Garry Birtles: Time for talking has ended when it comes to Forest contracts
BACK in the summer, we heard about how Lee Camp was in contract talks with Nottingham Forest.
Last month, the Reds keeper told us that talks were ongoing over a new deal.
This long conversation had better come to an end soon because, in six or seven weeks time, he will be free to talk to other clubs – as will the other six players who are out of contract at the club.
Lewis McGugan, Dexter Blackstock, Andy Reid, Radi Majewski, Brendan Moloney and Marcus Tudgay can all leave on a free transfer.
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They could join a list of players that includes Luke Chambers, Joel Lynch, Garath McCleary, Robert Earnshaw, Nathan Tyson, Kris Commons and Kelvin Wilson, who have walked away from the City Ground for nothing.
It is natural that some of them will, because the club may not want to keep all of them.
As it is, it seems likely that Tudgay will join Barnsley permanently, after moving to Oakwell on loan this week.
But there needs to be a little more urgency when it comes to pinning down those they do want to keep.
And I don't see what the issue is.
Yes, the bottom line will be money, because it always is in football. But make no mistake, this is not the same situation as last summer.
When Chambers, McCleary and Lynch took the decision to walk away, what were they walking away from?
Chambers had not had a contract offer, but had been offered a deal at Ipswich that virtually doubled his wages.
Lynch knew he would get a big pay rise to go to Huddersfield.
And McCleary had the chance to play in the Premier League with Reading.
All they had on the table at Forest was an uncertain future, because this was all before the Al Hasawi takeover went through, remember.
Now things are different. Very different, in fact.
The job of persuading players to stay at the City Ground should not be nearly so difficult.
And the priority should be to cut the conversation short with Camp – and get him to put pen to paper.
A year or two ago, he was regarded as being the best keeper outside the Premier League.
Last season, he did perhaps not enjoy his best form. He was not quite as sharp. But who was, in the Forest ranks?
And the question Forest have to ask themselves is simple.
Who would they replace him with?
If you sit and think about it, there are not a host of keepers out there who you could bring in. At least not without having to spend a big chunk of cash.
As a club with aspirations of winning promotion from the Championship, what do Forest want from their keeper?
They want somebody who is consistent, who is reliable and who can earn a number of points per season on his own, with the saves he makes.
They want somebody who can inspire confidence in the defence in front of him; somebody who has the presence to make the back four think 'he is going to come for this and get it'.
Camp ticks all those boxes. Yes, he makes the odd mistake. But which keeper doesn't?
When strikers miss a chance, they are vilified for it – but it might not automatically mean you lose.
If a keeper slips up, it can easily lead to a defeat.
Camp does not make too many of those costly errors.
So it is worth going the extra mile to persuade him that he is valued; to encourage him that Forest is the place to be.
But there is also a question for Camp as well, when it comes to what he wants.
He has to ask himself if he is more concerned about his weekly wage packet or playing regular first team football.
I could see half a dozen Premier League clubs who would snap him up for nothing in the summer, who would give him big money to join them on a Bosman.
But would they be signing him as first choice? Probably not.
Camp is good enough to play in the top flight, but perhaps only as back-up, somebody to provide some level of competition to a first choice keeper – but still initially as a number two.
He might be happy with that. It might be enough for him. Paul Smith seemed happy enough to stay at Forest for several years and sit on the bench.
Beyond that, how many Championship clubs would be willing or able to match the decent offer that Forest, presumably, have put on the table?
Leicester have plenty of cash... but they also have Kasper Schmeichel. In my book, he is marginally better than Camp.
Blackburn have Paul Robinson, Middlesbrough have Jason Steele, Wayne Hennessey is at Wolves and Birmingham are lucky enough to have Jack Butland; Camp's options in the Championship may not be exactly numerous.
He could go to Scotland and earn a bit of money, perhaps?
But, the more I look at it, the more I find it difficult to see where he could go where he would be better off.
At the end of the day, Forest would struggle to replace Camp.
But I believe he is also going to struggle to find himself a better deal elsewhere – at least if he wants to play.
The grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence and, presuming Forest have made him a decent offer, I hope he considers signing it.
The same argument, of course, can also be applied to McGugan, Blackstock and Reid, in particular.
Reid I imagine, would probably stay, given the chance, as he has always had a close connection with the club and, this season, he must be enjoying it again, having established himself as an integral figure at the club.
McGugan will have his suitors, because of his incredible natural ability. But hopefully he will decide he still has a point to prove at Forest.
If anything, Blackstock is the one Forest might struggle with, because he could make the step up into the Premier League.
But my message to all of these players would be simple.
Forest, right now, is not a bad place to be.
Rather than chasing a fortune, sometimes it is better to realise that you are already fortunate.