The interview with Nottingham Forest chairman Nigel Doughty in today’s Evening Post confirms the rumours that have been emerging from the City Ground this week — namely that the ‘one area Forest are not looking to strengthen is left-back’. And the player expected to fulfil those duties in the back four is Chris Cohen.
Following the appointment of Steve McClaren as manager, chief executive Mark Arthur asserted, “the first position we must try and sort out is left-back”. Quite obviously something we all knew; clearly we didn’t expect our midfield engine to be a ‘square peg in a round hole’ though.
But cast your mind back, if you will, to Billy Davies’ first full season. Before the arrival of Nicky Shorey on loan from Aston Villa, Cohen played left-back. In a nine-game unbeaten run we conceded just five goals. He also played left-back for West Ham; it might have been seven years ago but it’s a position not unknown to him.
Most Forest fans would give their right arm (or should that be left foot?) for the experience of Shorey or the clear potential of Ryan Bertrand. But neither of their clubs are willing to sell and it’s unlikely we could afford the transfer fees – at least Chelsea’s £5m valuation of Bertrand. Leicester, let’s not forget, paid £1.5m for the services of Paul Konchesky — a player who was on £40,000 a week at Liverpool.
We can only hope this is a decision by Steve McClaren and not the hierarchy at the club. After friendlies against Stuttgart and PSV Eindhoven it’s becoming increasingly clear we’re looking at a formation as previously suggested – either 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-1-1.
I don’t believe it’s a question of Cohen playing left-back to retain a place in the starting XI; more so that McClaren’s formation is dependent on wing-backs rather than full-backs. With two deep-lying midfielders (Greening and Boateng) the first line of defence protects the back four, allowing the full-backs to push up and provide width. Providing one of the midfield drops back when necessary it should encouraging Cohen’s attacking forward play to flourish while allowing for his defensive deficiencies. Indeed, McClaren’s coaching may further develop Cohen.
The club’s pursuit of Wayne Routledge and/or Wesley Verhoek suggests McClaren is keen on pacy wingers for his formation but it does offer flexibility to include Andy Reid and Radi Majewski alongside Lewis McGugan (now in the fabled no. 10 shirt) in the front three. A team that plays as a unit with the players understanding each other’s movement, strengths and weaknesses can only be a strong proposition.
There’s no suggestion it’s an ideal solution – and the loan window may still provide opportunity for the likes of Bertrand or similar to arrive – but the manager needs to know his first XI and, more importantly, his priorities for spending. We have cover at left-back (like it or not) in Cohen, Joel Lynch, Chris Gunter and Kieron Freeman. What we don’t have, in the absence of Dexter Blackstock, is a frontman for a formation dependent on a classic no. 9 upfront.
It remains to be seen how much Forest will spend this summer and we can only judge at the end of the transfer window. Don’t get me wrong, I’d rather sign a player who is a left-back; but with a new manager there is a some leeway to see what happens.
In the meantime, I urge you to read the Swiss Ramble’s extensive report on Swansea City’s finances, taking particular note of the precarious position of most Championship clubs — particularly in the light of Financial Fair Play which comes into play from the 2012/13 season in the Championship.
All comments welcome, please consider this as a viewpoint on the left-back situation rather than an endorsement…