It’s fair to say that the announcement of Cafu’s arrival at Nottingham Forest back in October was met with its large share of negativity.
The Reds had just bid farewell to creative midfielder Tiago Silva – one of their most important players under Sabri Lamouchi last term – with Forest’s sister club Olympiacos completing a deal for the 27-year-old.
Moving in the opposite direction was Cafu, with the Portuguese midfielder arriving at the City Ground on a season-long loan deal from the Greek club. Another new face added to an ever-growing squad.
Cafu became Forest’s 13th signing of what was undoubtedly a hectic summer transfer window for the Reds, and his arrival divided plenty of opinions. Forest had, seemingly, swapped a creative midfielder for a defensive-minded one, after he was originally billed as a holding midfielder by Greek reporters and media outlets.
Fast forward a couple of months, and after initially being left out in the cold by Hughton, Cafu has slowly started to establish himself as a key player under the 62-year-old’s tutelage.
Cafu made his full debut for the Reds in a 0-0 home draw with Watford last month – the only point Forest picked up in a run of six league games.
It was in a 2-0 victory over fellow strugglers Sheffield Wednesday on Tuesday night, though, which saw the 27-year-old produce his best performance in a Forest shirt thus far.
Cafu had only shown flashes of his ability before Tuesday night, as Forest picked up an invaluable victory which arrested a run of six games without a win.
Here, we shine the spotlight on his display against the Owls…
As alluded to before, Cafu was originally thought to be a holding midfielder, but under Hughton, he has occupied the number 10 role in their usual 4-2-3-1 setup.
Having fallen behind early on in defeats to Reading, Norwich and Brentford, it was essential that Forest started strongly on Tuesday, and Cafu was the orchestrator as they did so.
Receiving the ball from Cyrus Christie on the right-side, Cafu assessed his options, before picking out Yuri Ribeiro on the opposite flank.
The pass was perfectly weighted, allowing Ribeiro to run onto the ball and drive a low effort past Joe Wildsmith from just inside the area.
Cafu clearly has the ability to pick a pass out, then. The midfielder accrued an impressive pass accuracy rate of 92% from 36 passes on Tuesday night, and set up three shots.
Of course, when the onus is on you to bridge the gap between midfield and attack and provide the forwards with adequate service, those passes need to be effective.
Four of Cafu’s six forward passes were played successfully, and both of his passes into the final third – one of those finding Ribeiro – were latched onto by a teammate.
The biggest notable difference between Cafu and Silva – and perhaps any other attacking midfielder in the division – is his size.
Cafu isn’t a nippy, agile playmaker who uses his pace to full effect. He’s tall, strong and possesses real physical prowess, making him difficult to shrug off the ball.
Making two progressive, forward runs in midweek, Cafu’s responsibility is to drive play forward and bring others into play – something he is proving to do rather efficiently.
On the contrary, winning only seven out of 18 duels over the course of the 90 minutes suggests that there is further room for impose his physicality on the game in the right way, but it’s those clever passes and the chances he creates which has helped him become a key player under Chris Hughton today.
This season has thrown up a few surprises for Forest thus far. Not many would have expected the Reds to be languishing towards the bottom of the Championship, and find themselves outside of the relegation zone only on goal difference.
Similarly, not many would have expected one of Olympiacos’ forgotten men to come in and make such an impact. There is room for improvement, but the positive signs are there for all to see.