Nottingham Forest are currently caught in a vital period: a period of transition that is the FFP embargo. Yet, underlying all the issues that come with it there has to be a positive outlook on the development of young players at the club meaning that the embargo can be a blessing in disguise. This embargo has probably opened many fans' eyes for the need to recruit more smartly but developing from within can alleviate the pressure of having to try to have the perfect recruiting system in place which frankly, is very difficult.
Results wise, last season was a great season at u21 and u18 level. The academy and youth development staff really created a winning culture. The teams were creating chances, scoring goals and keeping clean sheets, reaching the semi-finals in both the u18 and u21 league (after winning the league title) and the quarter-final stage in the FA Youth Cup. Players were playing above their own age groups and were still impressing - last season we had fourteen u18 players play for u21 side. There were also three schoolboys who got play for the u18s. That shows you there are opportunities for our young players to keep pushing themselves and face greater challenges after putting in the performances on the pitch and training field.
Taking a closer look at the overall picture for next season:
There are officially 20 players who still count as u21 players of which Ben Osborn is very much a senior figure. We expect goalkeepers Dimitar Evtimov (who is no longer u21 but doesn’t count as part of the FFP 24-man squad as he hasn’t started 5 games for the club) and Smith to go out on loan and carry on their education. Roger Riera, Jorge Grant, Oliver Burke and Tyler Walker seem to be in the immediate first team picture. With these four players possibly being involved with the first team it allows our unusually large u21 squad and our u18s to get plenty of opportunities at this level.
GK: Erlandsson, Durrant, Dearle
DF: Riera, Worrall, Karo, Kelly
MF: Grant, Cash, Burns, [Rees] born in 1993 like Evtimov is no longer u21]
WF: Burke, Thomas, Petravicius, Austin
CF: Walker, Thorne, Walton, Todorov
GK: Boyd, J.Wright
DF: Gabriel, Nielsen, Lacovitti, Jemson, Re, Diallo
MF: Crookes, Yates, Gamblen, Taylor, Edser
WF: Otim, Brereton, Adams, A.Wright, McClean
CF: McDonagh, Hayes, Gomis
• Bold denoting local players (Leics,Derbys,Notts,Lincs etc)
• A possible FA Youth Cup Team : Boyd, Gabriel, Nielsen, Iacovitti, Jemson, Crookes, Yates, Gamblen, Otim, McDonagh, Hayes
• Lacovitti, Crookes, Yates, Gamblen, McDonagh all started the FA Youth QF 2014/15 v Spurs.
Recruitment has been well planned. In addition to local talent, the club has needed to recruit to keep competition and ability high. There are 11 new scholars and of the 11, only 3 have been at the club longer than 12 months in Wright, Jemson and Hayes - one of our lowest local intakes since the academy opened. Of the 8 recruited, we made our first addition under EPPP (Elite Player Performance Plan) in our favour signing Jordan Gabriel from Southend. We had agreed to bring in Virgil Gomis and Kyle McClean from France and Northern Ireland respectively after successful trials early last season. The others were released by other academies like Ipswich (Re), Stoke (Brereton), Man Utd (Taylor) & Fulham (Edser). While A.Wright joined from the Nike Academy where Jorge Grant, Aidan Austin & Dylan Burns made the same move who are in our u21 squad. The club has always been successful in developing talent, not just from the local area and this remains a key contributor to making the academy and first team successful.
So where do we stand compared to our local rivals? We all know Derby and Leicester are Category 1 Academies. My belief is simple - we need to match that and match it soon. There are plenty of clubs in the Championship who have Category 1 Academies and while we are operating very close to a this I do believe it has long-term effects the longer we aren’t. At academy level we have always been able to compete with the best in the country. We have a proud tradition that goes back many years. We have produced players for the national team: local players that have gone on to win a league title and European Cups with us, local players who nearly pulled off the Cup and League double in 1966/67 and pushed the Busby Babes, local players who were part of an 1980s era where no team in the country was respected more for their style of play. Around the turn of the century when academies opened, we continued producing and developing players (we won the national title/a couple of FA Youth Cup QFs) and in the recent past we have competed in an Academy Premier League Final, a FA Youth Cup SF and 2 more FA Youth Cup QFs. We have long been known for our style in which we develop our young players. The current England u18 manager, Neil Dewsnip, who was the academy manager of Everton for nearly two decades, previewed a fixture against us and was full of praise: "Nottingham Forest is always a fantastically good game of football. They have built a good reputation over the years, they try and pass the ball." We have been at the forefront of the talent in our talent rich area: Culture. Tradition. History.
In recent seasons we have had more local players experiencing senior football at a higher level too. From a local perspective, Derby have had Will Hughes and Leicester have Liam Moore. Compare that to Karl Darlow, Kieron Freeman, Jamaal Lascelles, Ben Osborn, Pat Bamford and even Kieran Wallace from Forest shows our development structures are working and opportunities are being provided for our local academy players at senior level for some top clubs - not only ours.
Another positive should be our position regarding our rivals. We are well positioned geographically to not only unearth Notts talent but talent from Derbyshire and Leicestershire too. The stats show that Notts based youth are providing the majority for Forest and Derby. Derby’s u21 team have 4 from Notts, 2 Derbyshire, 1 Staffordshire and 1 Lincolnshire while their u18s have 6 from Notts, 4 Derbyshire, 4 Staffordshire and 1 Leicestershire. You add that to Forest who have in the u21s - 5 Notts, 1 Derbyshire, 2 Leicestershire & in the u18s; 6 from Notts, 3 Lincolnshire, 1 Derbyshire and 1 Leicestershire. Leicestershire on other hand only have 2 local players who were u21 players last season still at the club this and 1 was Notts & the other Leicestershire. They are making great strides at youth level and keeping it local. In their main 11 local players used in the FA Youth Cup SF run last season, 8 are from Leicestershire, 2 Peterborough and 1 Cambridge.
Derby and Leicester are reaping rewards of being Category 1 Academies because while they’ve had their odd gem, they haven’t been at our level in terms of numbers since World War II. I would say recently they’ve had some of their best groups since the academy system opened. Derby’s best batch since the academy system started is probably around their u21 squad now while Leicester is cusp u18s/u21s. They will hope to produce this sort of talent more regularly now, with what comes with being a Category 1 Academy. In this same time Forest can say they’ve produced equal talent, if not better themselves. The issue is going further, you can look to last season and say we are competing and are better at u15 (now u16) & u14 (now u15) than both Derby and Leicester but beneath that, questions can be asked. Forest have been working hard to make sure they keep their best local talent with greater importance going on the development centres but the cold hard facts are they simply aren’t in a position of strength. The competition to get players in the pre-foundation (u8 and below) and foundation phase (u9 to u12) is greater than ever
Gary Brazil and Tony Cook have a hard task ahead of them because while the short to medium term looks very rosy, the long term may be a bit tougher because despite all the positives above, we should begin these positives on an equal footing. That official status of a Category 1 Academy has more effect than some realise.
Follow Grant for regular insightful tweets regarding the Nottingham Forest Academy and the cub in general here.