Forest 2015-16 [illustration: Natalie Owen]
Ay up youth.
No point beating around the bush here. For the fifth season in a row I’m writing an article pretty much entirely based on the sacking of a manager. It was difficult not to just fish out an article from the archives, scribble out Billy, Steve M, Steve C, Sean, Alex, Billy or Stuart, and replace with Dougie. You see, the story is the same. Welcome to City Groundhog Day.
While the Billy to Sean element was largely the fault of hiring Steve McClaren and his ill-starred attempt at management, the last five managers, and three caretaker managers, have all felt the weight of Fawaz’s axe in a very short space of time and ensured that the one constant shadowing the demise of our promotion aspirations is Mr Al-Hasawi himself. Eight managerial changes in three and a half years of ownership.
Maybe it’s indicative of our standing in the game that no Forest manager since Brian Clough is currently managing a team in England. Our managers leave and no one hires them.
Normally I’d try to be a little diplomatic. Indeed, the sacking of Freedman isn’t something I’m particularly glum about. But right now I think the time for diplomacy is about as over as Fawaz’s reign of terror at Forest should be.
Fawaz is running this club like Alan Sugar runs The Apprentice
. He may be better off trying to emulate Sugar’s football-club-running style, albeit without the Clough defamation
from behind the veil of court protection.
Perhaps in trying to emulate TV shows Fawaz could have chosen a better model than The Apprentice
, although I think he genuinely enjoys firing people, relishes wielding the power of his axe over the people he employs. He clearly likes parading employees around to impress people back home, as evidenced by the frankly laughable BBC news report
when Billy was in Kuwait in which Natalie Jackson was repeating spoonfed lines about Fawaz being able to buy Barcelona if he wanted to. I think Barça may well consider themselves lucky that Mr Al-Hasawi decided to bestow his “generous wealth” and “wondrous business intelligence” upon us rather than them.
Fawaz’s garden shed full of Ferraris may have blinded some to thinking that he is the real deal – indeed, at times during his tenure I was beginning to think of him as merely clueless rather than outright fraudulent – but in the end his inability to run a football club has shone through. In truth, he’s sandwiched somewhere between Munto and Venky’s in the spectrum of football club ownership.
On Monday he gave an interview
in which he threatened to sell the club if people didn’t stop picking on him. Diddums. He claims he has turned down offers for us, which is a real shame because right now I’d welcome a Munto-Venky’s consortium spearheaded by Donald Trump and Paul Ince. It’s probably more likely to be another line of distorted truth that seems to have plagued his ownership of this once mighty club.
One day, fingers crossed, Forest might have owners like this...
I use the phrase ‘once mighty’ there almost in humour. It’s clear that many of our fans have developed the sort of sense of entitlement once the preserve of the Leeds or Liverpool faithful, now being seen at Old Trafford. Our demands of our hierarchy, be it management or owner, have traditionally been quite simple: entertain us. We’ve already won the league, we’ve already conquered Europe, and while we’d like to do it all again, we just want to get to 5pm and feel good about how we’ve spent our Saturday. Unfortunately, it’s been a long time since that 5pm feeling was anything better than indifference. Dwindling crowds are a better indicator than our league position of how Fawaz has performed as owner. At present we’re getting lower crowds – despite what the reported numbers say – than we did when we were in League One. The claim that 21,000 made their way to the City Ground to see us lose to Sheffield Wednesday last weekend made me wonder if Fawaz himself was counting folk through the turnstiles. The stadium looked empty, and sounded emptier. The 0-3 home turnover should have had us up in arms, but right now the mood is simply apathetic. We're resigned to indifference and insignificance, and that right there is the worst possible feeling in football.
So, what about Dougie? Did he deserve to go? Probably. Should he ever have been hired? Doubtful. I think the underhanded way in which Dougie came to this club – if you recall
, he was unveiled as manager mere minutes after club legend Stuart Pearce was dismissed – straight away put him on the back foot with me. Not necessarily his fault, but in doing the deal with Fawaz behind Pearce’s back he knew exactly the type of person he was getting into bed with. He can’t be surprised by the actions of the owner; only 13 months ago he was caught up in them. He saw how Fawaz dispensed with someone like Stuart Pearce, so surely he can’t have expected particularly good treatment…
Did he ever really stand a chance?
Whenever a manager goes it’s always worth a quick glance over the stats. Dougie had 57 games with us, 25 more than his predecessor, and enjoyed a 33% win rate compared to Pearce’s 32%. Billy, over two periods, presided over 186 games and enjoyed a 42% win rate. Brian Clough was 968 games with a 47% win rate, though you have to remember that Clough’s games were, for the most part, in the top flight. Essentially, what I’m saying here is that Dougie wasn’t particularly worse or better than the other managers we’ve had. There tends to be a hovering around the 30% win rate recently, which is pretty depressing really.
For the sake of balance, I should mention the injuries Dougie has had to deal with. Alongside the short-term sidelined players, he has had to deal with the longer term absences of Chris Cohen, Andy Reid, Britt Assambalonga, Henri Lansbury, and now Nelson Oliveira. It is, perhaps, unreasonable to think that Dougie should have been able to get more from the team than he has been able. It may well be testament to his abilities that we are not in the relegation zone as I write this.
The counter-argument would be that, on paper, he has been able to field strong sides for the most part. However, last year, when the season was done with about 10 games to go, Dougie continued to pick loan players like Akpom instead of giving serious game time to the likes of Osborn, Grant, Walker and Evtimov. I feel that if they had been given this exposure time last season they may have been in a stronger position to pitch in this. They would have been properly blooded and assimilated into the first team, rather than still hanging around the fringes, playing under 21 games.
Did Forest budget for Osborn?
I don’t think Dougie, in and of himself, was really the problem. The problem seems to run deeper than that, and whoever it is that’s managing the team would probably find themselves in a similar position. I’m reminded of when we thought we’d get Neil Warnock in: he took one look at the ownership structure and decided that managing relegation certainties Rotherham was a more attractive option than working down Trentside! I can’t fault him, if I’m honest.
So, where to now? Well, we have Andy Reid (remember him?) as acting head coach alongside Paul Williams until the end of the season. It’s a shame it’s coming at this time of year, as I reckon Reidy would throw the best Christmas do the players had ever had.
With less than 10 games to go, we are nine points clear of the relegation zone and 14 out of the playoffs. However, looking at the remaining games, unless there’s a change in form a loss at home to Brentford could drag us into the relegation battle. It’s perhaps too early to get worked up, but right now we hardly seem to know where our next goal’s coming from, let alone a win. Hopefully I’m wrong, and we go on a marvellous run toward the end of the season, but unless our new signing Federico Macheda – subject to FIFA clearance, due to it being an “international loan” from, erm, Cardiff – starts finding the back of the net I genuinely think we’ll struggle to score five more goals this season. It may be apt that Dougie’s final act as manager was to sign the former wunderkind, and if ‘Kiko’ can find the sort of goalscoring form that would have saved Dougie from the axe then I think we’d need to reconsider whether Fawaz was right to get rid or not.
It’s worth contrasting that last paragraph, about loaning players, with the one a little earlier about our own youngsters. Is Macheda the new Akpom? Currently in on loan we have Jokic, Mendes, Oliveira, Gardner, O’Grady, and Macheda. Currently out on loan: Patterson, Chris Burke, Josh Rees, and Lars Veldwijk. Would it not be better to write off the season, get rid of the players we have on loan, and play those who need game time in a Forest shirt? Maybe not the older ones out on loan, but surely it’s an ideal time to play some youngsters. If we’re serious about building a future then what better time to give first team experience to players than when we’re not going anywhere?
Who knows, perhaps with Dougie gone there will be a refreshing transformation in the squad ahead of the most anticlimactic and dead-rubber-like Derby game in recent memory. I’m so depressed by Forest right now I’m only betting on us to win 4-0.
I’ll see thee.