Steve Cooper huge financial backing.

But for all the inevitable accusations that Forest are in danger of ‘doing a Fulham’, spending millions in the forlorn hope of staying up, the truth is that they had no choice but to effectively build a new team this summer.

Seven of the 14 players who featured in last season’s play-off final against Huddersfield have left, including Tottenham’s £12m signing Djed Spence, goalkeeper Brice Samba and loanees James Garner, Keinan Davis and Philip Zinckernagel.

Lewis Grabban, the former captain, has also quit after failing to agree a contract, so Cooper and Forest’s hierarchy have embarked on a bold but necessary reshuffle of the squad.

If there are any recent comparisons to be made, it is with Aston Villa in 2019, who also had to rebuild quickly after winning promotion via the play-offs.

Ahead of their first season in the Premier League since 1999, Forest’s planning has been thorough and disciplined, yet ambitious.

Cooper’s main aim was to maintain the spirit of the dressing room that propelled Forest to promotion, building on core players such as Joe Worrall (likely to replace Grabban as captain), Steve Cook, Ryan Yates and Brennan Johnson.

Recruiting is a collaborative process between Cooper and his coaching staff, director of scouting Andy Scott, executive director Dane Murphy, director of recruiting George Syrianos and Marinaki’s son Miltiadis.

Extensive lists of players were compiled months ago for the either Premier League or Championship scenario and then presented to Cooper and Marinakis.

If Forest had stayed in the Championship, the likes of Joe Rothwell and Jed Wallace (free agents who have joined Bournemouth and West Brom respectively) and Blackpool winger Josh Bowler would have been prioritized.

Nevertheless, promotion via the play-off final has opened up more opportunities and, crucially, allowed Marinakis to provide more investment due to the Football League’s surplus and sustainability rules.

Taiwo Awoniyi is the record signing so far, a £17.5m signing from Union Berlin, and the former Liverpool striker was recommended by the recruitment team.

Taiwo Awoniyi joined Forest from Union Berlin - GETTY IMAGES

Taiwo Awoniyi joined Forest from Union Berlin – GETTY IMAGES

Forest have also raided the Bundesliga for Mainz centre-back Moussa Niakhate and Stuttgart midfielder Orel Mangala, and signed defender Giulian Biancone from Ligue 1 club Troyes.

Domestic signings, such as Neco Williams and Lewis O’Brien, were seen as players with high potential to develop and flourish in the Premier League.

Dean Henderson, the Manchester United goalkeeper, has joined on loan for the season after Samba – the hero of last season’s play-off semi-final – indicated he wanted to leave for France.

Cooper likes to take a personal touch when signing players: he flew out to Munich to meet left-back Omar Richards when it became clear he was available from Bayern.

He traveled to a private venue in London to meet Jesse Lingard – arguably the most high-profile signing – with Marinakis and his son. Lingard was impressed by Forest’s willingness to sign him and how they envisioned him operating under Cooper’s style of play.

The move was never about finances. In fact, West Ham offered Lingard £127,000 a week and a substantial signing fee close to £1m. Forest pay the England international a basic £80,000 a week.

More money will be spent before the transfer window closes. Wolves striker Morgan Gibbs-White is the No.1 target and Forest will need to break the transfer record again to sign him. Talks last week did not result in a deal and Wolves insist the former England Under-21 international – who will cost up to £30million – will start the season with them.

Forest had to break transfer record for Morgan Gibbs-White - GETTY IMAGES

Forest had to break transfer record for Morgan Gibbs-White – GETTY IMAGES

Forest will still want a new striker and winger, with Villa forward Davis and Burnley’s Maxwel Cornet possible options.

Of course, there are no guarantees that everything will work, but Marinakis does not want Forest to waste this opportunity and become a “yo-yo club”.

In Cooper they also have a gifted and astute manager who deserves to compete at this level.

“We have had to turn over a lot of personnel. We believe in what we do and want to give ourselves the best chance, says Cooper, who was appointed in September when the club was bottom of the Championship.

“We want to compete in the Premier League and we cannot be naive about the challenge.”

Off the pitch, preparations have been hectic in the battle to be ready for the season, which starts away at Newcastle at the weekend.

Forest have upgraded and improved the City Ground facilities to meet Premier League standards, cramming a lot of work into a short time frame. Last week the club was granted permission to redevelop the stadium, which includes rebuilding the Peter Taylor Stand, with the aim of having their home in contention to host matches at Euro 2028.

More than £2.5 million has been spent on improvements to modernize the club’s headquarters at the training ground. Training pitches and two new hybrid pitches have been introduced while the first-tier club’s internal layout has been revamped, with a new spa facility.

Plans are also in place for a match against Olympiacos – the other club owned by Marinakis – during the World Cup winter break in November and December.

But for now, full focus is on further additions to ensure Forest’s return, after 23 years in exile, continues its upward momentum.

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