Following what was an inexplicable end to the 2019/20 Championship campaign, Nottingham Forest fans will have known that interest was always going to emerge in some of their key players this summer.
The Reds, rather miraculously, slipped out of the play-off places in the final five minutes of a long, tiring campaign following a 4-1 home defeat to Stoke City, despite occupying a place in the top-six for nearly 74% of last season.
Forest boss Sabri Lamouchi has wasted no time in strengthening his squad to avoid similar heartache in 2020/21, with five new faces arriving on Trentside. This week, however, the club are braced for a rather significant departure.
Matty Cash – a hugely important player for Forest in that truly enthralling campaign – is close to moving to Premier League side Aston Villa, as per The Athletic, for a deal potentially rising up to £16million including add-ons.
In what was quite simply a remarkable end to the season for Forest, it was an equally remarkable campaign for Cash, but this time for the right reasons.
Cash had to do it the hard way in his pursuit of making a name for himself at Forest, before ultimately becoming a Premier League footballer.
After being released by Wycombe Wanderers as a teenager, a job in retail subsequently followed, coupled up with a spell at the FAB Football Academy.
After 16 months of working hard to get back into the game, his perseverance paid off, and Forest came calling with a contract for the youngster.
It took Cash a while to break into the team and make a name for himself on the banks of the Trent. An impressive loan spell in League Two with Dagenham and Redbridge in 2015/16 led to Philippe Montanier showing faith in the midfielder the following campaign, before a tibia fracture hampered his progress and halted his season.
It was then under Mark Warburton where Cash was moved into a wide position, jostling for a place in the team and finding regular game time hard to come by under Aitor Karanka at first, following a regular run of games under caretaker boss Gary Brazil.
In 2018/19, though, Cash hit the ground running, scoring seven goals in the first-half of the season, undoubtedly thriving on the right-hand side of midfield in a 4-2-3-1 system.
Forest’s bid for promotion dwindled under Karanka, however, and after Martin O’Neill was unable to turn the tide around, in came a certain Sabri Lamouchi.
Cash’s development and transformation under Lamouchi has been nothing short of incredible. After only just knuckling down a place in the team in his favoured position the previous year, an injury to Tendayi Darikwa saw Cash be converted into, at the time, Forest’s first-choice right-back. A risk at first, but a stroke of genius it has since proved to be.
Cash has gone from strength to strength in every aspect of his game. His one-on-one defending has only got better and better, silencing some of the most dangerous wingers in the Championship and more than matching them for pace and power.
Going forward, his marauding runs and exquisite deliveries into the area saw him make five assists last season, and his ability to overlap with ease allowed Joe Lolley the freedom to jink inside onto his powerful left-foot and cause the opposition some real issues.
He has all the hallmarks and attributes of a modern-day full-back, and for some Forest fans, it’ll be surprising that he hasn’t been poached by a Premier League side up until now.
Cash has everything fans want in, not just a homegrown player, but from a servant of their football club. Desire, passion, hard-work and dedication – four words that typify his time as a footballer, as well as his time at Forest.
He has overcome injury setbacks, overcome various managerial changes, and the conversion into a full-back shows just how dedicated he has been to achieving his goal of pulling on the famous Garibaldi shirt on a weekly basis.
During his time on Trentside, he has wore his heart on his sleeve and spoken of his love for the fans, for the city and for the club, but ultimately, in the end, the lure of Premier League football has proved too much to turn down.
When this departure is announced by Forest, the complete contrast of fans’ reactions to that of when the likes of Oliver Burke left the club will be massive.
Forest were known for being a “selling club” under the fractious ownership of Fawaz Al-Hasawi – days that the Garibaldi faithful will look back on and the wince at thought of them.
The club’s ambition and vision was perhaps rightfully questioned when selling Burke to RB Leipzig for £13m in 2016, despite establishing himself as one of the most promising youngsters at the club with a lengthy amount of time left on his contract.
This time around, under a very different regime, Forest may well have been defeated in their hopes of keeping Cash, but the board and fans alike shouldn’t feel disheartened by it.
Cash has been a player in serious demand since that haunting defeat to Stoke back in July, and it is believed that the first offer they received for the player was a fee of around £7m, plus the services of Luke Freeman from Sheffield United.
Fast forward a couple of months, and not only have Forest brought in Freeman on loan with an option to buy, but they also have managed to receive around £9m more than what they were originally offered for Cash, as well as boasting a reputation for driving a hard bargain. A powerful message to other clubs for the future.
All is not lost, either.
Joe Worrall remains a Red despite interest from the likes of Burnley and Sheffield United. Joao Carvalho remains on the books despite speculation linking him with an exit, and Lamouchi has managed to keep the bulk of the squad that narrowly missed out on a play-off spot together, ready for next season.
It remains to be seen whether Lamouchi and the club use the funds to reinvest in the squad and bring in a new full-back. Tendayi Darikwa and Carl Jenkinson are two experienced right-backs, but do they have the athleticism to replace Cash and his tempo down the right flank given their recent injury troubles?
Do they look to the future, with Jordan Gabriel knocking on the first-team door, and the likes of Jayden Richardson and James Clarridge also making waves in the youth setup? After all, Cash is a clear example of that, if you work hard and you’re good enough, you’re old enough.
Forest will miss Cash and Cash will miss Forest. The next few days, and maybe even the first few weeks of the season will be tough, as Lamouchi looks to go about coping without one of his most important players.
But Forest are a different club to that of the past, and they can look back on this transfer deal in years to come with pride, and potentially a period in which galvanised them to achieve their goals.
Because, above all, Cash’s departure highlights only one thing.
The need for top-flight football on Trentside is greater than ever, and Forest fans will be hoping that their side’s away trip to Queens Park Rangers in less than two weeks’ time will be the start of a journey which sees the Garibaldi rise again.