It was the Premier League’s most drastic roster overhaul this summer, with Nottingham Forest’s spending already topping £100m.
Twelve new signings have arrived so far since Forest earned their return to the top flight, with owner Evangelos Marinakis making good on his pledge to provide Steve Cooper with massive financial support.
But for all the inevitable accusations that Forest are in danger of ‘making a Fulham’ and spending millions in hopes of staying awake, the truth is they had no choice but to effectively build a new team this summer. .
Seven of the 14 players who took part in last season’s championship play-off final against Huddersfield have now departed, including £12m Tottenham signing Djed Spence, goalkeeper Brice Samba and borrowers James Garner, Keinan Davis and Philip Zinckernagel. .
Lewis Grabban, the former captain, also left after not agreeing to a contract, so the Cooper and Forest hierarchy launched a bold but necessary revamp of the team.
If there are any recent comparisons to be made, it’s to Aston Villa in 2019, who also had to rebuild quickly after winning promotion in the play-offs.
Ahead of his first Premier League season since 1999, Forest’s planning was meticulous and disciplined, but also ambitious.
Cooper’s primary goal was to maintain the spirit in the locker room that propelled Forest to promotion, drawing on key players such as Joe Worrall (likely Grabban’s replacement as captain), Steve Cook, Ryan Yates and Brennan Johnson.
Recruitment is a collaborative process between Cooper and his technical team, chief scouting Andy Scott, chief executive Dane Murphy, head of recruiting George Syriaos and Marinakis’ son Miltiadis.
Extensive rosters of players were assembled months ago for the Premier League or Championship setting, then presented to Cooper and Marinakis.
Had Forest stayed in the league, the likes of Joe Rothwell and Jed Wallace (free agents who joined Bournemouth and West Brom respectively) and Blackpool winger Josh Bowler would have been priorities.
However, promotion through the play-off final opened up more possibilities and crucially allowed Marinakis to provide more investment due to the Football League’s profit and sustainability rules.
Taiwo Awoniyi is the record purchase so far, a £17.5m signing from Union Berlin, and the former Liverpool striker has been recommended by the recruitment team.
Forest also broke into the Bundesliga for Mainz midfielder Moussa Niakhate and Stuttgart midfielder Orel Mangala and signed Ligue 1 defender Giulian Biancone from Troyes.
Domestic signings such as Neco Williams and Lewis O’Brien were seen as players with high potential to develop and flourish in the Premier League.
Manchester United goalkeeper Dean Henderson was loaned out for the season after Samba – the hero in last season’s play-off semi-final – indicated he wanted to go to France.
Cooper likes to take a personal touch when signing players: he flew to Munich to meet left-back Omar Richards when it became clear he was available at Bayern.
He traveled to a private London location to meet Jesse Lingard – arguably the most important hire – with Marinakis and his son. Lingard was impressed by Forest’s determination to sign him and how they envisioned him operating under Cooper’s style of play.
Change was never about finances. In fact, West Ham offered Lingard £127,000 a week and a substantial subscription fee close to £1 million. Forest is paying the England international a base of £80,000 a week.
More money will be spent before the transfer window closes. Wolves forward Morgan Gibbs-White is the number one target, and Forest will have to break his transfer record again to sign him. Talks last week did not result in any deal and Wolves insist the former England Under-21 international – who will cost up to £30m – will start the season with them.
Forest still wants another striker and winger, with Villa Davis striker and Burnley’s Maxwel Cornet as possible options.
Of course, there are no guarantees that everything will work out, but Marinakis doesn’t want Forest to throw away this opportunity and become a “yo-yo club”.
In Cooper, they also have a talented and astute manager who deserves to compete at this level.
“We had to change a lot of people. We believe in what we do and we want to give ourselves the best chance”, says Cooper, who was named in September, when the club was in the last position of the Championship.
“We want to compete in the Premier League and we cannot be naive about the challenge.”
Off the field, preparations have been hectic in the race to be ready for the season, which starts in Newcastle this weekend.
Forest has updated and improved the City Ground facilities to meet Premier League standards, accumulating a lot of work in a short amount of time. Last week, the club received permission to refurbish the stadium, which includes rebuilding the Peter Taylor stand, with the aim of having its home in contention to host Euro 2028 games.
More than £2.5 million was spent on improvements to modernize the club’s training ground headquarters. Training pitches and two new hybrid pitches were introduced, while the internal layout of the main team building was revamped, with a new spa.
There are also plans for a match against Olympiacos – the other club owned by Marinakis – during the World Cup winter break in November and December.
But for now, the full focus is on new additions to ensure Forest’s return after 23 years in exile continues its upward momentum.