Forest could sign 30 new players by selling Brennan Johnson, but his ability will be cherished

John Nicholson
Nottingham Forest forward Brennan Johnson celebrates

Brennan Johnson could be the difference between survival and relegation for Nottingham Forest, who know that keeping him is more beneficial than selling up.


Who’s this then?
Brennan Price Johnson is the 5ft 10ins, 21-year-old, Nottingham-born striker who plays for Nottingham Forest. He is the son of David Johnson who also used to play for Nottingham Forest and Ipswich among others. Brennan is one of Forest’s best hopes for escaping relegation.

As a boy he joined local team Dunkirk F.C. I didn’t know there was a Dunkirk in Nottingham. Every day is a school day. He joined Forest in 2019 as an 18-year-old, making his debut in the Championship in August 2019. Initially he didn’t make a great impression. He made just four appearances that season and was loaned out to nearby Lincoln City who were in the third tier, to get some game time.

This turned out to be a great advert for the loan system. He made 49 appearances and scored 13 times. Even more impressively he provided 14 assists in his time there, helping Lincoln finish in the play-off places.

With an excellent season under his belt, he returned to Forest, went straight into the first team and played in every game of that promotion season. His 19 goals in 53 games, with 16 in the league, were one of the main reasons they went up. He was named the EFL Championship Young Player of the Season.

This season it’s been tougher for the young striker but he’s still got 10 goals in 41 appearances so far. His career numbers are 154 appearances, 47 goals and 25 assists. He’s got eight Premier League goals this season from an 8.04 xG.

He’s now an established international, having got 18 caps for Wales, scoring twice and helping them get to the World Cup finals, about which he wrote with considerable pride.

Wales starlet Johnson


Why the love?
In his short career he’s been played in several different positions: right winger, second striker, attacking midfielder, centre-forward, left-winger and central midfield. That suggests either managers haven’t known where he fits best, or that he’s very flexible. His assist numbers are by far the highest (12) when playing on the right wing, but he scores the most goals (11) as a second striker. And watching him across the last three seasons it is hard to say exactly which is his specialist position. Maybe he doesn’t actually have one. Which is fine. Flexibility is very much a positive in the modern game. He’s definitely a striker. And he does seem to benefit from coming in from a wide position, but equally he could be an effective centre-forward. He certainly has the quick reactions needed.

Like all top-notch strikers, when in front of goal, he strikes the ball early. If you watch his goal reels, he hits it first time a lot. That gives him a split second advantage. It also shows what a confident player he is. He’s also quick across the grass and he’s got the anticipation and vision to find space. That is one of the great unspoken skills in football because it happens without the ball but it is especially crucial for a striker. Those who can do it tend to be the best performers.

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In the Premier League this season, he’s looked like a player who is finding his feet in the top flight, adjusting his game appropriately. He also looks like a player who will play better in a better side. I say that because he often makes runs that his teammates either don’t see or can’t find. The fact he’s scored nine of his goals with his left foot suggests he’s, if not two-footed, then very strong on both sides.

While there is a trend for the modern striker to be a tall, broad boy in the Darwin Nunez mode, no-one could say that Brennan is one of those. However, I think this is why he’s developed such a good positional sense. He’s not one of the brutish boys and is never going to be a battering ram who bullies the big lads; he’s had to be far more intelligent than that to gain an advantage. It’s his quick reactions and speed that shine through.


Three great moments
A classic first-time hit (not actually a volley):

His first goal for Wales is a typical first-time strike:

This sums up all the best aspects of his game:


Future days?
With three games to go, Nottingham Forest are three points above the drop zone and so survival is very much in the balance. If Forest are relegated, Johnson will surely be the subject of some substantial bids from Premier League clubs. Transfermarkt values him at £25million which doesn’t seem that high for a good young striker. In fact even if they don’t go down, even though he signed a contract last year that runs until 2026, there will be interest. However, as a Nottingham lad, he will surely want to see if he can help establish the club mid-table for a season or two.

That said, young strikers are at a premium and if someone offers big money for him, the club will struggle to turn it down, especially as it will allow them to buy 30 more players. It’s worth remembering how young he still is and that he must be still learning the game, especially as his position keeps shifting. Because Forest have him in their strikeforce, they probably have one of the best chances to survive of any of the bottom five. Definitely one to watch for the future.