As we move into the final straight of the Championship season, Nottingham Forest are facing the prospect of playing James Garner for the last eight times.
The 20-year-old, on loan from Manchester United, has made an immediate impression on Trentside to the point that he’s established himself as their most important midfielder.
Despite his age, Garner shows maturity way beyond his years and it’s become increasingly clear why he’s seen as the second coming of Michael Carrick.
However, Forest face a fight on their hands if they are to keep him on loan for another year, with United opting to assess him in pre-season and then look to loan him again, this time to a Premier League club, as per The Athletic.
This though could be problematic in itself for United, who may find it difficult to source a club willing to free up a midfield spot for a 20-year-old.
As good as Garner is, with the money involved at Premier League level, lower half teams – who United would presumably like to send Garner to – will more likely opt for experience than an unproven talent.
This could well work in Forest’s favour as unless United keep Garner for their own uses, they could well be in a good position to take him back – which should be a priority for them.
Immediately, Garner has established himself as a core part of the Forest gameplay and he offers things that other midfielders at the club can’t.
While he does everything that is expected of a deeper midfielder – tackles, intercepts, recycles the ball well – he also helps drive Forest forward in a way no other midfielder at the club can.
Garner’s expansive diagonal balls and the way he’s so quick to spot gaps in the opposition’s shape before playing a crisp pass to someone in a dangerous area have helped get Forest on the front foot so much easier since his arrival.
Samba Sow and Jack Colback are more destroyers as we know, Cafu is good on the ball and very dynamic in the deeper positions, but doesn’t have that same drive and Harry Arter has been a colossal disappointment.
Meanwhile, Ryan Yates – for all his tenacity – is in no way on the same technical level as Garner, while Foaud Bachirou is likely to exit the club in the summer.
As such, Garner’s skillset makes him very unique in an unbalanced Forest midfield, thus making it more important the Reds can keep him.
All is not lost, though. It was made very clear that Chris Hughton being manager was a key reason for Garner being allowed to come to Forest initially and that could play a part in retaining his services.
Hughton’s Championship record in a full season is hugely impressive and United may feel that Garner going on loan to be a key part of a play-off aspiring side could be just as beneficial as a loan to the Prem where he gets sporadic outings.
The success of his loan spell so far will also be a contributing factor, with United knowing that he’ll go to an environment where he’s immensely respected and is actively thriving
In hindsight, Forest should’ve made a loan to buy bid on the back of Garner’s indifferent loan spell at Watford, but while the odds may be slightly against them at present, they should be doing everything in their power to keep him at The City Ground next year.
Would you keep James Garner at Nottingham Forest?