Whilst this seasons focus is staying out of the relegation zone, the true ambition of the owners remains to be playing in the top flight. If the Reds are serious about their dreams, this young defensive duo could be pivotal to that goal.
If you take a look at Forest’s recent transfer approach, it has been to put it lightly… excessive. With many young players being overlooked due to the ‘experience’ that forest have been scoping out with their latest signings.
The Reds may have limited the amount of youngsters coming through in recent years to make way for more experienced alternatives, but now not only do they have 2 stars on their badge, they have 2 stars in their ranks and they need to use them to their full potential rather than cash in, like they have with so many young starlets of the past.
According to Transfermarkt, the average squad age for the Reds is 28.1 and whilst experience is vital in this league, Forest now have an ageing squad and it subsequently looks to result in a team lacking in hunger and creativity.
Usually, I am not one to say “build a squad around” or “our most important player/s” due to the stereotypical unreliability of footballers. But with the Reds defence settled and starting to pick up a good record in the Championship, and two of the seemingly most reliable players at the City Ground in recent years, this pairing feels like it could be something special.
In Worrall and McKenna we have 2 natural leaders, and with both centre halves being only 24 and already wealthily experienced professionals, you can’t help but imagine that their best days are yet to come. With both players missing a number of games through injury this season, Worrall with a foot injury and McKenna suffering with his ankle, Hughton must fight to keep these players fit and in the long term, base his team sheet around them.
Joe Worrall is a local youngster who was brought through the Nigel Doughty Academy. Receiving high praise from all managers he has played under for his leadership and professionalism.
With loan spells at Dagenham and Redbridge and Rangers, not to mention the sheer number of managers the youngster has played under at the Reds alone, he has gained experience under many different tactics and mindsets.
Joe has been a standout performer in a particularly underwhelming season so far for the Reds. Worrall has shown throughout this campaign that he is one of the few players who has managed to avoid slumping into the hangover that many in the forest camp succumbed to following last season’s collapse.
Scott McKenna was a name that the Reds have been linked with before but this summer, a deal was agreed and McKenna made the move down south from Aberdeen for a £3 million transfer fee. This seemed a more rational of the 14 signings made this summer, and he has so far lived up to the high expectations that he brought the fans upon his arrival at the City Ground.
McKenna is another young centre half who, like Worrall has had loan spells with Ayr United and Alloa Athletic respectively, before fully finding his feet at Aberdeen. The Scotland international really hit the ground running at Aberdeen, making a total of 91 appearances for the Scottish side. Many fans were not happy to see the McKenna leave the club, especially for what they felt was a fee far below his value.
Speaking to the Scottish Sun about McKenna's move to Nottingham, Aberdeen boss Derek McInnes said “Scott is clearly a player who has approached his career to date in the correct manner and quite rightly, he has now got his reward.”
Following a very lacklustre start to this campaign, the Reds started to pick up some form, going unbeaten in 6 Championship games whilst only conceding 3 goals. The Red's defence is strong and putting in a shift, they just need to find a midfield, and more importantly, a quality attack to provide Chris Hughton’s side with that goal scoring threat that they have lacked this season.
Forest are not short of their own young stars, with academy graduates Alex Mighten impressing on the wing at the City Ground and Brennan Johnson standing out on loan at Lincoln City. Along with Will Swan, Mbe Soh and other young players establishing themselves on Chris Hughton’s team sheet. Remembering 19 year old Mbe Soh is on the list of centre halves at the club, we have a young but well-established defence.
In a recent interview with Nottinghamshire Live, Reds boss Chris Hughton admitted that his signings in this window will be short term fixes to keep his team out of the relegation zone this season “By far, it’s about the importance of now; making sure we’ve got the squad we want now and can get the results we need to get now.”
While the Reds plans right now are short term, the Nottingham Forest hierarchy still have long term visions of Premier League football coming back to the City Ground. The Reds must fight to not have to cash in on these 2 centre halves and build a young, exciting squad, with enough experience to help lead the club into the top flight where they long to be.