In an age of short-termism and knee-jerk reactions, should Nottingham Forest stick with Stuart Pearce as he rebuilds a club left with a delicate infrastructure? Elliott Stanley thinks he’s the right man for the job and deserves some respect and patience
The past few weeks, and more so these past few days, I’ve been exasperated by some of the views offered by some (I stress some) sections of the Forest ‘support’. In an attempt to understand, rather than condescend, I’ve tried to reconcile their views and comprehend what’s driving the impatience and intolerance that seems so prevalent among football fans at the moment.
There is a trend of what is often referred to these days as a throwaway society; something I have, rather affectionately, termed ‘the Primark culture’. It may be harsh to lump responsibility for this shallow societal movement solely on the shoulders of one retailer, however I feel they embody the phenomenon quite well. There is little worth or loyalty invested in Primark attire by those who ensure their tills ring with such regularity. Cheap items you can easily dispense with as soon as you are bored with them.
Although not quite as cheap, we treat football managers like those Primark purchases. They are increasingly dispensable. There is little worth placed in any qualities that exist below the surface. There is little recognition of anything but how they performed on the last few outings. We’ve reached a point where it’s gone from being a worrying trend to a quite farcical norm. See Leeds United or Watford for the most ludicrous examples.
At Nottingham Forest we have a chance to buck that trend. To look below the surface, to appreciate the differences between the job of a dispensable cheap t-shirt, and the rather more complex task of running, and indeed rebuilding, an entire football club.
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I won’t mention names, mainly because the prime culprit still makes my skin crawl, but previous custodians left an almighty mess for Stuart Pearce to clean up. Little structure anywhere, no cohesion between what should be seamlessly integrated areas of the club and a culture that would be a barrier to success in any business. A quite remarkable early season run may have been nice, it may even have pointed to much of the good work Stuart has already done, but it papered over many cracks that are still there and will be for some time.
Personally, I have no doubt that the man at the helm is the right man for the job. That’s not because he was my hero as I was both growing up and developing an unbreakable bond with our incredible club. It’s not even because he is feeling the same pain and frustration that we are right now (and be assured he is, and behind the calm, considered exterior is a man fiercely determined to put it right). It’s because of my unwavering belief in his abilities as a leader and as a manager.
I sat during the ‘evening with Psycho’ at the Approach in September 2013 and I knew on that night that he would, one day, be the right man to lead Nottingham Forest. I didn’t expect it to be quite so soon, but it was obvious for two reasons.
Firstly, it’s more than a job to him, he has a desire to succeed at Nottingham Forest that goes beyond just loving football; and that drive and determination is important, particularly when the chips are down. It is what helps you to find that extra bit of effort, passion and commitment to push through a storm and it’s also something that puts him in an almost unique position amongst football managers. Very few have that bond with the club they manage.
Secondly, and more importantly, I listened both on that evening at the Approach and at the recent Q&A at the City Ground to a man who quite clearly understands what it takes to build a team. The team I refer to there is not the 11 on the pitch, or even the 25 in the squad, but everyone involved with the club. He understands that it’s about people, emotions, belonging and togetherness. The things he is doing to structure the football club in the right way will pay dividends in the long term. His understanding of the game will play its part, and he’s honed his skills heavily over the past few years, however we should not underestimate the importance of emotional intelligence in any team or business, especially where the industry is sport.
His raw understanding of what it takes to make groups of people successful and his understanding of the game itself, both as a player but more recently as a manager and true student of the game is something that will drive this club forward. It enrages me to hear people pull on examples of his time as Manchester City manager as qualification for their self-important criticism of a man who has spent the seven years since he left Manchester City gathering a raft of experience and knowledge to enable him to do more than a boom-and-bust job at a club he adores like every single one of us. I certainly wouldn’t want to be judged as to my ability to do my job now on my performance seven long years ago.
The issue with applying the Primark culture to football is that if you crave something that is dispensable and cheap the market will eventually provide you with that commodity. Managers are becoming immune to the perennially imminent threat of the sack and in response concentrating on self-protection and short-term gains while ignoring the intense need to build for the future. It’s a very dangerous place to be and it ignores many of the fundamentals of successful business, never mind successful football teams.
So to the myopic minority who feel it necessary to bombard us with their tactical genius, presumably gained from hours on Championship Manager or, judging by a lot of the comments, listening to Robbie Savage’s ‘expert’ analysis on one of the umpteen shows he frequents, I say this: give it time. It may be on trend to call for a managers head as soon as a bad run occurs but it’s a very superficial conclusion to draw, particularly when the underlying problems are as complex, and run as deep, as at Nottingham Forest. This is a special football club, it has a very special bloke at the helm and when we get through this current storm, which we will, we’ll all be stronger for both the experience and for allowing him the space to build something for the long term.
Patience is a virtue and never was it truer than now.