Nottingham Forest fans were given inside access to a day in the life of a professional footballer last week, with the club’s media team following Joe Worrall’s every movement around the Nigel Doughty Academy.
The 14-minute clip depicted Worrall being put through his paces in training after recovering from a cracked rib, answering Michael Dawson’s football trivia question before talking fans through his daily food choices. But it was the final few seconds of the video which gave fans perhaps the most enjoyment.
“I was surprised as you when I first saw it,” defender Scott McKenna told Football League World. “He absolutely loves it as well. He loves his cars – it’s a nice car to be fair.”
McKenna, as well as plenty of other Forest fans, were left talking about all six-foot-three of Worrall climbing into a retro Mini Cooper before leaving for home. It’s those moments in particular, as well as him being filmed licking his plate squeaky clean after finishing his lunch, or him proclaiming “it wasn’t Barcelona, it was Derby” in his broad Nottinghamshire accent after a 1-1 draw at Pride Park, which typifies the defender’s down to earth, honest nature as a footballer.
Joe Worrall has never shied away from being a bold, confident figure both on and off the pitch. It was after only his sixth first-team appearance for the club where he questioned his teammates’ desire and attitude, following a 2-0 home defeat to Wolves in December 2016 – a result which saw Forest plummet further down the Championship table towards the bottom three under Philippe Montanier. To put it bluntly, he cares about this football club as much as anyone currently having to watch from home on iFollow does, and it is there for all to see in his performances.
The defender has made strides of improvement since spending the 2018/19 campaign on loan with Steven Gerrard’s Rangers, making 32 appearances for the Glasgow outfit in what was a rewarding season on a personal level.
“He’s not a player who I really knew about when he came to Rangers to be honest,” McKenna added. “I didn’t really pay attention to him as I was more focused on my teammates.
“But from the Joe Worrall who was at Rangers then and at Forest now, he’s a far better player.
“I think we played Rangers about seven times that season. He tries to be chirpy about the fact he scored against Aberdeen, too.
“I think he had a good season at Rangers, though. They’re obviously not as strong a team as they are this season, and I think that’s down to a lot of pressure the fans put on them. It must have been difficult for everyone involved in those Rangers teams.”
Of course, Worrall knows a lot about pressure. Last season, he was an ever present all season long as Forest narrowly missed out on a play-off finish under Sabri Lamouchi, after a five-goal swing saw Swansea City leapfrog themselves into sixth place on the final day of the season.
Nevertheless, despite a change of management, he has established himself as an important figure under Chris Hughton this time around.
It has been a tricky campaign for Worrall, as it has been for Forest as a whole. The defender sustained an ankle injury in September, and suffered a cracked rib against Luton Town in February. But the 24-year-old has recovered from both of those setbacks to remain an integral figure of a Forest side which have turned a corner and are looking to gain momentum heading into the 2021/22 campaign.
If ever a statistic summed up a season, it’s the one that sees Forest sit fourth in the goals conceded table yet joint third-lowest in goals scored. Chris Hughton is keen to address his side’s attacking woes in the summer, but there is a sense of confidence when it comes to the defensive side of the team.
Whenever Worrall has stepped up to the plate this season, Forest have generally looked a lot more composed and solid with his presence in the team. The defender has made 28 appearances across all competitions this term, amassing 2,720 minutes of football and keeping 11 clean sheets.
In fact, another clean sheet should have been added on Easter Monday, when Forest produced their most impressive performance of the campaign in a 3-1 home win over QPR. Lyndon Dykes heading in a consolation with the last kick of the contest, leaving Worrall looking disconsolate after conceding such a cheap goal, such is his willingness to defend and keep goals out of the net.
Worrall’s physical presence has been tested by a plethora of powerful attacking threats this season. Veljko Paunovic, Nathan Jones and Neil Warnock are among those to have tasked the defender with the job of dealing with Lucas Joao, Elijah Adebayo and Britt Assombalonga to name only a few.
But these are tests which Worrall relishes and has clearly overcome well, winning 72% of his defensive duels across all competitions. 156 interceptions have been made, as have 90 clearances, but perhaps the most impressive statistic which highlights his knowledge and reading of the game is that he has only committed 14 fouls this term, picking up only one yellow card. He doesn’t robustly dive into challenges and is very rarely careless on the pitch.
The addition of McKenna has been beneficial for Worrall this season, and the Scotland international provides natural balance at the back whenever he is fit and available. It has been a difficult season for McKenna, who has endured a couple of frustrating injury issues, but his reintroduction to the side sees him move back into his favoured left-sided centre-half role, subsequently moving Worrall back across onto his favoured right side.
Despite Worrall having to fill in on his weaker side in the absence of McKenna, his ball-playing abilities haven’t waned, accruing a pass success rate of 83.9% this term. This is a vital part of playing under Chris Hughton, with the manager constantly urging his team to build from the back and open up space in the opposite final third by doing so.
Forest fans will be desperate to see the phone stay silent in regards to any advances for Worrall this summer. Burnley had a number of approaches turned down for the defender at the end of last season, in a summer which saw another homegrown star in Matty Cash depart to Aston Villa for £16million.
Finances have become a lot tighter since the Reds’ crushing 4-1 defeat to Stoke, and a quick source of income for most clubs this time around will involve the departures of some of their most saleable assets. Worrall certainly fits that bill from a Forest perspective, but Chris Hughton knows the importance of keeping hold of him beyond this term.
He told Nottinghamshire Live: “Joe is a good player, and we want as many good players in the team as possible,” said the Reds manager. He’s been very, very good for me in my period of time at the club.
“Speculation is always speculation. I would (like him to stay because he’s a good player. And more importantly, he’s a good player for this football club.”
There will be a time where Forest do end up parting ways with their local, down to earth boyhood fan turned academy graduate turned first-team captaincy material. But as Hughton looks to steer Forest to safety before looking up rather than down next season, escaping the clutches of the Championship will be beneficial in keeping him at the club for a longer period of time.
If that is to be achieved, then Forest fans will hope to see Worrall drive out of the car park with his head peering out the sun roof some more.