When Nottingham Forest reached the play-offs last season, they knew that failure to win promotion would see the break-up of Steve Cooper’s team.
Cooper had taken Forest from bottom of the league to fourth in the Championship, but without going one step further, his side wouldn’t have had the chance to build on their great run.
Top players like Joe Worrall and Brennan Johnson would have been sold, and loanees like Djed Spence, Keinan Davis and James Garner would have returned to their parent clubs. Those loan players had improved so much under Steve Cooper that they are now too good to join a team in the Championship.
But while promotion means Forest look likely to keep hold of Johnson and Worrall, it seems as though most of their loan players might not return after all.
Even if Forest wanted to get Spence, Davis and Garner back on loan for another season and their parent clubs were happy with loaning those players out again, Premier League rules would have prevented it.
While clubs in the Championship can have five players on loan at one time, Premier League sides can only loan two players.
Loan players, and the Premier League quality they bring, can be crucial in helping teams win promotion from the Championship.
Fulham had Liverpool’s Neco Williams on loan for the second half of last season and Bournemouth brought in Norwich City’s Todd Cantwell and Newcastle United goalkeeper Freddie Woodman as well as Nat Phillips from Liverpool and Ethan Laird from Manchester United as they looked to bolster their promotion push last January.
But Forest arguably benefited the most from loans last season, with Spence, Garner, Davis, and Watford’s Phillip Zinckernagel almost ever present in 2022, along with Sheffield United’s Max Lowe before he got injured.
Those loan signings are a double-edged sword. They helped get Nottingham Forest promoted, but for Forest to start the 2022/23 season with the same side that beat Huddersfield Town in the play-off final last month, they would have to spend a fortune buying those players.
Aston Villa’s squad that won promotion in 2018/19 had Tyrone Mings, Kortney Hause, Tammy Abraham, Yannick Bolasie and Axel Tuanzebe all on loan.
Villa spent more than $25 million to turn the loans of Mings and Hause into permanent signings. They then spent another $40 million replacing Abraham and Tuanzebe with Ezri Konsa and then-record signing Wesley. Many pundits decried Villa’s spending spree at the time, but without it, their squad would have been far short of the standard needed to survive in the Premier League.
It’s looking increasingly unlikely that any of Forest’s loan signings last season will return to the City Ground this year. Their form last season means that their price-tag has gone up significantly during their time in Nottingham, and they may no longer represent value for money. That’s why those players were loaned out in the first place — to increase their value.
However, they might well be worth more to Forest than to other clubs. They are less of a risk as Steve Cooper already knows them well, and changing a whole team could damage the team spirit that helped get Forest over the line last season.
Whether Forest try to sign last season’s loan players or not, Premier League rules mean they can only bring in two loan players to fill the gaps in the squad, so whatever Forest do, they must sign at least three players permanently just to stand still.
Some reports claim the club have a more than $100 million war chest to spend on players, but with an average lower level Premier League player often going for around $10 million to $15 million, a large portion of that money might be going toward filling a gap created by the difference in Championship and Premier League rules.
Don’t be surprised if Forest spend big this summer, with just two loans allowed, they don’t have much of a choice.