When Nottingham Forest plucked Zach Clough from Bolton Wanderers with just minutes to spare of the transfer window in January 2017, supporters rejoiced at caretaker boss Gary Brazil landing such an highly-rated footballer.
Trotters academy graduate Clough signed on the dotted line at the same time at Ross McCormack who signed for Forest on loan for the remainder of that particular campaign.
The Reds had just defeated Rotherham United 2-0 – a rare occasion where transfer deadline day fell on a matchday. Clough signing was seen as a sound investment for the future, arriving on the back of 23 goals and seven assists in 77 games for his boyhood club.
The attacker got his City Ground career off to a flyer. Two goals against Brighton, one against Brentford and another in a 2-2 draw against Derby offered glimpses of how shrewd the £2.5 million (BBC Sport) investment in Clough might prove to look.
Mark Warburton began his first full season in charge during 2017/18 and things quickly started to unravel for Clough. After playing in just 15 games during the first half of the campaign he was shipped back to Bolton on loan in January.
Down the pecking order
By the time he returned to Trentside, Warburton had collected his papers and Aitor Karanka was in the hot seat. Clough trained with the ‘bomb squad’ prior to last season and would go on loan to Rochdale during the campaign.
During his time at Bolton, he was called a ‘special player’ by former Trotters boss Neil Lennon. The now Celtic incumbent was extremely complimentary about Clough following an FA Cup game against Wigan in 2015 (The Guardian).
It was, therefore, no surprise when Clough did make the move back to the second tier following Bolton’s relegation. The downward spiral since his first handful of games at the City Ground, however, has been pretty baffling.
With several outcasts departing during the summer, the 24-year-old was left kicking his heels at Forest. Jason Cummings, Gboly Ariyibi and Jamie Ward all sorted themselves out, but not Clough.
The versatile forward has been a regular for the under-23 team this season. He has scored once and missed a penalty on Saturday as Jimmy Gilligan’s side were defeated 1-0 at Bournemouth.
Clough’s decline is somewhat saddening. In plucking one of the best players from League One, it was anticipated that Forest had landed themselves a real gem – and on the cheap!
It does seem somewhat absurd that the player who is still at a decent age, hasn’t been picked up by a single club in the Football League.
Clough isn’t out of contract at the City Ground until 2021 and it seems unthinkable that he will just see out his contract playing under-23 football.
On his day he is an extremely talented player and at 24 there is arguably still some potential to be unearthed from the former Bolton man.
All Clough can do is keep his head down with the under-23s and hopefully, get picked up for a Football League club during the January transfer window.
After promising so much upon his arrival, the man with a perfect surname for Nottingham Forest will be consigned to the file marked ‘didn’t work out’.