The full back role has changed enormously in recent years. They no longer just maintain the defensive line, but are expected to be an attacking option as well. To match this evolving position young wide players are being developed from a young age to learn both parts of the game. Ryan Sessegnon and Bukayo Saka are perfect examples of this trend with both expected to end up playing further forward as their careers progress.
Matty Cash is something a little different, however. The Nottingham Forest full-back has gone in the opposite direction, transitioning from a sporadic forward player into a crucial member of Forest’s fearsome back line. He has played a vital role in Forest’s first serious push for promotion from the Championship since the 2012-13 season – where they finished just a point outside the play-off places – and looks to be set for life in the right back position.
The defining characteristic of the Reds success has been their defensive solidity. Once renowned for their perennial leakiness, Forest’s back line has become synonymous with organised resilience. Alongside Cash, the likes of Joe Worral, Tobias Figueredo and Yuri Ribeiro, under the close stewardship of club captain Michael Dawson, have helped Forest achieve the third best away record in the Championship. Behind only first placed Leeds and second place West Brom, Forest have won 8, drawn 8 and lost only 3 on the road. They have also learnt the vital skill of shutting games down, ranking lowest for goals conceded in the second half, something legendary former boss, Brian Clough, would have been proud of.
8️⃣ | Nottingham Forest have won eight away games in the Championship this season.
The Reds haven’t won nine in a season since 2007-08, winning nine on their way to promotion from L1.
— Between the Lines (@Between_TL) March 2, 2020
But while Worrall, Figureido and Ribeiro have been excellent this season, none have shone brighter than Cash. His tireless running and fierce tackling have earned him Team of the Season So Far spots for The Athletic, Sky and EA. His natural attacking instincts have also allowed him to build a great relationship with winger, Joe Lolley, turning Forest’s right flank into one of the most formidable in the league.
His unnervingly consistent performances have caught the eye of Premier League clubs like West Ham and courted serious interest from AC Milan. While the Italian giants already have solid players in the right back position, in the shape of Andrea Conti and Davide Calabria, you can understand their desire to add strength in depth with the signing of Cash. But Forest rejected the move and Cash expressed his desire to stay at the City Ground by signing a new contract keeping him at the club until 2023. Cash’s rise has been meteoric, but having only started playing as a right back since August, it’s been important for him to keep his feet on the ground.
As voted by you, the Championship right-back of the season so far is…
🏴 Matty Cash:
🏟 36 Games
⚽️ 3 Goals
🅰️ 4 Assists
🔑 41 Key Passes
🛡 101 Tackles
✂️ 51 Interceptions
⛔️ 36 Crosses Blocked
— Between the Lines (@Between_TL) March 21, 2020
It hasn’t always been this easy for Cash, however. The 22-year old has taken a relatively untrodden and difficult path compared to most players his age. Released by Wycombe Wanderers in 2011 at the age of 14, he had to work a part time retail job while he played for the FAB football academy, Bisham Abbey. An obstacle such as this would signal the end of a career in football for most young players. With the vast majority of players coming up through the ranks of teams they have been signed to since children, pursuing a career in football from the outside would have been a daunting task.
But it was Cash’s perseverance towards his goal that earned him his second chance, as he signed for Forest’s prestigious Nigel Doughty Youth Academy in 2014. With the academy forming the careers of the likes of Wes Morgan, Michael Dawson, Jamaal Lascelles and Shaun Wright-Phillips, Cash was in prestigious company. And since his debut in 2016, he hasn’t looked back since.
The vast majority of his time at Forest was spent as a winger and the interest he garnered in that role from the likes of Chelsea and Red Bull Leipzig is further testament to the Forest youth system.
— Forest TV (@ForestDvds) February 16, 2020
But his transformation into one of the most exciting full-backs in England is evidence of the exceptional work being done by manager, Sabri Lamouchi. A relative unknown when he arrived on Trentside, Lamouchi has set himself apart through his refreshing honesty, simple messaging and undeniable charm.
He has played to Forest’s strengths rather than imposing a singular philosophy on the team. He took the brave step of making formerly out of favour Ben Watson the fulcrum of his midfield, remoulding his status among fans to one of cult hero status.
Cash has also benefitted enormously from Lamouchi’s pragmatic approach. Former manager’s Mark Warburton and Aitor Karanka were both very frank in their desire to play Cash in defence, but it is Lamouchi who has succeeded. “Everyone listens to him, he stands there, talks and you think ‘wow,’” Cash told The FLP after Forest’s significant win away at Brentford in February. “He knows what he’s on about and in training we do the same drills every day…He doesn’t let anyone slack. Even when we’re winning games, he’s on at everyone. He’s on at me, telling me what to do.” Lamouchi is undoubtedly a tough taskmaster, but in a league like the Championship, that is essential.
His honesty with the media has also endeared him to fans and players alike. He blasted Forest’s performance away at Birmingham, in which they conceded a last minute equaliser from their own penalty, as “naive and stupid.” But he was equally full of praise for his team after the same result, stating, “they know I told them the truth. I told them the truth, but in the same way as I tell the truth to my kids – it is because I love them.”
The result is a team full of players who speak of nothing else but a “harmonious dressing room and a desire to make the most of what they see as a major opportunity…to grasp promotion by the scruff of the neck,” as Paul Taylor writes for The Athletic. This could be Forest’s best chance to return to the top flight after 21 years away.
Ahead of Nottingham Forest's clash with West Brom, Joe Lolley chats to Sky Sports about Sabri Lamouchi's impact, a laboured start and dreams of a Premier League return.
— Sky Sports Football (@SkyFootball) February 15, 2020
Lamouchi’s success at Forest has played out against the backdrop of a huge behind the scenes revamp at the club. After five years of dire ownership under Kuwaiti businessman Fawaz Al-Hasawi, who saw Forest more as a luxury purchase rather than a football club, things have begun to change at the City Ground.
After being bought by Olympiakos owner, Evangelos Marinakis, major improvements have been made to the club’s administration. Simple changes have been made, like separating the administration of the club from the coaching staff. Now, should Forest see a manager leave, those who run the club will not follow suit. Even down to the club’s social media output, everyone seems to be singing from the same hymn sheet and Lamouchi has been benefitting from the consistency.
Being allowed to get on with his job in a stable environment has enabled Lamouchi to get the best out of Cash. Forest have seemingly found the right man to take advantage of a fundamentally healthier club. Such is the change in the East Midlands side that Lamouchi is likely to be the first Forest manager to complete a full season for 10 years.
But, it is arguably Cash who could benefit the most from Forest’s uptick in fortunes. Should football return, Forest are in a very strong position to finish the season promoted. But it is Cash’s name that is whispered most widely outside of Nottingham. His contract extension, signed in January, keeps him at the City Ground until 2023, but his rise is far from finished. Maybe not this summer, but soon Matty Cash will be continuing to break the mould, only this time at one of Europe’s elite.
— Matty Cash (@mattycash622) February 16, 2020