Nottingham Forest believe Premier League is punishing ambition

Nottingham Forest owner Evangelos Marinakis. Nottingham Forest have been deducted four points for breaching profitability and sustainability rules, the Premier League has announced
Evangelos Marinakis was counselled to stay quiet during the investigation - PA Wire/Mike Egerton

On Friday afternoon, as Nottingham Forest nervously awaited the news of their punishment, the Premier League’s official website published an article with the headline: “Relegation battle: how many points are needed for safety?”

It highlighted ‘the mythical total of 40 points’ and how the pressure is increasing on the teams fighting to survive.

Unsurprisingly, the feature made no reference to the damage a points deduction could have on a club’s chances of staying up.

Strange, really, because it now appears a crucial factor in which clubs go down.

After Forest’s four-point deduction, and possible further sanctions for Everton, this could be the season where at least one of the relegation places is ultimately decided by the profitability and sustainability rules [PSR].

All the 20 Premier League clubs signed up to these regulations, and any club who breaches those rules should be punished. The rules are there for a reason and Forest breached the permitted losses by almost £35 million.

But at a time when so many clubs are stripping back spending, and growing increasingly frustrated over a perceived bullet-proof ‘big six’, the football fan of 2024 is running out of patience.

Forest have now been plunged into the relegation zone and the patience of owner Evangelos Marinakis is wafer thin. Marinakis may well have lost faith in the Premier League and its chief executive Richard Masters.

Forest’s season has been plagued by perceived poor refereeing decisions and VAR controversies, and this latest brush with the governing body could push Marinakis towards boiling point.

Brennan Johnson of Tottenham Hotspur and Moussa Niakhate of Nottingham Forest during the Premier League match between Nottingham Forest and Tottenham Hotspur at City Ground on December 15, 2023 in Nottingham, England
Forest now face an uphill battle to remain in the Premier League - Getty Images/James Baylis

With the points deduction, Forest’s ownership feels they are being punished for showing ambition. When Forest were promoted, there seemed a general mood of support from other Premier League clubs – until Marinakis started spending.

The narrative of “great to have them back” quickly turned darker.

Admittedly, Forest signed too many players – some never even kicked a ball for the club – but had to build a new team after promotion. They argue that spending ahead of revenue was unavoidable.

Along with Everton, Forest were charged on January 15. Throughout the process, Forest were determined to maintain a conciliatory tone and avoid antagonising the Premier League. Indeed, they were even advised by high-ranking officials to play nicely as it would reflect well on them.

When Everton were charged with their first breach in March last year, the club swiftly issued a statement insisting they “strongly” contested the allegation and would “robustly defend its position to the commission”.

Forest concluded that adopting a similar combative stance would not do them any favours.

Marinakis was persuaded to stay silent on the matter. The club admitted the breach and continued to remain transparent with the league, providing financial accounts and other information.

In the written reasons, it is confirmed that Forest effectively avoided a further two-point deduction through “exceptional co-operation”.

Nick De Marco KC, a renowned sports lawyer, was appointed to fight their defence.

De Marco successfully defended Harry Toffolo from a ban over betting charges last year and has previously worked with Forest before. He has also defended Derby County, Sheffield Wednesday and, most recently, Leicester City in disciplinary proceedings.

Forest’s “virtual” hearing was held on March 7 and 8. In attendance were key figures such as De Marco, Forest’s finance director Tom Bonser and director Ioannis Vrentzos.

Forest were hopeful of a minimal sanction, from two to three points. They felt their defence was good, and the argument over Brennan Johnson’s sale was entirely in line with profitability and sustainability.

Nottingham Forest's Brennan Johnson reacts during the Carabao Cup second round match at the City Ground, Nottingham
Forest hoped for understanding over the circumstances surrounding the sale of Brennan Johnson - PA/Joe Giddens

It was decided towards the end of last season that the Wales international would be sold to try and boost Forest’s financial position.

Brentford had been long-term admirers and made bids of £30 million and £35 million, which were instantly rejected by Marinakis. Forest insisted the fee would be a minimum £50 million.

Brentford did make another offer of £40 million, but interest from Tottenham and Chelsea was uppermost in the minds of Forest and Johnson’s representatives.

Tottenham eventually acted in the final week, after the sale of Harry Kane to Bayern Munich, and completed a £47.5 million deal on deadline day.

However, the Johnson ‘defence’ was essentially dismissed by the Premier League. The commission concluded the timing of when Johnson was sold was a business decision and not a mitigating factor.

In Forest’s punchy statement, they said: “The rationale of the commission is that clubs should only invest after they have realised a profit on their player development.

“This reasoning destroys mobility in the football pyramid and the effect of the decision will be to drastically reduce the room for manoeuvre for all such clubs, leading to the stagnation of our national game.

Fortunately for Forest, the three-person independent commission decided that four points was an appropriate sanction.

There will be inevitable anger from Everton, who were initially punished with a record 10 points before it was reduced to six on appeal.

The fury over the perceived delay into Manchester City’s 115 charges will also resurface, though it is a far more complex case.

Now the deduction has been applied, Forest are in deep trouble. Under Nuno Espirito Santo they have secured only one win from their last nine league matches.

There is still a long way to go, and they face a number of teams near them in the table in the final weeks.

It was not until the penultimate game of last season that Steve Cooper secured survival – Nuno would gladly settle for such an outcome now.

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