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Friday, July 19, 2024

Inside Nottingham Forest’s end to the window: Failed approaches for De Gea, Ramsdale and Kelleher

At the start of the transfer window, the newly arrived Nuno Espirito Santo did not believe that signing a goalkeeper was a priority. By the end of it, the desire to sign one had grown to the point where it was not only Nottingham Forest’s primary focus, but also the catalyst for a degree of frenzy.

Amid it all, Forest even attempted to sign David de Gea.

The 33-year-old, who has been capped 45 times by Spain, has been a free agent since leaving Manchester United in the summer.

Forest tried to persuade the player that there could be value in playing regular football between now and the end of the season. The short-term offer was declined.

Forest made approaches for as many as seven different goalkeepers. It ended with the arrival of Belgian international Matz Sels in an initial €6million (£5.1m) move from Strasbourg, which could include a further €2m in add-ons, with the 31-year-old signing a three-and-a-half-year contract.

But the journey to that point involved Forest making enquiries over two players with England caps, as well as approaches for a Republic of Ireland international, another Belgian and a Portuguese.

Forest stepped up their efforts to sign a goalkeeper in the aftermath of the 3-2 defeat at Brentford, a game in which Matt Turner failed to properly set up his wall before Ivan Toney’s controversial free kick.

And the sense of urgency was only underlined by the sight of Forest owner Evangelos Marinakis sitting in front of a smashed television in the City Ground directors’ box after Gabriel Jesus’ goal for Arsenal, which went through Turner’s legs, during the 2-1 defeat last Tuesday.

Turner has had good moments as well as bad, but his recent performances, along with those of Greece international Odysseas Vlachodimos, were sufficient to inspire a change of heart in Nuno, a former goalkeeper himself.

Sels playing for Belgium against Serbia last November (John Thys/AFP via Getty Images)

There were other arrivals. Gio Reyna, the Borussia Dortmund attacking midfielder, had been on Forest’s radar for some time before he signed on loan and the addition of promising teenage striker Rodrigo Ribeiro — who joined on loan from Sporting Lisbon, with an option to buy — was born out of the club’s renewed relationship with super agent Jorge Mendes.

But while those two new arrivals involved a degree of forethought, the goalkeeper situation was different. After a dramatic escalation in the final week of the window, Forest were not able to fall back on any significant degree of planning.

Sels is a player who is well-liked by Nuno and he approved of his capture, but fellow Belgian Koen Casteels, also 31, was previously considered, with Forest making an offer for him around January 23. His club, Wolfsburg, would not countenance a January exit for the player. Casteels, who is out of contract in the summer, was somebody Forest felt could be a reliable figure for years to come.

Real Betis’ Rui Silva was another goalkeeper Forest made contact over, with the Portugal international having built a decent reputation in La Liga.

Forest were keen on Liverpool’s Caoimhin Kelleher and had an approach for the Republic of Ireland international knocked back. Forest tried hard to get Sam Johnstone from Crystal Palace, who is currently understudy to Dean Henderson, a player who had a successful loan spell at the City Ground last season, but they were unable to reach an agreement with Palace for Johnstone, 30, who has four England caps. The club also contacted Rangers to ask about the availability of Jack Butland and even made unsuccessful enquiries over the potential availability of Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsdale.

While there was speculation that Forest were maintaining their efforts to sign Johnstone stretching into deadline day, they had moved on to other targets before that, partly because — even taking into account the sale of Orel Mangala to Lyon, which could be worth more than £30million eventually — they were wary of not pushing their luck with PSR limits.

The name that will inspire the most surprise is that of De Gea. It would have been a statement signing for Forest, one that would have seen them follow up the capture of Henderson and Keylor Navas last season with another world-class addition.

It was not to be. Instead, Sels learned of Forest’s interest yesterday morning. By 11pm, he was stood outside the City Ground, talking about how he was delighted to have signed but how it had been a whirlwind day.

Broadly speaking, Nuno has had more of an involvement in transfers than his predecessor, Steve Cooper. Nuno was more hands-on.

Nuno’s long-standing friendship with agent Mendes — he was his first-ever client as a player — remains strong to this day and he was enthusiastic when it came to the role Mendes would be able to play in the recruitment process.

Cooper did ask for the likes of Chris Wood and Jonjo Shelvey this time last year, but he generally did not have as much of a voice as Nuno, who was also keen to see Reyna join Forest.

One thing remains the same in that there are a few different camps involved in the recruitment process.

George Syrianos — the man behind the signing of Taiwo Awoniyi and Mangala, among others — remains employed by the club on a consultancy basis, while the recruitment team has also had their scope broadened since last summer, with more players being scouted in South America and further afield.

The Greek hierarchy also have an influence, as underlined by the late efforts to sign Chuba Akpom, the former Arsenal striker, from Ajax.

Akpom (Maurice van Steen/ANP/AFP via Getty Images)

It will be interesting to see if Mendes has a broader remit when it comes to Forest’s recruitment in the summer but, for now, it has been a reasonable January for Forest in terms of the work done.

Reyna has found his opportunities limited at Dortmund this season, but he is a versatile, intelligent player who will be able to slot into numerous positions. He could operate in any of the three supporting roles within the 4-2-3-1 formation currently favoured by Nuno.

The player himself is understood to be keen to play as a No 10. He is unlikely to oust Morgan Gibbs-White in the short term but will be useful cover there and can still have a big influence on the team from a slightly wider role on the right or left.

In Ribeiro, Forest have signed a player who is likely to have a first-team impact further down the line. The 18-year-old was regarded as one of the brightest prospects at Sporting Lisbon. Some Forest fans could be forgiven for reserving judgement for now, as they remember the then-club record £13.2million spent on Joao Carvalho in 2018 when he was signed from Benfica at Mendes’ behest but was an inconsistent performer.

But the dynamic has changed significantly for Forest since then and Ribeiro is a player Forest are genuinely excited about. Unlike Carvalho, he will not be expected to make an instant impression.

Forest were always aware of the shadow of the PSR charges hanging over them and they still wait to discover what punishment they will receive for a breach of the regulations on permissible losses. There was no great fanfare for any of the new additions — no City Ground light show, no nightclub unveiling. It was all rather low-key. This seemed to emphasise Forest’s desire to appear cautious and respectful of their situation.

The sale of Mangala to Lyon was designed to ensure that Forest finished the transfer window with a profit on any deals done rather than a loss.

Forest did make a renewed effort to sign Ajax winger Carlos Forbs, who they pursued last summer when he was a Manchester City player, and they submitted a bid for Lorenzo Insigne, the former Napoli winger who now plays for MLS side Toronto — although that deal was more of a fall-back option in case Reyna did not go through.

Forest initially wanted the Reyna deal to include an option to make the move permanent. But the 21-year-old ultimately arrived on a straight loan deal, having signed a contract extension in Germany.

A deadline-day move for Akpom saw Forest push hard with an offer that would have seen him join on loan with an obligation to make the move permanent in the summer for a fee of £15million.

But Ajax were not happy with the numbers involved and several rounds of negotiations came to nothing, meaning there was no return to the City Ground for a player who played seven games on loan from Arsenal in 2015. With Awoniyi and Wood as the two front-line strikers and Ribeiro as backup, Forest should still be fairly well-stocked.

But it still prompted echoes of the last three windows, when Forest tried and failed to sign Michy Batshuayi, the former Chelsea forward, including on deadline day in the summer.

Nuno had frequently stated that the January window was vital in his eyes, but not just because of new additions. He felt that moving players out was even more important.

Nuno likes to work with a squad where every player believes they have an opportunity to play and be rewarded for work on the training ground. Forest’s bloated squad meant he recognised the importance of moving players out.

Mangala will be the headline deal following his switch to Lyon. That involves a £10million loan fee, followed by a £20m payment to make the move permanent in the summer, as well as a further £3m in potential add-ons and a 10 per cent future sell-on clause.

Mangala joined Forest from Stuttgart in July 2022 (Alex Davidson/Getty Images)

But eight further senior players, as well as a few under-21 squad members, were moved out as well. More could still follow, with other transfer windows still open.

Serge Aurier’s move to Galatasaray was not completed on Thursday but could still be revived given Turkey’s window remains open until February 9.

Cooper had considered terminating the loan of Nuno Tavares and sending him back to parent club Arsenal, but Nuno has used the full-back more regularly and, with Aurier’s expected departure, Forest did not want to lose another defender.

There is still interest from MLS in Divock Origi, who is on loan at Forest from AC Milan. Forest would welcome the opportunity to get his wages off the payroll, but the scale of those wages is also an issue for potential suitors. Origi has made two starts and seven sub appearances for Forest. The MLS window remains open until April.

Forest were open to the idea of allowing club captain Joe Worrall to move during the window and there had been strong interest from Fenerbahce. The defender is not thought to be keen on a move overseas and, while there was interest from clubs closer to home — with Sheffield United the most enthusiastic — no deal came to fruition.

Gustavo Scarpa returned to Brazil with a £4million move to Atletico Mineiro, USMNT keeper Ethan Horvath joined Cardiff City, Andrey Santos was recalled by parent club Chelsea, Scott McKenna joined Copenhagen — while it was officially a loan move, he is out of contract in the summer – and Emmanuel Dennis swapped a loan move with Istanbul Basaksehir for a return to former club Watford on the same basis.

Alex Mighten joined Port Vale on loan and Jonathan Panzo headed to Standard Liege, also on loan. Brandon Aguilera, who recently made his Premier League debut at Brentford, has joined Bristol Rovers until the end of the season. Julian Larsson has moved to Morecambe on loan. Youngsters Oli Hammond (Oldham Athletic) and Pharrell Johnson (Swindon Town) were allowed to move in search of regular first-team football.

In the previous three transfer windows, Forest spent around £250million on 42 signings. This time, their recruitment was more modest while still strengthening in key positions — without the excesses of the past.

(Top photos: Getty Images)

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