Last season might have ended a bitter disappointment but ‘Luke 1865’ thinks there’s something to salvage for the next campaign — can Nottingham Forest now follow in the footsteps of Cardiff City and Leicester City?
Let’s forget about last season. A campaign that started out with such high expectations fizzled out with a whimper at the City Ground in early May. But while 2013-14 wasn’t one to remember — for more reasons than one — there are many things to be optimistic about. The return of Stuart Pearce is, for me, inspired. He is a club legend but his desire, passion and hunger for the game is something many of our players were missing for much of last season. There should be a better atmosphere at the City Ground this season with the Lower Bridgford Stand looking like a potential hotbed of support. The squad will also be better; much of the deadwood has gone and I expect a few more to be sent floating down the river to a new destination. The spine of our team is good and I believe Pearce will have the know-how to add the finishing touches – maybe even the fabled 20-goals-a-season man?
The problem is that there’s too many ifs and buts. We don’t know if the atmosphere will improve. We don’t know if we’ll get a prolific striker. It’s simply too early to tell. But does history tell us anything? In my opinion, the answer to that question is yes.
Forest’s recent near misses should strengthen our resolve. If you look at the last two Championship winners — Cardiff City and Leicester City — both have been in and around the play-offs for several seasons before everything clicked into place as they marched onto the title. Cardiff finished seventh, fourth, fourth again and then sixth before finally winning the league in 2013. Leicester recorded finishes of fifth, 10th, ninth and then sixth before winning the last campaign. Our last five campaigns have seen us finish third, sixth, 19th, eighth and 11th this time round. Ignoring the one poor season, our record has been pretty consistent with the results achieved by Cardiff and Leicester.
Our spending has also been similar. Over the past five seasons, we’ve spent approximately £16 million; £12 million of that has been in the previous four campaigns. Cardiff spent £17 million in the four seasons before and the season of their promotion, while this figure for Leicester was about £14 million. Usually, an influx of money brings about rising expectations. Maybe these two clubs are proof that teams perform better after the expectations drop slightly, a few years into the era of new money. If we were to spend a few million this summer, it would put our figures right in line with those I have just mentioned. Maybe the expectations next season will be lower? Maybe not, but these figures prove that we are building in the right direction.
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There are a few other figures that suggest Forest is a club in the right mould to succeed in the league. Cardiff won the league in their ninth consecutive season in the second flight. For Leicester, it was their fifth consecutive season. When Reading won the league in 2011-12, it was their fourth season; the year before that was QPR’s seventh season. This will be Forest’s seventh season at this level.
You can even look at squad sizes. Pearce already has set his heart on a smaller 20-23 man squad. Last year, Leicester used a core squad of 20 players, Cardiff used 22, Reading used 20 and QPR, just 18. The figures are even similar when looking at the number of overseas players in these core squads. For Leicester it was eight, Cardiff used four, Reading used eight and QPR used five (this excludes players from Ireland). Forest currently have four foreign players who you would expect to have a part to play next season – Abdoun, De Vries, Lichaj and Majewski (the future of Djebbour is still unknown).
The aforementioned clubs have averaged around seven summer signings before their promotion campaigns while they’ve also averaged around six departures, not including released players, at the end of the previous season. Forest could feasibly sell six players, although I do expect the club to bring in fewer than seven new faces. That is probably a good thing though, as these clubs have shown that dramatic changes to the squad doesn’t bring about instant success. Leicester and Cardiff both had large turnovers in players in the seasons before they won the title. We have been through that phase which, again, follows the trend.
Of course, these stats don’t prove anything but merely suggest the club is in a decent shape to challenge for an automatic promotion push next season. We can all dream that this time next year we will be basking in the glory of a highly successful season — 150 years on from the formation of this great club and 35 years on from the most successful era of the club. There are no guarantees in football but we can sure that at least some of the building blocks are in place.