Where the blame lies for Nottingham Forest's points deduction is clear – but that doesn’t make the rules fair

Nottingham Forest's Premier League points deduction is their own doing - but there are major issues with the rules.
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The four-point deduction imposed by the Premier League on Nottingham Forest after the club breached the league’s profit and sustainability rules (PSR) has not gone down well at the City Ground. As their official statement put it, “Nottingham Forest is extremely disappointed” – and the club should be, but mostly with themselves.

The club knew about the PSR when they were promoted. These regulations were not sprung upon them from out of the blue and were designed to be planned around years in advance. Yet still they ran too deep into the red, after signing 46 players over two seasons. To claim that they were scuppered by a delay to the sale of Brennan Johnson seems like an absurdity – this was a shot fired straight from gun to foot, with no outside intervention involved.

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Many of those 46 signings were loans or free transfers, but Transfermarkt still has them down as paying a fee for 28 players since they earned promotion two years ago. Many of them have already departed, and several of them are probably barely remembered by supporters of their own club. How many Forest fans could pick Omar Richards out of a line-up? And has anybody seen Giulian Biancone recently?

Those two alone represent the better part of £16m of transfer spending for a sum total of two Premier League appearances between them – they are currently off on loan at chairman Evangelos Marinakis’ other club, Olympiacos. Two such swings and misses would be entirely forgivable, of course, but they represent just a small part of a reported £276m total transfer outlay in two years. The total allowable loss over a three year period under the PSR is £105m. The profligacy has been staggering and the outcome seemingly inevitable – an overspend of £34.5m in the 2022/23 season.

The club’s defence has centred around a delay to the sale of Johnson to Tottenham Hotspur – the official statement adds that Forest “took steps to ensure Brennan Johnson was sold before the end of the window,” which they claim was a “clear demonstration of our respect and support for PSR.”

That makes precious little sense. If their entire strategy hinged on selling one player to comply with the rules, then they would have known that it needed to be done by 30 June in order to count against their losses. They should surely also have factored in the possibility that Johnson may not be sold, or sold in time or for the amount Forest wanted, when buying all those players that they went on to discard. To suggest that the Premier League should look kindly on them because they sold Johnson in the end seems blithe, at best.

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That doesn’t mean that Forest and their fans don’t have some reason to be aggrieved with the Premier League. The process is full of holes and the Premier League appear to be cobbling together the methodology behind the punishments and their implementation as they go along.

One issue that Forest have themselves raised is that the current rules give less spending room to newly-promoted sides, who still have to comply with the lower maximum losses allowed in the Championship in the seasons they spent there. That means that newcomers are at an immediate disadvantage.

“In circumstances where this approach is followed by future PSR commissions, it would make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for newly promoted clubs without parachute payments to compete,” continued the official statement. “Thus undermining the integrity and competitiveness of the Premier League.”

That is a valid point, although on the other side of the coin is the need to discourage aspiring Championship clubs from overspending in the hopes that promotion would wash away their financial sins. The primary purpose of the PSR is, after all, to dissuade teams from overspending in the search of their goals and to ensure long-term sustainability in the Premier League and the EFL alike.

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It does still seem fair to question whether newly promoted sides, who already come in at a massive disadvantage given the gulf between the two tiers, should not be given more consideration. Still, Forest should have been making that case before they broke the rules, not after having already done so.

There is also a very serious concern over the way the respective punishments for Everton and Forest have been handed down. Forest’s punishment is for an overspend which took place in the 2022/23 season – but Everton have already been deducted six points (down from the original 10) this season for an offence which covered the 2021/22 season.

Now, with Everton waiting to hear whether they will receive another deduction for 2022/23, we face the possibility that either Everton will be punished twice in the same season for breaches which occurred in different years, or that Everton’s punishment will be commuted to next season while Forest receive theirs this year for offences which took place in the same time period. Either result is patently unreasonable and would cause rightful uproar.

That lack of a coherent process has to be addressed for the PSR to be seen to be entirely fair. Penalties should surely only be imposed a set amount of time after the offence took place – but the deductions already applied to Everton and Forest this season have blown that fairly basic principle to pieces.

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To give the Premier League some semblance of a defence, the institution of a clear timeline from offence to punishment is made far more challenging by the 115 charges brought against Manchester City for breaches of the now-defunct Financial Fair Play rules. Penalising Everton, for instance, for one offence which they admitted is one thing, but trying to get a just process sorted for over a hundred alleged offences which the accused club denies in the same timeframe is plainly not a practical possibility.

Still, the fact that a proper process wasn’t in place from the moment that the PSR were instituted is astonishing and potentially damaging to the league’s integrity – after all, if clubs are receiving points deductions in differing seasons, then that can’t help but impact relegation battles or chases for European places in an uneven fashion. Of course, all of this will become partly irrelevant very soon, given that the Premier League clubs just last week agreed to scrap the PSR and replace it with a new model based on UEFA’s system, which allows for variable transfer, wage and agent fee spending based on a club’s revenue. Hopefully, the league will learn some lessons before the new system is implemented.

But for all the issues with the PSR, the fact remains that Forest have lost four points because their owners failed to balance the books when they knew the rules of the game in advance. Fans frustrated by the decision should direct the bulk of their anger at the board and the way that money was frittered away on players who weren’t needed by the club. After all, nobody forced them to sign Jonjo Shelvey.

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