The Monday Profile: Luke Chambers
With Nottingham Forest currently in the sort of form that makes the national press sit up and take some notice, much of the talk has inevitably been of an unbeaten home record, derby day victories and the uneasy accord between manager and board. Manish and Steve, average Joe’s window into the Football League, talk of Earnshaw, of McGugan and, if they’ve an extra few seconds, of Camp.
But one man has slipped somewhat under the radar – Forest’s emerging Mr Reliable, centre-half Luke Chambers. Strong in the air, assured on the ball, and possessing a happy knack of popping up with goals from set pieces, Chambers has been an important figure as Forest have finally begun to accelerate from under the shadow of season’s playoff failure.
It’s something of a turnaround for a player who until this season had been a whipping boy for many Forest fans, a yardstick for just how far the club had come from being top-flight standard.
Every club has at least one, a player who when things are going awry for his team only has to misplace one pass to incur the ire of that vocal bunch in every crowd who seem to take a perverse pleasure from berating their own players. James Perch persevered through it for many seasons, taking the field in practically every position apart from goalkeeper to the same howls of derision.
It seemed that Chambers too might become a victim of his own versatility. Signed in 2007’s January transfer window by Colin Calderwood, the manager who had overseen his early career and made him captain at Northampton, he broke into the side regularly as a right-back as Forest squeezed back into the Championship the following season.
Calderwood’s fondness for sending players out in unnatural roles came to be a defining characteristic of his ultimately failed reign – Grant Holt as a left midfielder being another memorable example – almost as though he’d come across the ‘re-train in new position’ option on Football Manager and thought it would be just as straightforward in real life. Surely enough, Chambers’ shortcomings at full-back were exposed as Forest struggled at a higher level.
Lacking the kind of crossing ability and speed to get up and down the flanks that the position demands and dogged by the suspicion that he was carrying a few excess pounds, Chambers was an obvious target as Forest nosedived towards immediate relegation. When new manager Billy Davies brought Chris Gunter to the club it looked as though that would be that for Chambers’ Forest career, with Wes Morgan and Kelvin Wilson seemingly immovable as first-choice centre-halves during the last campaign.
It’s testament to Chambers’ resilience that instead of kicking up a fuss at barely playing, he instead got his head down, improved his fitness and waited for his chance. With Kelvin Wilson injured, then out of form, and now set to join Celtic, Chambers has grasped the opportunity and finally made himself a fixture in his preferred position. That Forest have the second best defensive record in the Championship is as much down to him as the more celebrated members of the defensive unit.
Chambers is a central figure in the tight-knit Forest dressing room, plays with a smile on his face and is always one of the last players off the pitch after applauding the fans – win, lose or draw. With his opening goal in December’s 5-2 win over Derby perhaps providing the watershed moment in his Forest career, he is at last, and deservedly, becoming as popular with the fans as with his team-mates.