Selling a homegrown star rarely makes a club popular with their fans but Nottingham Forest believe their calculated risk in selling Brennan Johnson will pay dividends down the line.
Tottenham have completed a £47.5million deal for the forward, who scored 10 goals in all competitions in his debut top-flight campaign and made his World Cup debut with Wales.
At 22, Johnson has significant potential. The son of former striker David Johnson, who scored 50 goals in 165 appearances for Forest from 2001-06, Johnson has also forged a friendship with David Beckham, who played with his father in the Manchester United youth ranks.
‘I first met him when I was about 15 or 16 and meeting people like that is crazy,’ Johnson told Mail Sport in an exclusive interview last February. ‘You think they’re going to be from a different world but they’re not. He’s a really nice guy, really humble.
‘He will text me saying congratulations and if he texts me before a game he always tells me, ‘Just enjoy the occasion’, especially before the Championship play-off final in 2022. I’ve not had a kick-about with him yet, though!’
Brennan Johnson has made the £45m move to Tottenham after moving on deadline day
The Nottingham Forest academy graduate has left the club after making 109 appearances
Brennan is the son of former Nottingham Forest and Ipswich striker David Johnson
Your browser does not support iframes.
Perhaps Johnson had a word with Beckham before heading for north London. The former England captain was part of Spurs’ school of excellence prior to joining Manchester United, and he also had a spell training with the first team in 2011, during Harry Redknapp’s tenure.
Though there are still some kinks in his game to iron out, Johnson is one of the most exciting forwards outside the so-called ‘big six’. He is quick, direct, technically sound, physically robust, and finishes well with both left foot and right.
He also had an excellent understanding with Morgan Gibbs-White at Forest and Spurs boss Ange Postecoglu will be confident Johnson can form a similar relationship with James Maddison.
Like many in-demand forwards, Johnson is also versatile. He is probably at his best operating on the right but can also play through the middle – ideally as part of a front two – or off the left.
Yet it would be unwise to compare him to Harry Kane, not because of the goals and longevity, but because Johnson is a very different player. The pair would have made a fine strike partnership, and Johnson has certainly not been targeted as a direct replacement.
It is vital to note that this deal has happened largely because of the Financial Fair Play rules that every top-flight club must take into account.
After spending heavily following promotion last summer, Forest were always going to have recoup some of their investment, with Johnson and Gibbs-White their most attractive assets, along with Brazilian midfielder Danilo.
Yet unlike Danilo and Gibbs-White, Johnson did not cost Forest a penny, meaning whatever fee they could generate for him would count as pure profit. From Cole Palmer to Harvey Barnes and Johnson himself, clubs have been prepared to allow academy products to leave this summer in order to keep the accountants happy.
Tottenham boss Ange Postecoglou will love using Johnson’s versatility in attack for his side
Johnson could have played for England but chose to represent Wales, and has 20 caps
Forest supporters might not like it but this is the way for ambitious clubs like Forest to keep the balance sheet healthy. As for Tottenham, the arrival of Johnson will remind fans of the club’s transfer policy in the early 2000s, when sporting director Frank Arnesen sought to sign the best young homegrown talent.
Though born in Nottingham, Johnson opted to play for Wales, despite interest from England. ‘My family on my mum’s side are Welsh and at that age it was about enjoyment,’ he said. ‘I enjoyed playing for Wales a lot more. It felt more like a family. Everyone was really nice and made me feel comfortable.
‘Being from a club like Forest, you go to England and see the players from top teams and it is a bit more intimidating.’
Johnson suffers no such nerves now. His Premier League experience, plus being kicked from pillar to post while on loan at Lincoln in League One, has given him inner steel. But the star quality shines as brightly as ever.
‘’He is very exciting, very easy on the eye,’ said Michael Appleton, the Lincoln manager at the time, in an interview two years ago. ‘When you’re the opposition manager in League One or the Championship, hopefully soon the Premier League, he’s someone you’d take note of.
‘I’ve got no doubts he’ll end up playing in the Premier League. He’s only going in one direction.’ Johnson is now ready to take that next step.