Billy Davies might not have been the proverbial dead man walking but he’d been living on borrowed time for over a year…
It’s understandable that many people are shocked at his sacking with two play-off positions in as many years. But the results on the pitch only paint half the picture. This has been more than a season in the making – and, to be honest, I’m surprised it took so long.
Yes, many of Davies’ complaints were valid but his way of going about things has irked the board and many fans. The damage is irreparable. And the long and short of it is that his position was untenable.
If Davies had just shut his mouth and got on with the job we might not be where we are. This could have been a lengthy reign, a chance to establish a legacy of successful free-flowing football… But Billy Davies is all about Billy Davies. And he’s repeated the same mistakes he made at Preston and Derby. The next chairman to be appoint him should be very wary.
But I wish him well. Forest were struggling to re-establish themselves in the second tier of football when he arrived. Within six months he returned our pride; our belief; our place among the Championship’s top teams. Within 18 months he delivered the hope of promotion, a glimpse of the Promised Land. But he’d already sown the seeds of his demise.
He was the right man at the right time for Forest but it was only ever going to be a short time. Davies is not a man for long-term building, someone who develops the youth players, who brings the whole club forwards as one — and that’s what we need now. Davies was the tempestuous affair we needed to stir our loins, return our self-confidence and restore that glint in our eye. And it was never going to last.
The additions in the summer of 2009 marked Forest out as one of the big spenders in the Championship — nine players at a cost of £5-6 million, a year after Robbie Earnshaw was signed for £2.65 million — but Davies behaved like a petulant child when he didn’t get his own way during the January 2010 transfer window. It’s anyone’s guess why we didn’t strengthen then — of course there’s no guarantees in football. Signings don’t equal promotion.
His ongoing battle with the board continued throughout the season and, let’s be honest, he was lucky to keep his job last summer — Nigel Doughty had clearly lost patience. But in a classic ‘divide-and-rule’ tactic, Davies had already turned the supporters against the board and in doing so, secured their backing for him as manager. Any failures could now be directed — rightly or wrongly — against the board.
But lose the trust of your employer and you’re never really going to be fully supported. And let’s not forget his public posturing for the Celtic job as well as numerous rumours about links to other vacant jobs. Yes he’s ambitious — and that’s the kind of manager we want. But ambition for our club, not himself.
Before Billy arrived no one had ever heard of the now infamous ‘transfer acquisition panel’ — and if they had, nobody really had a problem with it. Indeed, after his first six months the TAP delivered nine new players. Granted, some had been on loan already but, as we’ve seen, converting loan players to permanent contracts isn’t as easy as it appears. Many clubs have something resembling the TAP but it’s only Davies who has publicly slated its existence.
Football, in the current economic climate, is about value-for-money, it’s about managing wages and living within your means. Yes, the chairman should occasionally splash out and spend a few million but you have to bring through young players and you have to look to the lower leagues for potential, rough diamonds and the odd bargain.
As it turns out, so we’re led to believe, Davies turned down numerous players — both signings and loans — that did not fit his game plan. Davies isn’t one to compromise. Especially when he’s identified a couple of ‘stellar signings’. We didn’t need to sign million-pound players last summer, we just needed a few bargain gems to boost the squad. We certainly didn’t need seven strikers.
Rumours abound that Davies turned down the opportunity to take Scott Sinclair from Chelsea — a left-winger no less — who then signed for Swansea for £500,000 rising to £1m on promotion and scored 19 goals. Henri Lansbury, again another player allegedly who Davies turned down, went to Norwich. You get the point. Numerous other players have been linked — as usual, it’s difficult to sift the truth from the rumours.
Take a look at the three teams who were promoted last season — QPR, Norwich and Swansea. See any big signings there? Not really, just three managers who know how to get the best out of their squads, work within their means and get on with the job.
If we needed a few signings for the short-term, then maybe our investment in the academy would see us through the medium- to long-term? After just six months in charge Davies abandoned the reserve team. Maybe he had grand plans for the development of the younger players coming through the academy as well as the match fitness of squad players. As it is, the reserve team was reinstated a season later when it became clear that those players only making the bench weren’t match fit and there was no bridge between the academy and the first team. Brendan Moloney was one of the only players to be given a chance during Davies’ reign, albeit in the last few games of the season when it appeared Davies had fallen out with Chris Gunter.
It’s always going to be impossible trying to work out fact, speculation, truth and rumour at Nottingham Forest. There’s too many ‘ifs’ and ‘maybes’… What would have happened if Davies had his way? Would he have been happy if we’d made a few of the signings he’d requested? Would we have been promoted?
Arguably, he was only working with what he had but many fans point to the fact that after two years in the job he still didn’t appear to know our best formation. Worse still, he didn’t know his first XI. Our style of play was too easily influenced by opponents and, away from home, tactics were often devised to avoid defeat. Not negative perhaps but not playing to win. Again, look at the successful teams last season — you always knew the formation they’d line up, who the key men were and how they’d play.
His constant playing down of the team and the squad — ‘too young, too naïve, not enough depth’ — might have been managing expectations but it could hardly have instilled confidence. One of his favourite refrains was ‘we are a top six side at best’. Clearly still smarting from his experience with Derby, maybe caution was necessary but when the difference between 24 teams is confidence then maybe caution isn’t what you need.
If you saw Billy Davies’ Nottingham Forest side destroy a soon-to-be-promoted West Brom at the Hawthorns in January 2010 then you saw everything we were — and are — capable of. And I salute Davies for bringing some steel, some vision, some know-how and the ability to send out a well-drilled, organised team with a gameplan. Alas, we’ve never quite hit those heights since.
Let’s be clear, the secrecy at Nottingham Forest — the lack of transparency — in everything from transfers to ambition is an embarrassment. There are problems with decision-making and the board’s relationship with the fans. But Billy Davies’ time with the club was up. And in Steve McClaren we have a manager with an incredible CV. This is a progression not a step backwards or sideways. Onwards and upwards…
All of this is open to scrutiny, does not claim to be conclusive and comments are more than welcome.