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Ross Bramble provides a detailed scout report about Ben Brereton, Nottingham Forest’s latest sharpshooter.
Fawaz Al-Hasawi’s ownership of Nottingham Forest has been a long and bumpy journey for its fan base. Since acquiring the club back in the summer of 2012, the businessman has hired and fired nine managers, presided over a huge turnover of players and seen the club slide across the table, from play-off contenders to relegation dog-fighters.
Despite the tumultuous times experienced at the County Ground, one of Fawaz’s legacies will undoubtedly be the improvement at the Forest academy. That’s not to say the academy was performing poorly beforehand, of course, but certainly the Kuwait businessman’s investments have wrought a new wave of exciting Forest academy graduates. With Ben Osborn established in the first team and Oliver Burke sold on to Red Bull Leipzig last summer for a huge profit, the stage is set for the next breakout Forest youngster. Step forward, then, Ben Brereton.
Brereton was born in Blythe Bridge in April 1999. A striker, Brereton began his football career in the Manchester United youth academy in 2005. His run with the Red Devils lasted eight seasons before his eventual release in 2013. He was not without a club for long, however, joining the ranks of the Stoke City academy in the same year. His stint with the Potters was equally frustrating, and considerably shorter. After two seasons at the Bet 365 Stadium, Brereton was released in 2015 and once more without a club.
It was another short stay on the sidelines for the Englishman, though. Nottingham Forest signed Brereton to a youth deal in the summer of 2015 as part of their on-going commitment to developing talent in-house. The club had already seen Scottish winger Oliver Burke enter the first team, following on from the success of Ben Osborn who had become a regular member of the first team. Brereton joined the likes of Alex Iacovitti and Tyler Walker in an academy determined to develop their own first team stars.
During the 2016-17 season, Brereton scored an impressive 15 goals in 20 games for the Nottingham Forest U23s, securing him his first professional contract in the winter of 2016. At the time, the Forest first team were floundering near the base of the Championship table. Manager Phillipe Montanier had a reputation for daring, offensive football that allowed for large rafts of goals at both ends of the field. Goals, however, were drying up in December, with only four scored in a run of eight games without a win. Their problems saw Montanier turn to the sure-fire finisher residing in his reserve side, and Brereton has not looked back since. His run in the side also saw him crowned Championship Apprentice of the Year – an award previously won by the likes of Gael Bigirimana and Lewis Cook.
Brereton’s main role in the Nottingham Forest starting eleven has been altered as the season has progressed. Under Montanier, Brereton was used as more of a poacher, bought in the final minutes of games to test weary legs and nip in with a close-range finish. Under Mark Warburton, however, his role has become a little more fluid and dynamic, acting both as a poacher and as a target man/hold up player, thanks to his stature and decent physical strength.
With that in mind, it’s difficult to place Brereton’s style of play in any one category over another. That being said, from the evidence on offer so far, Brereton’s preferred style is that of a poacher. Buzzing around in an opponent’s six-yard box appears to be his preference, and given his impressive early goalscoring record, it’s not hard to see why.
Brereton’s greatest strength is easily his positional play and special awareness. Much like the great finishers of old, Brereton is a player that always endeavours to occupy the six-yard area. The youngster knows when to come and go, where the space is and where a winger will think it best to play the ball. His movement and awareness are far in advance of one so young – other analysts may simply refer to this as being a “natural goalscorer”. Certainly, he has striker’s instincts, and is nearly always exactly where his manager would want him to be.
His finishing, then, does not always need to be the most beautiful or technical. Most of Brereton’s success is found within the six-yard box, so awareness and a good connection are often all he requires to make an impact. That being said, Brereton benefits from a wide range of finishes, capable of hitting a piledriver from range when required. It’s not the most important part of his game, but they are useful weapons to have in reserve. Brereton is far more successful with another potent weapon – heading. At around six feet tall, the Englishman proves a tricky customer to handle in the air, especially when coupled with a good leap and a strong build. Brereton can be as lethal in the air as he is along the ground, and has proven his worth with several impressive headers in both his youth team days and his run in the Forest first team.
Strength is another key aspect of Brereton’s game. The youngster is not afraid to get physical with his opposition, often using his strength to shoulder players away when on runs or when competing for loose balls. His strength helps cover some of his other physical issues, like a lack of incisive pace, and allows him to hold up the ball for his pacier team mates. That’s not to say that Brereton is a slow player, but certainly his strength picks up the slack when his top speed is not enough to escape his man. Brereton also displays excellent close control, able to escape tight spaces and maintain possession despite heavy pressure. His strength is also a great boon in this department, allowing him to create enough space to turn his markers and escape in to space.
As previously mentioned, one of Brereton’s greatest weaknesses is a lack of lung-bursting pace. While his strength allows him to shrug his way past many of his pursuers, his pace is nothing to write home about and puts pressure on other aspects of his game. His reliance on his strength and ability to outmuscle opponents can land him in trouble needlessly, too, allowing cheap fouls in worthless areas of the field.
One of the bigger areas of concern for Brereton right now is his passing. His role within the side is certainly to put the ball in the back of the opponent’s net, and often his positioning is perfect for that. As a single-minded striker, finding teammates isn’t very high on Brereton’s list of priorities, but certainly the need will arise on occasion. His passing range is perhaps exactly what’s to be expected from a hold up player, but a striker like Rickie Lambert changed his game by adding a wider array of passes and crosses to his game. If Brereton can find develop that technical ability and learn from Rickie’s example, his stock will rise exponentially as not only a lethal finisher, but a reliable pivot, too.
All things considered, however, Brereton shows all the early hallmarks of a striker that will be coveted for a decade to come. The youngster has already been scouted by a litany of Premier League clubs, and Nottingham Forest will face a tough fight to keep hold of another prize asset.
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