Selling Michail Antonio to West Ham was a sacrifice Forest needed to make

Adrian Bevington regards the biggest achievement during his time at Nottingham Forest to be that the manager didn’t change while he was at the club.

Granted, he was only at The City Ground for a little over seven months as a part-time consultant, but he feels that was a key factor in the club slowly moving forwards.

That manager was Dougie Freedman, who’d been appointed before Bevington’s arrival at the club.

“He can be an emotive guy,” says Bevington of then-club owner Fawaz Al-Hasawi .

“Sometimes you had to stress the long-term. I’m pleased that while I was at the club, we stuck by the same manager.

“I love to work with a vision and a long-term plan. Ideally, you’d get a football club into a position where you weren’t so reliant on the owners’ money because you’d built success on the pitch and brought through your own players.

“But it’s obviously very difficult.”

One of Bevington’s most stressful times at Forest came early on – the 2015 summer transfer window. 

Forest were in a pickle at the time. Basically, they could only sign players on loan, and pay them less than £10,000 per week, because of the transfer embargo enforced by the EFL after previous over-spending.

Players who had previously been signed were on much higher salaries, and this had led to the embargo.

It was a difficult time for the club and manager, who’d have to do a fair bit of wheeling and dealing.

In a short space of time, the likes of Ryan Mendes, Nelson OIiveira, Chris O’Grady, Kyle Ebecilio and Jonny Williams arrived at the club, with Liam Trotter a couple of weeks later.

“I was a bit uncomfortable doing the deals so quickly,” says Bevington. “But we had to do it.

“Dougie was integral to the deals, alongside Leon Hunter (the Football Co-ordinator), identifying the players he wanted, while Lalou (Tifrit, Finance Director) and I got the deals done with my support.

“It was a challenging time for everyone.”

Sometimes, friendships in football can help.

Dougie Freedman looks dejected at a Nottingham Forest game.

That goes back to my point in the first part of my chat with Adrian about employing a Chief Executive with contacts in the English game.

Brighton’s CEO Paul Barber was “very helpful” in the loan deal between Forest and the Seagulls for O’Grady (Barber and Bevington were close after their time together at the FA).

Incidentally, has anyone made the impact on debut that O’Grady did for Forest at QPR?!

He was unplayable at Loftus Road that afternoon in a win for Freedman’s side, but sadly he struggled to scale those heights again.

But as well as all of the players coming in, there was one huge departure around the same time – that of winger Michail Antonio to West Ham.

You have to remember how integral Antonio was to Forest at that time – scoring four goals in his five appearances that season.

He was so often the man that tore opposition defences apart with his searing pace, and even if he wasn’t scoring, he was creating so many problems that it left space for others to exploit. 

Antonio had previously been linked with a move to Derby, but the move to East London was brewing for around a week before it was completed.

All of those involved knew that selling Antonio would seriously weaken the squad, and make the job more difficult for Freedman. But it had to be done.

The sale, for around six million pounds, would prevent further sanction from the EFL under Financial Fair Play rules and give the club some much-needed breathing space to sort the finances out. 

With Al-Hasawi overseas, the key players at the club – Bevington, Freedman, Lawrence, Hunter and Tifrit – all agreed that selling Antonio made sense in the longer-term interests of Forest.

They certainly recognised the challenges it would create for the manager and his assistant.

But they’d have to convince the owner – whom, you’ll remember, loved to announce the signing of a player on his own Twitter account, because it brought him heaps of love and adulation.

Selling a player might be a different story, however. 

Bevington made a call to the owner, and he was persuaded that the sale of the winger would be beneficial in the longer term.

Once that principle had been agreed, it sparked the chaos of the week when players had to be brought in to ‘rebalance the squad.’

When you consider the loss that Freedman’s squad had sustained, it might come as no surprise that Forest were winless for six weeks in September and October – Britt Assombalonga was out injured long-term at this point too.

With no Assombalonga and no Antonio, goals were in short supply.

However, victory over Derby seemed to spark an unbeaten run of 13 league games. 

They didn’t lose again until the middle of February and because of the way Forest was run – and maybe because Bevington’s advice was now absent – Freedman was sacked in the middle of March.

I always thought that was harsh in the extreme. 

Photos: Dan Westwell

4 thoughts on “Selling Michail Antonio to West Ham was a sacrifice Forest needed to make

  1. I always thought Dougies saciing was very harsh, working with his hands tied behind his back, he deserved better.

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