After a tumultuous six months at Nottingham Forest, John Percy takes stock and looks at the challenges that lie ahead for the club in 2012…
The start of a new year should be a time of optimism and renewed hope but the majority of Nottingham Forest’s supporters are viewing 2012 with similar levels of dread reserved for a trip to the dentists.
Just over six months ago Forest had another chance to end their agonising exile from the Premier League but fans now are already fearing nightmare journeys to Yeovil and Crawley next season.
The club haven’t got a pot to piddle in, Steve Cotterill is marooned in the relegation zone and political mastermind Billy Davies’ reputation is getting better with each passing week he stays out of work.
Due to years of mismanagement and far too many people pretending they knew what they were playing at, the prospect of returning to League One is scarily real.
It is difficult to stay positive or, alternatively, get through it all with good old blind optimism.
The finances are so bad that players – either first-team or fringe – will have to be offloaded next month just to keep key members of the current squad by extending their contracts. On either the same money or less.
Players from the lower leagues – and even non-league – are now being scouted while the importance of the Academy could never be more pronounced.
It’s abundantly clear that Steve McClaren was sold the biggest pup since Stephen King’s ‘Cujo’ in the summer. He made plenty of mistakes, sure, but maybe he now knows how hoodwinked Forest fans have been feeling for years.
McClaren was given the old “We’re serious about promotion, are you?” guff in June, about how the club would back him with finances to steer Forest back into the big time. After falling on his sword just four months later, he had taken a number of steps back in those awful suede shoes he used to wear.
Christmas came early for Portsmouth when a fee of around £200,000 was paid by Forest to pinch a manager who they were allegedly about to sack soon anyway.
Results and performances have been indifferent since Cotterill’s appointment but it’s in the January sales where he’s really going to earn his corn.
He was recruited as a wheeler-dealer and a manager known for operating on a tight budget and those qualities will be sorely needed. The decisions he makes in January will prove pivotal in his bid to beat the drop.
At least he has Frank Clark by his side. Clark’s appointment as chairman was the most sensible decision at the City Ground in years and, at last, there is somebody with a solid knowledge of football operating in the corridors of power.
Together, Cotterill and Clark must find a solution to get Forest out of this mess. Do you sell an established first-teamer like Luke Chambers, Lewis McGugan or Chris Gunter to raise funds for cheaper replacements?
Do you ridicule all the work of the Academy by flogging Jamaal Lascelles to an Arsenal, Liverpool or Chelsea, before he has even kicked a ball for the senior side?
Or do you hope that somebody takes McClaren signings like George Boateng or Matt Derbyshire off your hands and frees up a bit of cash?
It is all going to be a balancing act but Cotterill’s biggest problem will be persuading other clubs to take his unwanted players.
And what about the outgoing chairman? There has been a total lack of activity on the Twitter account of @nffc37 for months now.
Conspiracy theorists are convinced Nigel Doughty’s bold decision to start tweeting in the summer was simply to sow the seeds of what was going to happen.
Doughty was preaching about FFP, a frugual future and other financial obstacles way before the first rumours of McClaren’s unhappiness started to filter out.
Yes, Forest fans should thank him for pumping nearly £80m in but sadly his chairmanship will be remembered more for a catalogue of mistakes.
Failing to back Paul Hart after the play-off defeat. Failing to back Billy Davies in January 2010, in the same month when Forest produced arguably the finest Championship performance from any team in years to dismantle West Brom.
There are sadly others but we can only hope that paying £200,000 for Cotterill is not the final mistake he made.
But one final thought – instead of laying all the blame at the door of Doughty or the past three managers, shouldn’t most of the pressure be on the players?
The core of this current squad reached the play-offs last season, and the campaign before that. Swansea made at least two bids for Lee Camp in the summer. Newcastle had a strong interest in McGugan. Wes Morgan and Chambers were wanted by at least two different Championship clubs.
Speak to any other manager with knowledge of Forest and they will express bewilderment that a team with those players should be wallowing around with the dead men.
Whatever the state of the finances, or whether the manager is popular in the dressing room, the old cliche about ‘when you cross that white line’ is still the key.
Survival would probably be an achievement this season. Otherwise, it’s time to get the maps out for the Broadfield Stadium.
Follow John on Twitter: @John__Percy