With rumoured interest in Nottingham Forest stars Britt Assombalonga and Oliver Burke, the club must resist overtures if it wants to maintain the progression it’s been making over the past few months, says Peter Blackburn
“Shilton wins you matches.”
Peter Taylor’s reply was sharp and succinct when eyebrows were raised over Nottingham Forest’s purchase of the England goalkeeper Peter Shilton – forking out £270,000 for the best in the business nearly 40 years ago.
Like no one else Taylor, and his good friend and then Forest boss Brian Clough, knew football was a simple game. Quality counts.
Clough himself, ever a source of dazzling copy and cutting quotations, is memorably known for saying players won football matches, not tactics – among so many other wise, and wild, words.
Football has moved on since Taylor and Clough first came to the City Ground in the 1970s but these two maxims still hold true in many ways – and Nottingham Forest would do well to remember that as vulturous clubs circle around prized assets Britt Assombalonga and Oliver Burke.
Like few players in the Reds’ squad – and indeed anywhere in the Football League – Assombalonga and Burke look like players who will ‘win you matches’.
Some will say questions hang over both; Burke is still finding his feet at first team level and Assombalonga has only returned from a genuinely horrible knee injury. But, quality does count, even if a few questions remain.
Since Phillipe Montanier took over at the City Ground both players have made their importance known – indeed Burke has been named in both of the Frenchman’s first two competitive team selections and Assombalonga appears to be the first choice lone-striker, having taken the role for the curtain raiser at home to Nigel Clough’s Burton Albion.
The former Watford and Peterborough striker could hardly have made his quality more clear – in the right place at the right time on two occasions to underline his abilities as a genuine goalscorer at this level. He’s definitely one to add to any accumulator tips for today.
And Burke has already been bright, direct, and a huge threat for opposition defences, with Clough Junior reportedly urging his men to take the young Scot’s pace and guile seriously. Without doubt Burke is still raw but the potential is too significant to ignore and he’s already going about turning that potential into reality.
Without doubt these are two men who Taylor would have identified as having the quality to drive Forest forward. These are two men who Clough would have known were match winners.
On Thursday the Nottingham Post published a piece featuring an interview with Forest’s rarely reassuring owner Fawaz Al Hasawi, offering his usual dearth of reassurance.
“Even if there is an offer, we will talk about it with the manager, we will discuss the offer. If it will negatively affect the club, we will not do it,” Al Hasawi told Paul Taylor of the Post.
He added: “If you remember when we sold Lascelles and Darlow, but kept them at the club for one year – and invested the money to bring in Antonio and Assombalonga. If we can do something similar, we can talk and see if it is in the best interests of Forest. But we will only do something that is positive for the club. If it is bad for the club, we will not do it. It is that simple.”
For someone pledging not to sell his club’s latest star assets Al Hasawi certainly sounds like a man with a plan to do just that – even identifying the line he could sell in order to appease supporters and club staff.
It is absolutely vital to the potential success of Montanier’s Nottingham Forest that this does not happen – unless unbelievable transfer fees are paid.
Given the recent history of incompetence in the Forest hierarchy — excusing the recent addition of Pedro Pereira, whose early work appears relatively impressive — it is not necessarily easy to see Forest suddenly unearthing another 20-goal-a-season striker ready to replace Assombalonga. And flying wingers of Burke’s potential quality, particularly ones the fans can see as one of their own, are a rare species.
But more than anything – leaving the sheer quality of these players and lack of confidence in the recruitment of replacements aside – Forest are finally starting to feel like a club growing some positivity; seeds of optimism are growing.
Solid, and prudent, recruitment from Pereira and charismatic, potentially exciting leadership from Montanier have changed the mood Trentside and these feelings have been dormant for too long, alien to the fans who make the club matter.
Now is not the time to burst that bubble.