The decision to sell Karl Darlow and Jamaal Lascelles to Newcastle United has undermined Stuart Pearce just days before the new season starts. Paul Severn is struggling to find any positives
Relegations and play-off defeats aside, selling talented home-grown players is always a dark time for a football club. On transfer deadline day in 2005, Nottingham Forest sold their brightest young stars in Andy Reid and Michael Dawson. It was a sad day and the sales of Karl Darlow and Jamaal Lascelles to Newcastle United bring back similar feelings.
It would be hyperbole to suggest that these sales will condemn Forest to the same disastrous fate that befell us in 2005. Hopefully Stuart Pearce has a much stronger squad than the Gary Megson era, and it appears we will loan the players back for a season. But it is hard to feel positive about these transfers on the eve of the new season – especially with the revelation that the sales were made behind Pearce’s back.
Football fans are hardened to disappointment and outside the top four of the Premier League you need to be realistic. Southampton have sold the heart and soul of their team that finished eighth in just a few weeks. Atlético Madrid have seen much of their Spanish title-winning side dismantled over the summer. Therefore, it isn’t a surprise that Forest also face a fight to hold onto young English talent.
But what I don’t understand is the price. Players are only worth what teams will pay. If no Premier League team will pay more than £7 million for the pair, then we have to accept that. But have we been hasty? Southampton have just sold Calum Chambers for a reported £16 million (perhaps not all up front) and Luke Shaw for £27 million. It is difficult for fans to really know the structures of these deals and which clauses are involved. But after just 24 appearances for Southampton, does Chambers have three to five times the potential of Lascelles? I can’t believe that for a moment as Lascelles has been on the radar of top clubs for years. Even more worryingly, Pearce clearly agrees – certainly not the kind of start to the working relationship we are counting on for promotion.
Premier League teams are now buying and stockpiling young English talent. They are loaned out to continue development and in many cases will be sold on again for profit. Some people have argued that the price of Lascelles and Darlow should be lower because they are Championship players. In the case of young players I don’t buy that. Last season a fairly youthful Forest side dismantled a rookie West Ham United side in the FA Cup. It was clear to see the effects of playing high-level, men’s football had on youngsters. The likes of Henri Lansbury and Jamie Paterson ran riot against the hapless mini-Hammers. This was because these players had the advantage of learning their trade in big stadiums in what is one of the most competitive leagues in Europe, rather than Under-21 football.
There is every chance that Darlow and Lascelles can shine at the top level as much as a Southampton player. For me, £7 million is far too low. In the crazy world of football, I feel it would be better to wait and hold an auction – perhaps until the silliness of transfer deadline day takes hold and push the price up as much as possible as clubs get desperate to appease supporters watching Sky Sports News.
Of course, as fans we know little about the finances of our owner. We can only speculate whether the money will be reinvested and know relatively little about how we are planning (or not) to comply with the Football League’s Financial Fair Play rules. Perhaps these sales will help in those efforts. Football today is an imperfect world, where clubs like Forest must sell prize assets to clubs who have no immediate interest in using the player – before loaning to rivals. Patrick Bamford is sore point here for Forest fans.
Loaning the two players back may form part of a discount to these deals. This bizarre practice certainly doesn’t sit too well with many fans as it feels like you are ‘living with your ex’ to a degree. Such loans are a bizarre and slightly absurd phenomenon. There aren’t too many examples of how well it works or not. Certainly no one could accuse Wilfred Zaha of taking it easy in the play-offs for Crystal Palace. I very much doubt Darlow or Lascelles would give anything less than 100% for the club which gave them their break. But as we have seen with Lee Camp, performances can suffer when the head is elsewhere and fans have no pity. I will reserve judgement for 12 months and see how it pans out.
Ultimately, I think every Forest fan expected that eventually Darlow and Lascelles would move on. But the timing and fee will certainly ignite debate as the season begins. Managers used to live and die by their decisions, but now increasingly they rely on the decisions made by other people. These controversial sales will shape the Pearce tenure going forward. If we continue to develop young players to take the place of those who graduate to the Premier League, get promoted ourselves with the proceeds with Darlow and Lascelles playing key roles, it could prove a good, gutsy call. But until that happens, most fans will be left with a feeling of sadness — not just with Forest — but the way modern football now operates.