The blueprint of things to come? Steve Wright looks at the development of Garath McCleary from non-league prospect to Championship player.
With financial uncertainties hanging over the club there has been much talk about the need to develop players both through our own academy and by signing and improving players from the lower leagues. Garath McCleary is a beacon of hope in that latter area having been signed from non-league side Bromley.
The 24-year-old winger has shown steady improvement since his first appearance as a pacey but raw player back in League One in 2008. Over the course of the four years since he joined the club McCleary has appeared nearly 100 times, largely as a substitute, but following a frustrating injury at the beginning of this season he has been a bright spark during a bleak run through December.
His direct running and enthusiasm to continue to take on defenders, even if previous attempts have failed, is a delight to weary, cynical eyes. And he was rewarded in the recent game against Ipswich with a wonderful solo goal which displayed both his ability to beat defenders with quick footed skill and to shoot on the run leaving an opposition ‘keeper flailing.
If McCleary can build upon that strike then he has the attributes to fit very effectively into a wide role within the 4-2-3-1 formation used by Steve Cotterill against Ipswich. It is a formation that produced some excellent football under the management of Billy Davies – most notably the 3-1 victory over West Brom in January 2010, which was possibly the peak of the Davies era – and was also utilised by Steve McClaren.
Last summer the club came close to signing Wesley Verhoek from ADO Den Haag and, although fans might scoff at the idea of comparing the two players, a consistent McCleary could be ideal for the role that Verhoek would have played under McClaren — a wide forward breaking quickly from deep, both to provide crosses into the box and also coming inside to shoot.
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The goal against Ipswich is an excellent example of that latter impact and, in the second half of the same game, McCleary also showed his ability to create for others. Beating a defender again, this time to square the ball for a waiting Andy Reid who should have done better with his shot, which eventually rebounded to Lewis McGugan who again should really have scored.
Hopefully that performance will give McCleary the confidence to continue tormenting defenders and, as seen with other players, a run in the side can pay big dividends in developing ability and confidence. It is easy to discount the emergence of a player from non-league when you are worried about relegation but it shows that there is life beyond ‘sugar daddy chairmen’ and stellar signings if the club is geared up to identifying and developing talent rather than simply trying to buy it.
It also reaffirms that patience is a virtue when it comes to nurturing young players and Forest fans will need plenty of it in the coming months and seasons. With expectations high and the lack of Premier League status sometimes weighing heavy on the minds of supporters there can be a great deal of pressure on players to deliver immediately, but a rush to judgment can block the development that will be the lifeblood of the club in the new financial world.
Follow Steve on Twitter: @mistrollingin