Nottingham Forest recruiting from the Primeira Liga: will it prove a success?
Nottingham Forest are under new management - and with it, a flurry of transfer activity very quickly followed, with a trio of Primeira Liga-based players heading to the historic English club.
The three latest names to arrive at The City Ground are Feirense’s Tiago Silva, who arrives on a permanent basis, and Benfica duo Alfa Semedo and Yuri Ribeiro, the former on a season-long loan, while the latter is another permanent signing.
It takes the tally of Portuguese players at the club up to at least 4 - though in my mind, and many other people’s minds, that tally is now actually 5, with Guinea-Bissau-born Alfa Semedo holding Portuguese citizenship and expressing his desire to represent Portugal at international level. That surely constitutes him as a Portuguese player, which, alongside Tobias Figueiredo, Joao Carvalho, Tiago Silva and Yuri Ribeiro, makes it five Portuguese players at the club for the upcoming season - and there’s always a chance that more could follow.
Firstly - where did this come from?
The change in management was almost certainly crucial in this being able to happen. After manager Aitor Karanka left the club halfway through last season, Martin O’Neill came in as his successor, and was highly reluctant to play either of Joao Carvalho and Diogo Goncalves as soon as he walked through the door, despite fans evidently calling for the former to play.
In the end, O’Neill did eventually give Carvalho more game time, and he continued to impress and build towards becoming something of a fan favourite. But O’Neill’s lack of willingness to use the Portuguese players Jorge Mendes helped bring to the club was clear for all to see, and that was something Jorge Mendes definitely took on board.
Likely concerned that his clients were not going to be given the expected game time at the English club of Greek businessman - and friend - Evangelos Marinakis, Jorge Mendes began to look elsewhere, and started to build new club affiliations to send some of his promising clients to in a bid to give them more game time - Nottingham Forest were no longer one of the clubs Jorge Mendes was focusing on.
Cue Benfica beginning to form unofficial links with both fellow English Championship club Wigan Athletic and newly-promoted Primeira Liga outfit Famalicao, the latter widely considered Jorge Mendes’ latest project.
Those two clubs, in addition to some of the other sides in Jorge Mendes’ portfolio, then became closely linked with the signing of various Portuguese players and Mendes clients - and Forest were at risk of missing out.
Alfa Semedo, for example, was set to join Wigan Athletic, everything in place for that move to occur, while Yuri Ribeiro was on the brink of joining Famalicao before Forest swooped in.
So, what happened? What changed? It seems simple, really. Forest owner Marinakis will have surely seen what was occurring: that some of Mendes’ most sought-after clients were to be going elsewhere this summer and, while things remained the way they were at the English club - and while Martin O’Neill remained in charge - Forest were very much out of the picture as far as Mendes was concerned.
O’Neill, to his credit, was clearly not in the business to start players he didn’t want, and wasn’t interested in following the project of favouring certain because of their agents. And that’s commendable.
Ultimately, though, it seems Marinakis may have disagreed. O’Neill was swiftly swept out of the door and, within an hour, his replacement was already announced - and nobody was shocked to see that it was a Jorge Mendes client who was chosen as his successor. Lamouchi.
Little more than a week after Lamouchi’s arrival, Tiago Silva then followed him to the club, before both Alfa Semedo and Yuri Ribeiro underwent spectacular u-turns to also sign with the English Championship outfit. Quite the coincidence. No surprise that Jorge Mendes was significantly involved.
All in all, then, a fascinating 10 days at the club, showing the power - for good or bad - superagent Jorge Mendes has in the sport. And it could raise the question: is Lamouchi, in reality, just a ‘yes’ man? Will Forest, under his command, bring in certain players depending on Jorge Mendes’ own desires? Or is it a coincidence that Forest are signing fellow Jorge Mendes clients as soon as he arrives? The club would undeniably categorically deny the former allegation and what is being insinuated here, though freedom of thought and expression means that it’s certainly up for debate.
One thing is more important than anything else though: will these signing ultimately prove successful?
How will these new additions get on at Forest?
This is certainly the question that Forest fans will be most interested in - and it isn’t all that easy to answer.
After all, when Joao Carvalho, Diogo Goncalves and Gil Dias arrived at the club, fans were rightly excited by the additions, as many - including me - pointed out that all three players were highly regarded in Portugal and were players that possessed impressive qualities.
Gil Dias failing to impress was always a possibility and not wholly unexpected; while his ability has been clear to see during his career, his severe lack of consistency was also pointed out before he ever arrived at the club, and so his inability to impress regularly for the club was, unfortunately, not all that surprising.
More surprising, though, was the lack of impact that Diogo Goncalves managed to make at the club. I, for one, certainly predicted that he would be a tremendous acquisition, and I had, and still have, incredibly high hopes for the teenage winger. Undoubtedly I will have set expectations very high for some Forest fans with my glowing assessment of him upon his arrival at the club - and it proved to be a particularly inaccurate prediction. What went wrong? It’s hard to tell. Though ultimately he must have struggled to impress in training and adapt to his new surroundings, failing to get any significant game time at the club.
My point, however, is that it shows that you should take any predictions of how good these signings will prove to be with a pinch of salt. Joao Carvalho, in fairness to him, illustrated his ability on the pitch and did take to the hearts of many Forest fans as anticipated, but Gil Dias and, on a much larger scale Diogo Goncalves, made a mockery of my pre-season prediction last campaign, which you can entertain yourself with reading via this link here.
In fairness, to save me a small amount of credibility, when assessing the trio of Portuguese signings by Forest in that article back in June 2018, it was pointed out that none of them were remotely comparable to the standard of Portuguese players Wolves had brought in the season before, with all three of Forest’s recruits a significant downgrade in terms of reputation, experience and quality compared to Wolves’ quality acquisitions. I did also say that chronic inconsistency could be Gil Dias’ downfall, although ultimately I still thought that these additions would push Forest close to promotion - so far from accurate!
Still, here’s a brief and honest assessment of the standard of players Forest have purchased, their style of play, and if they could prove successful.
I’m a big fan of the former Feirense midfielder; in fact, he was one of the ten lesser-known Primeira Liga players I said to keep an eye on halfway through last season - and I was very pleased to see him being given this tremendous opportunity to represent a club as historic as Nottingham Forest.
He’s a tenacious and technical midfielder who can operate both in attacking midfield or in a more box-to-box role, and his hard-work and willingness to put a shift in defensively as well as offering clear attacking quality is clear for all to see and should make him more endearing to the Forest fans. Even if he does happen to struggle in the Championship, you should see no lack of commitment from the 26-year old - and you can guarantee that he’ll break up many promising opposition attacks and pick up a fair few yellow cards next season.
But he isn’t, by any means, a defensive player at heart. If anything, his technical ability makes him far more potent at the opposite end of the pitch, his confidence with the ball at his feet and his passing quality making him a great source of creativity, and he could therefore prove effective in both areas of the pitch. He’s also shown himself to be very good at set-piece deliveries, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him take some of Forest’s free-kicks and corners next season.
So he has the determination and talent to succeed in the English Championship; while he may lack height, he makes up for it with his effort, and while Feirense were relegated last season, he certainly didn’t deserve to be - and was one of their standout performers.
Now this is a very interesting one. There was the rather humorous murmuring on social media that he was valued at 25 million euros. I’m not sure where those reports came from, but that’s certainly not the case, and he’s probably not even worth half that right now.
But he is a promising talent, hence why Benfica only let him leave on loan rather than on a permanent deal. Still only 21 years of age, he has a lot of impressive attributes that you look for in a defensive midfielder, and showed them best at Moreirense, where he was particularly dominant and ultimately showed such quality that Benfica brought him in.
He may have endured a pretty disastrous loan spell at Espanyol, and he failed to make any kind of impact at Benfica, but if he replicates the form he demonstrated at Moreirense during the 2017-18 season, he’ll be a tremendous addition, offering great tackling and reading of the game - and good confidence on the ball too, where he will look to occasionally drive forwards with the ball to spring an attack.
He does lack game time though, so he may need a good pre-season to get up to his best level.
Ribeiro’s an interesting one. You could argue that he’d be best served as a left midfielder or at least a left wing back - and who knows, perhaps Forest will give him some chances to play further up the pitch. But, left back is supposedly his preferred position, which means you get a very attacking full-back to operate on the overlap and add additional attacking intensity to the side.
Defensively, he has a lot of improving to do. Often he gives the opposition winger too much space in one-on-one battles and he isn’t a strong tackler. For a left back, he has a long way to go to improve that side of his game.
Going forwards, though, he has proven to be very impressive, very good with the ball at his feet and an impressive attacking-minded player, giving him some resemblance to the likes of Fabio Coentrao.
He is a big prospect though, and a lot has been expected of him. He’s represented Portugal at every youth level between the U16s and U21s, for example, and Benfica were hoping to see him become their next left back after Alex Grimaldo is eventually sold. That hasn’t happened though, and Nottingham Forest are the ones that benefit from that.
Will he prove successful? He could do, but does need to improve the defensive side of his game significantly to be a particularly impressive signing. The positive for Forest fans is that his most successful season came when he was given regular game time at Rio Ave; when given the chance to show what he can do, he can build confidence and form, and that brings the best out of him. At Forest, you’d expect that to be the case too.