With a new four-year contract, Karl Darlow’s future at Nottingham Forest looks bright. And Paul Severn thinks the signing of Dorus de Vries could be a key part in his development…
When Nottingham Forest make a signing I am usually delighted. This is particularly the case when the signing is experienced, has promotion credentials and substantially improves the depth and quality of the squad. But in the case of Dorus de Vries, I have to admit my heart sank a little.
Karl Darlow had long been in the shadows of Lee Camp at the City Ground. Loaned out to the likes of Newport County and Walsall, the young keeper was very much out of the spotlight and few fans – including me – had any idea of his potential. How all that has changed. Camp is all but forgotten and de Vries has a mountain to climb to claim the number one jersey from Darlow – now signed up for the next four years.
The Camp situation at Forest has been much debated. I have always said the issues in his last couple of seasons were more understandable than they appeared. Camp was denied a move to perhaps the most progressive club in the Premier League (Swansea), while Forest reeled in turmoil with a disillusioned owner and manager (McClaren of course). While fan-favourites Wes Morgan and Robert Earnshaw made the same decision to continue their careers elsewhere, Camp was unfortunately left to face the wrath of the crowd who knew he wanted to leave. The relationship was dead, managers came and went, his defence disappeared and Camp was a shadow of the dominating and inspiring figure who was a cornerstone of Billy Davies’ first tenure. Maybe he wasn’t as committed as before, but Forest were a shambles at the time he departed – gates were down as everyone struggled to see any positive signs.
When Camp departed on a free transfer and was replaced by the Kuwaiti international Khalid Al Rashedi, I was more than concerned. Without an experienced stopper, there was a danger Forest could have plummeted down the super-tight Championship as so many teams did at the back-end of last season.
A few months later, Darlow has impressed every Forest fan. His confident handling, excellent distribution and spectacular saves have made him a real favourite. Before the Derby away game last season I feared another Barry Roche-style catastrophe. Instead he was shoving Derby players who tried to intimidate him and everyone could see he had the temperament required at this level. Perhaps the best thing to come out of the Darlow emergence is the renewed hope that Forest can produce quality first-team players from their Academy.
However, in football there is always a ‘but’. Anyone who has watched football for a period of time knows that goalkeeping is a hazardous occupation. Like goalscoring, goalkeeping is confidence-based. At the moment Darlow is full of confidence but he will make mistakes, and probably quite a few. We saw ourselves how Forest legend Mark Crossley struggled at times to the fury of Brian Clough. We also know how opposing fans derided Dave Beasant for his reputation of making howlers. However, both had the mental strength to come back from these lows and became fine goalkeepers. This is the task for Darlow and other young keepers such as Joe Hart. Many promising careers have been derailed by an inability to handle the pressure created by the lows as well as the highs – Paul Smith is probably a prime example. However, I hope that when Darlow has a rough time, he remembers that this happened to Petr Cech, David Seaman, Robert Green and every goalkeeper who has donned a pair of gloves for a few games.
That’s why the signing of de Vries is probably one of the best signings Forest will make this season, no matter how little he plays. He gives an invaluable insurance policy and another experienced figure in the dressing room and a goalkeeper in his prime ready to step in if Darlow struggles. Making these signings, without the rose-tinted glasses of fans such as myself, is probably what makes managers such as Davies successful. But I hope it is Darlow who eventually joins the long list of excellent Forest goalkeepers. He’s certainly made the best possible start.
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