PANGS of concern rippled through Zach Clough’s mind as he travelled down to the East Midlands to complete a transfer that would change his footballing career.

It had been only a matter of hours since he left the Bolton training ground, fully intending to return the following day.

From the moment he scored on debut against Wigan Athletic in the FA Cup two years earlier there were rumours that homegrown striker Clough would eventually find a move toward the big time.

His diminutive style, technical prowess and fearsome set pieces had earned him the nickname “Denton Messi” and though Bristol City’s advances had been rebuffed 12 months earlier, little serious thought had been given during that window to him leaving as Bolton battled to make an immediate return to the Championship.

But such are the chaotic machinations of deadline day – and particularly at Wanderers during the reign of owner Ken Anderson – that the youngster found himself hurtling towards Nottingham not entirely sure he was making the right move, but knowing the financial security of his boyhood club could be resting on his shoulders.

“It was such a crazy day,” Clough recalled. “I was training that morning and Jay Spearing said to me on the way back in: ‘Any chance you are saying your goodbyes Cloughy?’ And I said: “What? I’m going nowhere, I’ll see you tomorrow.’ “My phone was broke and I went to pick it up from Bolton and I had a missed call from Lee Anderson. From there it was just a blur.

“I think the conversation was ‘the club has accepted an offer from Nottingham Forest’ and obviously I spoke to my parents, we knew it would help the club and that it was struggling financially.

“But I remember Parky ringing me on my way down and he was desperate for me to stay.

“He also said it would be a life-changing contract. But it was a difficult thing for me to do because I knew it was a risk.

“The whole way down there I was thinking (about turning around).

“I felt because I’d turned down the Bristol move maybe I had to come here and get out of my comfort zone to give it a go.

“I knew I was playing well, I felt good, so if I could play the same and keep working hard it should pay off.”

Wanderers had not quite exhibited the full-blown financial issues that would become apparent after Clough came back for a second spell, on loan, a year later.

It was well-documented, however, that the club had carried near £13million wage bill into League One and that the chairman was keen to lose some financial ballast quickly.

Forest had just sacked Frenchman Phillipe Montanier after a pretty uneventful 30-game spell in charge but had sanctioned a £3million bid for Clough mid-afternoon.

“Forest didn’t have a manager at the time and Gary Brazil was in charge. It was a massive risk in terms of football,” said Clough.

“If Bolton were in a more stable position I would probably have spent my whole career there. I was happy, it was risk free, and I was playing football with a smile on my face knowing that the majority of fans loved you. It was nice and that’s when you get the best out of yourself.

“Every time I have moved it has been late in the evening on deadline day and it’s difficult to make a good decision that late on. You have to go with your gut, really.”

Through a podcast with the Lion of Vienna Suite, the 25-year-old continually brings the conversation back to the topic confidence, of times when he enjoyed his football, and those he did not.

Suffice it to say the move to Forest has not worked out as planned.

Clough has not played for his parent club since January 2018 and though the whole of football is currently in a state of flux, his own future is particularly unclear.

The Bolton News: Zach Clough tangles with Crystal Palace's Chung-Yong LeeZach Clough tangles with Crystal Palace's Chung-Yong Lee

He had pushed to leave the City Ground in the current season but says a return to Bolton was never discussed as a possibility. The striker hopes, however, that he could eventually wear the famous white shirt again.

“Bolton would have been high on my list to come back and enjoy my football again because I have my happiest memories there,” he said. “Hopefully I will be back at the club but it’s hard to say when.

“I have spoken to my agent a little bit but I suppose he’s not able to do his job properly at the minute with a lot of clubs shut down at this moment at time. It’s difficult to speak to heads of recruitment and chief scouts about the players they need.

“I have another year left at Forest and I don’t know what is going to be happen, to be honest, with what is going on.”

Since leaving Wanderers in January 2017, the stats show that Clough has started just 23 games in nearly three-and-a-half years.

That included a difficult spell on loan at the Macron in 2018 where he joined a team fighting for its Championship survival.

Phil Parkinson’s team were labouring near the bottom three and sold top-scorer Gary Madine to Cardiff City for £6m as Anderson’s deadline day party trick came good once again.

The manager and his team were pilloried for basic and direct brand of football and went on to win just four more games, one of which – crucially – was against Forest on the last day of the season, courtesy of Aaron Wilbraham’s header.

Clough’s lack of chances in that team, particularly alongside Adam Le Fondre, were a source of constant frustration among the supporters. But the player remains supportive of the former Bolton boss, whose firefighting at Bolton seemingly knew no bounds.

“I think Phil and his staff were the perfect ones to appoint at the time and that’s where Lee and Ken (Anderson) made a great decision,” Clough said.

“The way he managed the group that year was unbelievable. I know some fans will question his tactics but I feel like his man-management, he kept them focussed and motivated every single day to get the job done.

“He did such a great job of hiding everything off the pitch, and he did it in the Championship as well.

“It was such a difficult job to do. The players didn’t really find out what was going on off the pitch until the Championship year where I came back on loan, where players wouldn’t train.”

Clough looks at the decision to return to Bolton as the time when his Forest fortunes went into reverse.

Until that stage he had been a bit-part player in the team but heading back to the North West to help Bolton stay in the Championship meant he was further marginalised by the time he returned.

“I saw we’d signed Lee Tomlin, who is a similar player to me, and (Aitor) Karanka had worked with him before,” Clough explained.

“I was thinking I wouldn’t be playing, be more of a bench player, so I got on the phone to my agent to see whether Parky wanted me at Bolton. Within an hour it was sorted.

“Maybe if I’d stayed at Forest and fought for my place I would be in a completely different place now but I am not sure.”

The Bolton News:

He added: “I had a great start (at Forest) but with all the management changes it’s so difficult to keep a place in the team, all the players they have signed in the three years I have been there.

“When I signed there was completely different ownership and three months later a Greek owner came in. Everything was fine until maybe I made the decision to come back to Bolton. I don’t think there was any way back after that.

“It was a weird summer after I came back.

“The club was trying move on about 12 players and that was probably the right time to leave.

“I went to Rochdale, desperate to play.”

Clough played under current Wanderers boss Keith Hill at Spotland but suffered injuries and failed to get himself back on track.

He spoke highly, however, of the style of football Hill played at Rochdale.

“He does want to play a high press game – it’s good,” he said.

“I really enjoyed the first few weeks at Rochdale because I was fit, I was ready, but I picked up an ankle injury and couldn’t get it right for the whole year.

“I missed about 25 weeks of the year injured, but if I’d have played regularly under Keith I think he would have been another manager who could get the best out of you – as Dennis Politic and Ronan Darcy are showing now.

“I remember David Lee and Nicky Spooner saying those two were going to be the next ones to break into the first team after me, Josh and Rob. They have done really well, good players. I would love to play with them again.”

To listen to the whole podcast - with Clough discussing his debut against Wigan, his relationship with Dougie Freedman and Neil Lennon, and his issues at Forest, visit the Lion of Vienna Suite here.