With the season edging closer to the final straight, Nottingham Forest will soon have a decision to make regarding the future of Anthony Knockaert.
The 29-year-old is on loan from Premier League outfit Fulham until the end of the season and despite the figures of two goals and one assist in the league, he has been one of Forest’s better players this season.
He has also become a key man in a playing sense, with Knockaert making 27 appearances so far this campaign.
Forest’s situation is still precarious and of course, if they go down then signing Knockaert is a non-starter – but in the case Forest stay up, we’ve looked at both sides of the coin…
Pro: He’s arguably Forest’s best player
While the stats of three goals in all comps and one assist isn’t that flattering, you only need to give Knockaert the eye test to see just how good he is.
The fact he is stuck on one assist is frankly criminal, given it feels like he contributes massively each game – however, he of course can’t put the ball in the net for other players.
The stats do back this up as well; Knockaert makes 1.1 key passes a game according to WhoScored – one every 65 minutes.
The only Forest player (10 or more apps) with a higher average is Filip Krovinovic, also on loan, who averages 1.3 key passes per game.
Given Knockaert’s passing is more direct than Krovinovic as he crosses the ball a lot more, with more clinical finishing, he could easily be on 10+ assists for the season.
Finding a way to replace that will prove very difficult and you could make a strong argument to suggest Knockaert is Forest’s best player right now.
Con: He won’t come cheap at all
Much like this situation depends on Forest staying up, how things pan out for Fulham is also critical to Knockaert’s future.
If Fulham stay up, it’s highly likely they’ll want to sell or at the very least, get Knockaert off the wage bill for a year on a loan basis.
Even if Fulham go down, they might want to cash in as the funds generated could help them keep some of their squad together as they’d seek to go up at the first attempt.
However, what’s also a possibility is that Fulham keep Knockaert to help with their promotion push if they do go down.
Given that Fulham had to pay Brighton & Hove Albion £15m for Knockaert and signed him on a three-year contract (two remaining after this season), they would want a big chunk of that back if they chose to sell.
In hindsight, it was a stupid decision from Fulham to have that clause given the initial loan didn’t go as planned, but they presumably weighed that £15m up against the £100m+ they could earn following promotion.
In any case, signing Knockaert will not be cheap and given Forest don’t exactly have a magic money tree, it would require a lot of thought.
Signing Knockaert would also potentially depend on whether Forest sell a key player like Joe Worrall, which would not go down well at all.
Pro: He’s a trusted Chris Hughton general
It says a lot that Knockaert was Hughton’s first signing at Forest and was signed a matter of days after his arrival.
It was perhaps no surprise, given the two worked so brilliantly well the last time they were together in the Championship with Brighton.
Across two seasons for Hughton, Knockaert scored 20 in 64 league games and also assisted 14 – so 34 G/A in 64 games.
For a winger, that is exceptional and it’s clear that the two have a really strong working relationship.
What Forest have also seen is that all of the signings Hughton has made have improved the team drastically.
Therefore, by allowing him to sign a player that he trusts not only shows faith in the manager, but also proves that Forest have learnt their lessons from the 2020 summer transfer window, which saw them sign 14 players with a seemingly scattergun policy.
If anyone is going to get the best out of Knockaert, it will be Hughton, so the two joining forces on a more permanent basis can’t be a bad thing.
Con: He could hamper development of others
Forest are in the bizarre position where all of their wingers seem to prefer playing on the right wing.
While the ambidextrous nature of Joe Lolley makes him the most effective out of the current crop on the left side, Sammy Ameobi also shone there last season.
However, one thing Forest did frequently last year and they only partially do now is swap the wingers at various points during the game, which seemed to keep them happy enough.
The issue is that Knockaert pretty much plays exclusively on the right and while he has occasionally had a run on the left mid-game, he isn’t as effective.
Where this becomes a problem is in relation to Alex Mighten, who seemingly prefers to play on the right wing and will almost certainly be in line for more minutes next season.
On the one hand, having Knockaert around could help Mighten’s development as he’d be training every day with a quality player, but on the other, it could stop him getting game time.
This could prove problematic as the last thing Forest want is for Mighten – one of their most exciting academy graduates in years – to want to leave due to a lack of pathway into the first team or to stall in his development as a player.
In an ideal world, there would be a balance between the two and maybe Forest find a way to play both, but right now it is a potential issue.
Verdict: Make it happen…if possible
While the cons are very prominent, if Forest can find a way to get Knockaert next season, they absolutely should – even if it’s another year-long loan.
It would show trust in the manager, it would allow Forest to keep arguably their best player and it would be a statement signing to put it mildly given Knockaert has twice won promotion and was Championship Player of the Year in 2016/17.
In theory, he is at an age where he’s at his peak, so Forest could be getting the very best out of a player who has already shone so brightly in his career.
There is a line, obviously – no-one wants Worrall or Mighten sold to finance this – but if Forest can strike a deal that works in the club’s favour, it would be a very good decision.
Should Nottingham Forest sign Anthony Knockaert on a permanent basis?