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Left Brian: Can Sab Lamouch do the Fandango

30 July 19 words: Gareth Watts
illustrations: Adam Poole

Last year during our family holiday in North Wales (sorry Skeggy!) we met a lot of West Midlanders at the holiday camp, most notably Wolves fans. The joy and pride at their recent promotion to the top flight was matched only by their generosity in seeing my son in the Garibaldi red. To paraphrase them, “You’ll be up next year, lad. Can’t go wrong with young Portuguese talent. See you in the Prem!”

A year on and as I write this on the beach at Aberystwyth it’s hard not to concede that while Wolves have taken another big leap and are tipped by many to break into the hallowed top six next season, Forest’s on-pitch progress has been modest by comparison. The ninth-place finish in the Championship reflected a frustrating time where for every euphoric victory against Derby, Leeds or Middlesbrough, came turgid defeat against Millwall, Birmingham or Rotherham. It’s one thing to show that you have the potential for promotion, but to sustain the level of resilience required to actually do it, over a gruelling 46 game season, is quite another.

Of course, fans will be quick to point out that unlike Wolves, whose charismatic coach Nuno Espírito Santo is about to embark on his third season with the club, Forest have struggled to find continuity on the manager’s bench and in Sabri Lamouchi are now on their third boss since the last time I drove past the Croeso y Cymru sign. Aitor Karanka’s technical, at times negative pragmatism, was replaced by Martin O’Neill’s more traditional blood and thunder approach ... and now? 

Based on the evidence of a few friendly matches Lamouchi is definitely more of a coach. Constantly chatting to his players and giving very specific instructions - he seems intent to get the team to play out from the back, dominate possession and press teams high up the pitch - it’s a brand of football the City Ground faithful are sure to like, but is it practicable on, say, a wet Tuesday night in Cardiff?

Like my children on the 2p arcade machines, it seems that Reds’ owner Evangelos Marinakis is happy to keep pumping the cash in. And in a pleasing sign of coherence for a side setting up to play like Man City, the first major summer signing was Arijanet Muric, Pep Guardiola’s reserve keeper, on loan. His confidence with the ball at his feet is felt by many to be an upgrade on the rather awkward distribution of Costel Pantilimon, but I hope he can also match the shot-stopping skills of our big Romanian, whose sixteen clean sheets last season is a record not to be sniffed at. 

In defence, Lamouchi has shown a determination to field attacking full-backs by re-purposing homegrown winger Matty Cash as his right back as well as signing Yuri Ribeiro from Benfica to add competition for places on the left. Other signings have added to the already well-stocked list of midfielders, with Villa’s veteran Albert Adomah adding experience alongside as-yet-unproven Tiago Silva and Alfa Semedo. Bolton’s Sammy Ameobi brings an unpredictable quality that will be useful in an impact substitute.

As I write, we’re still to see any reinforcements brought in to bolster the attack and it is in this position that many fans hope for the marquee signing to signal the scale of the owner’s intentions for this season. Lewis Grabban is - as I believe the youth say - a fine ‘bagsman’, but he’s the side of thirty where you have to expect time out for injury and recovery, so we’re understandably anxious to see someone brought in to be his deputy, if not necessarily his successor. 

This summer has been just as notable for the club’s outgoings, with the departure of excellent club servant Ben Osborn to Sheffield United we wish him the very best for his shot at the Premier League. The expiry of Jack Colback’s loan contract is an even bigger loss, especially as the classy, combative midfielder seemed to personify our own top-flight ambitions. Elsewhere, Lamouchi’s attempts to trim a bloated squad may be less straightforward, with seasoned pros Daryl Murphy and Michael Hefele told to look for another club and newly-crowned AFCON champion Adlene Guedioura agitating to cash-in on his summer success. It may well be that Forest’s season is partly defined by how well this process is managed - that when the chips are down at a tough away fixture in freezing February- the squad is comprised only of players that want to be there and that are actually in the manager’s plans. Stories of player unrest emerged as one of the reasons behind Martin O’Neill’s surprise (and let’s be honest, shamefully graceless) sacking, so Lamouchi would be wise to weed out the troublemakers now if he is to have a hope of surviving beyond Christmas.

As I sit here, ignored by the Wolves fans (they’re making sandcastles under the pier with people in Spurs and Liverpool shirts these days) my expectations are tempered, but I’m genuinely looking forward to seeing Lamouchi’s brand of football. Most of all I just hope he’s given a chance. Indeed, I hope beyond hope that before fans, players or owners even think about topping the Championship we ignore our itchy trigger fingers and twitter fingers, take a deep breath and strive first for an equally elusive C word: Continuity.

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