Where to begin… The Nottingham Forest soap opera continued in a dramatic fashion on Sunday night in a way that few could have foreseen. Steve McClaren resigned, Nigel Doughty stepped down as chairman and Mark Arthur remains as chief executive. And all that we’re left with are unanswered questions.
Why was Davies sacked in the first place?
McClaren’s complaints proved that many of Davies points were actually valid — the club’s transfer process is flawed beyond comprehension. But I stand by (almost) everything I wrote in June — Davies’ time was up and bringing him back would be a mistake.
He was the right man at the right time — he restored our self-confidence and he re-established us in the Championship. But he was not a man for long-term building, he’s not someone who develops the youth players or who brings the whole club forwards as one. This is time for a fresh start.
Why did Doughty appoint McClaren and then pull the plug on funds?
This is the key point of McClaren’s brief tenure. Apparently the relationship had soured even before the season started, so what was Doughty thinking appointing a high-profile manager and not backing him?
Nine players out, including two on loan, and only five in — after Davies had complained about a small squad for two seasons. On paper, those five signings looked like good acquisitions (and may yet turn out to be so) but we should have added at least three more. Or rather, if we could only sign five players it should have been Ishmael Miller, one of Reid/Greening/Boateng, a centre-back, a left-back and a winger as well as a few loans.
Doughty’s brief time on Twitter looks like it was largely to manage expectations of the forthcoming Financial Fair Play. McClaren was officially appointed on 13 June; the Football League announced the FFP agreement on 10 June. That deal didn’t come out of thin air. Why not just be honest? There isn’t much to spend, let’s appoint a young manager, scout the lower leagues and bring though young players… I’m sure most supporters would see sense in that.
Why was McClaren so bad?
Well, he wanted width and he didn’t get width. That was clearly how he hoped to play, based on his successful stint at FC Twente with a 4-2-3-1 system. And if he’d managed to sign Wayne Routledge and/or Wesley Verhoek, as well as a loan player, things might have been different. In fact, Davies also struggled with the lack of wide players towards the end of last season.
People have questioned his signings but given that he had to bring players in, was working with a smaller budget than expected and had the acquisitions panel to deal with, it’s hard to judge him.
But it goes much deeper than that. While problems might have been apparent in Forest’s defence since March, we still had one of the best defensive records in the division over the past two years. McClaren’s tactics looked duff, as did his man-management. Playing 3-5-2 against Watford got a result but it was tactical suicide against Burnley, a side who play with out-and-out wingers. Playing four centre-backs against Birmingham, presumably to deal with the aerial threat of the 6ft 7in striker Nikola Zigic (making his comeback after being injured since February), proved nonsensical.
Worse still, several players looked like they didn’t really have their hearts in it — the dressing room problems rumoured under Davies rearing their head — and fans quickly targeted Jonathan Greening as the cause of the slow and labouring midfield. The only positives were the late addition of Clint Hill, Joel Lynch’s progression as a first team player and the nascent partnership of Miller and Robbie Findley.
Why has Doughty stepped down?
Let’s be clear, a small protest on Sunday didn’t prompt Doughty to quit as chairman. McClaren’s exit was on the cards and Doughty was well aware of the discontent among fans — he also has many interests beyond the club.
His interview on BBC Radio Nottingham on Sunday night revealed a broken man, disenchanted with life as chairman and apologetic that he’d been responsible for the McClaren fiasco. Doughty’s clearly a fan and he’s put a lot of money into Nottingham Forest — money that he doesn’t expect back. Whether he’s writing most of it off against tax or not, he’s still lost millions of his own money and we should be thankful for that.
Ultimately though, it’s not the investment that counted but the poor decisions. Where’s the strategy? We’ve lurched from manager to manager with no idea about how the club should be structured, where we want to go and how we want to get there. Doughty’s tenure has seen the appointments of the likes of Joe Kinnear, Gary Megson and now McClaren as well as his initial involvement in bringing David Platt to the club. It’s been 10 years of relative failure, or at least standing still, and he’s fallen on his sword.
What are the implications of Financial Fair Play?
You only need to read — actually you should be made to read — the Swiss Ramble’s dissection of Forest’s finances to see what FFP will mean. To an outsider, Doughty’s investment has been significant — it’s the decision-making and lack of progress that counts. Under FFP we won’t be allowed to continue to spend more than we earn which means we will need to be a better-run outfit than we are now — our wages are too high and after this season we’ll need to bring that wage bill down.
Doughty has already said his “financial involvement will reduce dramatically over the next few years,” but this would have happened due to FFP, regardless of whether he was chairman or not. In theory, it means there is no place for a sugar daddy in football anymore.
Doughty’s sensible, albeit poorly-executed, vision of a self-sufficient club will need to become a well-executed one in seasons to come.
Who will be the next manager?
Ideally the hierarchy at the club will sit down and address the problems of the last decade and decide on a long-term strategy. Tuesday’s papers suggested former manager Paul Hart will return as technical director with a manager selected from a shortlist of Karl Robinson, Mark Robins, Paul Tisdale and Kevin MacDonald. The appointment of Hart will be something of a PR masterstroke — at least short-term — and buys into Stan Collymore’s call for ex-players to become involved with the club. And while Martin O’Neill and John Robertson is the ‘dream ticket’ it remains unlikely — although their connection with the club may mean more than some think.
However, Wednesday’s reports suggest there is no decision on a two-tier structure and no budget for compensation which points to an out-of-work manager. Hopefully we’ll be avoiding the names that usually get dragged out when there’s a managerial vacancy — Iain Dowie, Aidy Boothroyd, Roy Keane, Dave Jones, David O’Leary, Alan Curbishley, Alan Shearer, Brian Laws, Phil Brown, Paul Ince… Please stay away.
The first job is turning around our desperately poor form. The defence needs work and we really need some wide players — either on loan or Anderson and McCleary’s return from injury. This shouldn’t be a relegation battle as it’s clear that Forest have one of the strongest squads in the Championship, the troops just need to be rallied.
What will the future bring?
Fans will need to buy in to a stable, long-term strategy. We are a Championship club — a good season is making the play-off places, an excellent season is promotion — we can’t expect success but we can hope. And a new structure with a young manager and a small budget deserves our patience. Clearly we shouldn’t be talking three- or five-year plans (we’ve done that) but expectation has made the manager’s job something of a poisoned chalice.
And as FFP kicks in we’ll need to be financially sustainable. We turned down offers for many of our best players this summer which seems to have gone unnoticed by many fans — this will undoubtedly change in the future. But if we have youth players coming off the conveyor belt to replace the sales then this should be one of the ways the club is funded — Southampton, for example, have sold Theo Walcott, Gareth Bale and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain for in excess of £30 million in the past five years while Reading sold Matt Mills and Shane Long for over £10 million this summer.
As the last man standing of the old ‘regime’, we can only hope Mark Arthur will make the necessary changes…