Left Brian: September 2016

12 September 16 words: Rich Crouch
It's been an eventful month; lots of goals, selling Burke, buying the Lord and Fawaz keeping up his streak of talking to the fans like they’re idiots

Nottingham Forest - shirt illustration by Natalie Owen

Ey up duck. A few talking points this month, scoring lots of goals, selling the goalscorer, buying the Lord, and Fawaz keeping up his streak of talking to the fan base like they’re idiots. It’s been an eventful first month of the season.

Starting at home to Burton should, really, have been a nice easy three points to get the season under way. Alas, it wasn’t as easy as all that, indeed we managed to make it quite difficult for ourselves by way of some late drama. A 4-3 win, however, is a win nonetheless and three points to kick off the season was the only desired result.

What the Burton game did give indication of, however, was that under the stewardship of Montanier we would play an attacking breed of football. As we followed the Burton game with 2-1 away win in the League Cup away at Doncaster, reality struck with 3-0 drubbing away at Brighton. The first half performance wasn’t bad, but the second was woeful and reminiscent of more recent times. What was striking was the volume of goals we were conceding. A 1-0 defeat away at Brentford followed by our second 4-3 home win in as many home games did little to stem the run of games without a clean sheet.

A 2-1 win in the second round of the cup in injury time at Milwall has set up a tasty-looking home game with Arsenal and was quickly followed by a 3-1 home win against Leeds. Once again, our inability to keep a clean sheet was covered up by some decent prowess at the other end of the pitch.

So, after a handful of games, we’re looking like we’re in the playoff mix, which was nice. I remember last time we beat Leeds and were looking good for a playoff space, Fawaz decided to sack the manager, so it was only a matter of time before he did something a bit mental again. Immediately after the game, amid speculation of Premier League interest in our season's top scorer to date Oliver Burke (4 goals in 7 games), Phillipe Montanier was asked if he was going anywhere. The response was strong, and reassuring. He would not be going anywhere, he would be a Forest player for the remainder of the season and we would get to see the fruits of possibly our brightest ever academy product.

Cue a Fawaz intervention and 24 hours later a bid for £13m had been accepted and Burke was off to RB Leipzig in the Bundesliga. Now, we can debate for hours about whether it was the right move for him, and even the right move for the club. £13m is a pretty big lump of cash. It doesn’t, however, include any sell on clauses, any future payments, or anything that might increase the price if he achieves certain milestones. That, to me, feels like a deal made by someone not looking to be at the club in the long term. £13m cash on the balance sheet makes the club a much more viable option to purchase.

Now, I’m not suggesting we’re in a position where if we happen to have developed a talent like Burke we should expect to be able to keep him. We’re a mid-table Championship side, and if we happen to have a top-end Premier League player, it’s reasonable to think that he will want to progress his career. The hurtful truth is that we are no longer a club that people aspire to play for, rather we’re a stepping stone to bigger things. Hopefully that won’t be the case forever, but it is the position we find ourselves in.

What irks the most about the Burke deal is the manner in which it was conducted. Fawaz even ensured a joint statement came out from the manager and himself, praising just how much Fawaz has done for us. The statement, however, did the opposite. It cleared up that the decision to sell Burke was not one taken by the manager, and when you look at the statement issued by Burke himself, it becomes clear that it was not a decision taken by the player. That leaves Fawaz, and Fawaz alone, responsible for exit.

Fawaz also issued what has become a typical statement in the aftermath where he tells us that we don’t know what we’re talking about, and that selling Burke is part of a masterplan of moves that he has ready to go. As the transfer window came and went, we seemed to spend a mere £300k on acquisitions – somewhat a letdown, given the promises from Fawaz.

Strangely, after the transfer window closed, we signed a player most of us had heard of. Nicklas Bendtner. The self-proclaimed best player in the world was gracing the City Ground on a deal that looks like it will total around £2m including wages. Now, this is a decent signing. He’s got a good record, albeit being the butt of many jokes, and is only 28.

We should get a good amount of goals from him over the next two years, but if this was the promised reinvestment of the transfer money for Burke then it remains underwhelming. It stinks of a deal that has cost minimal upfront, and the long-term costs will be met by someone else. Again, this feels like another lie told directly to the fans by our owner.

As the season rolled on, we went to Aston Villa for a game that reminded many fans of the glory days of old. We used to play Villa in the top flight regularly, indeed this was the first ever meeting of two European Cup winners outside of the top flight. Quite an indictment on just how football has changed over the past 30 years.

Unfortunately Bendtner is not yet match fit, having not had a club since the summer, and as such we named a side that, in truth, no one really knew anything about. From back to front we were littered with debutants and it felt a lot like the first game of the season.

A drab first half saw two sides weary of the other cancel one another out. The second half, however, was more like a Carl Froch battle than a football game. End to end, some quality goals, and the kind of football that reminds you why you bothered to fall in love with Forest in the first place.

Apostolos Vellios opened the scoring with a 25 yard beauty that would have beaten any goalkeeper in the world. If he can score a few more of those then he would definitely give us something to cheer about on a weekend again. After Villa struck back with two goals in relatively quick succession, we equalised in the dying minutes after a wonderful run by Pereria was finished instinctively by Lansbury.

Cue mass celebrations as Pereira makes his way toward the euphoric travelling fans. He appears to be shoved by a steward toward them and shares the moment with the very people that keep this game alive. Of course, that’s against the rules, and a second yellow card quickly follows as an incredulous Hildeberto Pereira is sent off.

Now, I appreciate there are rules in football, and we should perhaps look at the first yellow card as being completely unjust, but for me if a footballer cannot celebrate with the fans for fear of being sent off then there is something drastically wrong with the game. The FA make noises about clamping down on things like diving, dissent, and shirt pulling in the area from a corner, but in reality they don’t do anything about those things that really affect the game.

Instead, they follow up on ridiculous rules about getting over excited at scoring a goal. Sorry, but scoring a goal is exciting, and the fans deserve to see the players excited about it. No harm was done, no fighting, no inciting fighting, nothing. Just a guy celebrating a fantastic goal with a bunch of ecstatic people who had travelled to see just that.

We’re climbing the table, albeit slowly, and keeping in touch with the top six, which has to be our aim for the season. Despite not being able to keep a clean sheet, we seem to have been able to score enough goals so that it doesn’t matter. Long may that continue, but I’d like to see a little steel added to our defence. Hopefully when we next speak we’ll still be looking at a playoff as a viable option.

I’ll see thee.

Nottingham Forest FC website


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