Time for Nottingham Forest’s Academy to shine?

With 11 products of Nottingham Forest’s Academy named in the 18-man squad against Bradford City last night, will the stagnant transfer market play into Chris Hughton’s hands? Undoubtedly his squad is still a few players short, but could fast-tracking youth be the transition we need?

Who knows what this season will be? The global pandemic has affected every person, every family, every business, every country… and football is no different.

Finances are bleak. As a World Economic Forum report put it: ‘Structurally, football clubs generate little or no cash flows and their equity is limited. At best, as was the case before the COVID crisis, the best-managed clubs made no (or few) losses.’

The transfer window is stagnant as a result. The £50m+ transfers this summer — Jack Grealish, Jadon Sancho, Achraf Hakimi — are few and far between, while Barcelona’s financial troubles are well documented. In late-March, 10 Championship clubs were placed under embargo which indicates the extent of the problem in the Football League. Without fans, matchday revenues have been wiped out.

As Daniel Storey states: ‘[This Championship] begins in a messy, un-ideal place, an arena of embargoes, cliff edges, decimated transfer budgets and a yawning financial gap between the Premier League’s cast-offs and the rest.’

For Nottingham Forest, it presents both quandary and opportunity. Having released 12 players at the end of last season — albeit from a bloated squad — with Tyler Blackett and Nicholas Ioannou also departing recently, Chris Hughton’s hopes of reshaping his side continues to be a slow process. Of the two transfer windows he’s been here for, to date we’ve only made one permanent signing.

At a minimum, we’re short a left-back, a midfielder and a striker — and it’s quite feasible we’ll bring in all three before 31 August. But the strength of the relegated sides this season means that, realistically, there are probably only three top-six places up for grabs.

As Steve Wright has already eloquently argued, we’re likely to be in a season of transition after another four years of mismanagement. And with a new chief executive and recruitment team, it’s a good foundation to build upon… back the Academy, build the identity.

Gaining Category One status for the Academy is a huge achievement for Gary Brazil and the club. And as the Under-23s kick off against Aston Villa on Friday evening, it’s a significant step that could mark our path forwards.

The average age of the starting XI against Bradford City last night was 22. The average age of the 18-man squad was 23 — Nuno da Costa the oldest at 30. As lead foundation phase coach Jake Henry, responsible for the 6- to 12-year-old players, says: 11 of the 18 were Academy products.

The average age of the starting XI against Coventry on Sunday was 25 — and that’s including the 33-year-old Gaëtan Bong, as well as Jack Colback and Lyle Taylor, both 31. Lewis Grabban, at 33, is probably the only player over 30 to be a first-choice pick.

With a supposed policy of not signing players over 26 — it’s feasible there could be the odd exception — there’s clear hope of building for the future here. And the ease at which the likes of Jordan Gabriel, Tyrese Fornah and Fin Back settled in the first team — not to mention the already established Brennan Johnson, Alex Mighten and Ryan Yates — is promise for this season, not years to come.

We may challenge for the top-six this season, there’s still time in the transfer window for things to happen. But if Covid forces our hand to progress our Academy graduates, then given our strength in developing youth players, it might be a transitional season with purpose. Trust the process.