Nottingham Forest's Portuguese signings: Will they prove a success?
Nottingham Forest pulled off something of a Portuguese invasion this summer, bringing in no fewer than three highly-regarded Portuguese starlets to join compatriot Tobias Figueiredo at the Championship club. But will their Portuguese project prove to be a success?
Diogo Goncalves and João Carvalho from Benfica, Gil Dias from Monaco; an incredible trio of attacking players have arrived at the City Ground this summer which shows the clear intention from the owners to get Forest back into the Premier League as quickly as possible. All Portuguese, all Under-21 internationals, and all highly regarded in their homeland.
The signs are very promising for the Championship club, who have for too long been unable to reclaim a spot in the English Premier League, and the Portuguese recruits will no doubt be hoping they can play a significant role in a successful campaign for the two time European Cup winners.
Mimicking a tried-and-tested winning formula
In many ways, the contingent developing at the Nottinghamshire club is somewhat reminiscent to the early days of Fosun's reign at Wolverhampton; seeking talent from abroad - namely Portugal - in order to fulfil the ambition of achieving promotion back to the top flight, while also utilising the loan market to ensure a low-risk approach and a way to get around financial fair play regulations.
And it undoubtedly worked a treat for Wolves - albeit only on the second attempt after a disappointing first season with Fosun - who eventually brought in Porto coach Nuno, in addition to his countrymen Diogo Jota, Ruben Vinagre, Roderick Miranda and huge prospect Ruben Neves to join the likes of Helder Costa and Ivan Cavaleiro already at the club. Wolves ultimately got promoted in first place with 99 points last season, head and shoulders above the rest, and the Portuguese members certainly played a part in the club's success.
But will the same fate be replicated at Nottingham Forest?
Of course, the Portuguese contingent at Forest is quite clearly not on the same scale as it is at Wolverhampton - yet, anyway. But the signings they have made so far have no doubt caused a great deal of intrigue back in their homeland, with all three players big prospects in the Portuguese game, and it's certainly worth discussing just how much of an impact their record signing João Carvalho and his two compatriots can have on the club. So, will they prove successful - and do they have enough to help Forest push for promotion?
Talented, hard-working, motivated to succeed
The first thing that bodes well for the club and fans alike is that they are incredibly determined individuals, and are all so grateful and honoured to have been given the opportunity to play for Nottingham Forest, a prestigious club with a wealth of reputable history, and are very much looking forward to playing far more regularly than they have in previous seasons. With that in mind, they will be giving 100% throughout their stay and will work hard to ensure they can be heavily involved in writing the next chapter in the club's enviable history.
They'll have also seen the success at Wolves, which you would assume would have played a small part in their decision to sign for Forest, and will know that they now have a clear route to the most sought-after league in world football.
But motivation and determination only gets you so far. Fortunately, however, all three of them have the talent and ability to match their drive in pursuit of success, each having shown their capabilities, even if just sporadically, at the top end of domestic football.
Having been priviledged enough to see all three of them play both for the Portugal youth team and their respective clubs, their talent is undeniable, each offering a great deal to Forest in their bid to push for promotion.
Carvalho, for example, who is still just 21 years old, has proven that he has both the vision and awareness on the pitch to allow him to pick out runners around him and release players in behind the opposition's defensive line, while also possessing the confidence to take on the defenders himself, with great dribbling ability and skill making him a real nuisance for any side.
Able to fulfil the role of advanced playmaker just behind the striker, Carvalho has to be - and is - adept at both passing and shooting, and will be able to link up play with those around him, while also able to take on a shot himself when such a scenario arises. He really is an all-rounder in attacking midfielder and, in today's market, £15million could really prove to be a great bit of business by the club. He's got the raw ability to be a success at Forest, and in Karanka there is a manager that will likely be able to get the very most out of him, which is an exciting prospect.
If given the confidence and license to play with freedom and roam in that advanced role, Carvalho will thrive, and could follow a long line of previous Benfica players that go on to have a great deal of success after being sold on before they were given any significant chance to prove themselves at the Lisbon club.
Diogo is similarly exciting, offering real explosiveness and creativity on the wing. Aged 21, like Carvalho, there are a lot of similarities between both the Benfica academy graduates brought to Forest, and his footballing intelligence and trickery should cause a great deal of problems to any defending side, as is the case with Carvalho.
As a winger capable of playing on both sides, Diogo offers considerable attacking threat; when utilized on the left, as is typically the case, the opportunity arises for the Portuguese youth international to cut inside onto his stronger right foot and take a shot himself, or equally play a whipped cross into the box for the striker to get on the end of. As such, he's a full back's nightmare, and will be able to provide both goals and assists to the Championship club.
While not at all reliant on his pace, his speed will also offer an outlet for Forest when under pressure or working on the counter, and his skill to go with his natural fitness makes him a joy to watch, the type of player that makes paying the entrance fee all worthwhile. When playing with freedom and looking like he's enjoying himself, he'll be very entertaining for the Forest faithful week after week.
He's hungry for success, he wants to be in possession, and he'll work hard for the side - he's got all the attributes required to become a real fan favourite at Forest, and it's testament to both his ability and Forest's scouting network that Benfica fans across the globe are disappointed to see him leave, even more so if his deal becomes permanent.
And then there's Gil Dias, who certainly arrives at the club with the biggest reputation and the most experience at the highest level. Like Goncalves, Dias is best utilized on the wing, and similarly prefers to be able to cut inside to use his stronger (left) foot. But his versatility is itself a clear strength, with either wing, up top or just behind the striker all roles he can suitably fulfil.
Again, there's no denying his capabilities; possessing all the characteristics you would want in an attacking-minded winger - pace, good technique, good shooting ability, the forward-thinking mindset to take on his man - all that needs to now be done is to ensure he can sustain a high level performance week in, week out, with his consistency perhaps his most obvious weakness. Some games he looks sublime, attacking the game head-on and playing with the confidence to put the ball in the box or take on his man, while in others he doesn't have the impact you know he's capable of. So that can be frustrating.
However, Dias is no doubt an impressive footballer on his day for a Championship club, and motivated by the glorious opportunity he has to demonstrate his ability on a new stage, to a new audience, he will be desperate to succeed during his loan spell at the club.
A lack of clear-cut experience
However, just to draw the comparison with Wolves yet again, the main seed of doubt one can really have when it comes to these signings is that they don't arrive at the Championship club with anywhere near the top-level senior experience that the likes of Diogo Jota and Ruben Neves had when they made the jump across from the Primeira Liga to the Championship. Neves, for example, was quite extraordinarily the Porto captain aged 18, played near a dozen Champions League fixtures for them in the process and also featured in an astonishing 59 league matches for the club, all while still only being 20 years of age. His move to Wolves was jaw-dropping, and on a level above the player's Forest have captured when considering experience, reputation and proven ability at the top level over a sustained period of time.
Similarly, Diogo Jota also arrived having come off a very solid season at Porto, where he played in every one of Porto's Champions League matches, as well as playing a significant role in their league campaign. He therefore proved his capabilities in Portugal over an entire season with the reigning champions, as well as at Pacos de Ferreira, where he was joint ninth top scorer in the entire league despite being only 19 - and an attacking midfielder. Such game time is something neither Goncalves nor Carvalho can claim to have to their name, having only played 7 leagues games each for Benfica's senior side despite being the same age as the likes of Jota and Neves.
But of course, experience isn't everything; Roderick Miranda was another Wolves signing last season who arrived with several years of game time at the highest level in Portugal behind him with Rio Ave - 72 league outings to be precise - and he struggled to make any significant impact at the club, while Ruben Vinagre - who arrived with not a single top-level professional football game to his name, really impressed the Wolves faithful. There's therefore no guarantee that a proven, talented individual will perform any better than an unproven, talented individual when it comes to the Championship, and so Forest fans should not be overly alarmed by the lack of significant game time at the top level for two of their three signings.
And additionally, while having not played a huge number of games for Benfica during their time with the club, both can lay claim to having at least some Champions League experience, which shows the calibre of players brought to The City Ground and how highly regarded they were at Benfica last campaign.
Exciting times ahead for Forest
The few concerns are there for all to see; firstly the lack of senior minutes for both Goncalves and Carvalho, and also how quickly the players can settle into a new league. Often the physicality of the Championship is brought up as a potential stumbling block for technically gifted players the like of which Forest have brought to the club, and the demand will also be increased considerably, with 46 league matches played in the championship as opposed to the 34 in the Primeira Liga, and two cup competitions to fight for as well.
But the Wolves players most certainly put an end to the myth that foreign players wouldn't be able to hack it, taking the league by storm last year, with the technical players like Jota and Neves actually thriving in their new environment.
As a result, there's every reason for Forest fans to be incredibly optimistic this season, who should, if all goes to plan, see their side pushing for a play-off spot come the end of the campaign. With talent like Carvalho, Dias and Goncalves, the club are destined for bigger things, particularly if they keep showing the ambition they have done this summer.
An excellent manager to go with three of Portugal's regular under-21 internationals, in addition to an impressive overall squad, means we may well see the Portuguese contingent in the Premier League increase even further next season, with a road to the top flight clearly paved for Nottingham Forest Football Club.