AFTER several minutes of intense pondering, I am still struggling to find the words to describe the last six weeks at Nottingham Forest. Where exactly do I begin?
If the sacking of Sean O’Driscoll on Boxing Day was something of a shock, we have since endured a crazy period that produced what seemed to be a daily twist, usually for the worse. Even now you have to wonder what awaits us in the coming days.
Results aside, the McLeish reign was dogged by a constant stream of controversy. His initial appointment was made that much more difficult by many fans, myself included, who were angered by the sudden removal of O’Driscoll.
I covered my initial reaction at length in my previous article and I still stand by every word of that now. Our progress under his stewardship has been further strengthened by our dismal displays after he left.
Yet McLeish was further hampered even as early as his opening press conference. He was bizarrely sat alone at a single table to face the media with no sign of any other club representative. He then answered one particular question about his plans for the team by saying ‘If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it’. A rather strange statement to make I thought considering the dismissal of his predecessor only a matter of days before.
This set the scene for a turbulent forty-one days that culminated in McLeish being relieved of his duties in what was declared a ‘mutual’ decision. It was the right move for all concerned but I fear that his departure and the subsequent return of a certain William Davies is causing us to overlook the central issue here – the Al Hasawi’s.
I’d been relatively pleased with their running of the club until Christmas but they have since demonstrated a number of worrying tendencies that has resulted in the club becoming nothing short of a laughing stock. If these are simply the actions of a naive, excitable set of owners I can accept that and hope they learn from their mistakes.
However, there have been too many incidents now to put their recent questionable actions purely down to their inexperience. Unfortunately, we are still short of many of the facts but it is apparent that all is not well at The City Ground.
The sacking of key board members, Mark Arthur and Keith Burt, in addition to Frank Clark was another troubling episode. The news that Arthur had left his role was met with delight by certain sections of the fan base but the timing and the handling of this was questionable to say the least. Stories of letters home rather than face to face meetings have surfaced and there is still no official confirmation of their departures. Regardless, the removal of Head Scout, Burt, in particular was a puzzling move when we were half way through the January transfer window.
It is the case of Clark that perhaps illustrates how the owners have acted badly; dismissing a genuine club hero in such a disrespectful way. This is a man who helped us achieve greatness as a player and a manager and stepped in at a time of crisis last season. He certainly deserved better than to be sacked from a position that held little actual power anyway. Was it really necessary?
Arthur had always been a target for supporters’ criticism in previous windows when the club had failed to strengthen. It was therefore somewhat ironic that he was no longer around when we experienced the most frustrating and embarrassing deadline day of all. Many will disagree but I felt a little more comfortable with him around rather than having us steered by the Al Hasawi’s alone. The phrase ‘better the devil you know’ certainly applies here I would suggest.
If the wider football world hadn’t picked up on the going on by the banks of the Trent before, they certainly had done by 1st February 2013. Again, full details are scarce but the alleged cancelling of the Boyd transfer by the owners due to a failed eye test assured us of our place in the national press. This story defined has defined a ludicrous couple of months for the club. Fawaz’s subsequent comments have all but confirmed that he did not agree with the signing but he should have stopped the deal much earlier. I think this incident demonstrates the major problem we are facing with these owners; they want to be involved in everything.
Interference in team selection is another area where this is said to have surfaced. In his post match comments after his new Bristol City side had beaten a woefully poor Forest, O’Driscoll denied of any interference but seemed to imply that was only because he didn’t allow it. He certainly was keen to point out that he suspected that the ‘problem hadn’t gone away’.
Furthermore, we have the numerous Kuwaiti trialists that turned up last summer hot on the heels of the owners themselves. Recently we have also recruited the Kuwaiti goalkeeper, Khaled Al Rashidi. A perfectly good ‘keeper he may be but this is obviously something that has been instigated by the Al Hasawi’s. Hopefully this is an isolated deal but the cynic in me does wonder if this is the first of several deals that they may try to ‘arrange’. I’d be interested to know just how much say McLeish had in the deal.
Most recently, the 1,405 Reds who made the journey to Bristol witnessed the Al Hasawi’s, led by Fawaz, make their way down the touchline to acknowledge the Forest support. As one of the fans stood behind the goal it was a little surreal to see them wandering towards us.
The nature of it, I have to say, annoyed me greatly. I wouldn’t describe it as them showing their appreciation to us, more that they were seeking our appreciation. After what has been a dreadful six weeks, they should really have been keeping a low profile. What made this even worse was that this was O’Driscoll’s home ground. Whether this had any bearing on their decision I’m not sure but it was rather tactless.
Under no circumstances should they be doing that in the first place anyway. As owners, they should be signing off the cheques and leaving the rest to the manager and his coaching staff. The Al Hasawi’s, in contrast, seemingly adore the attention. A particularly worrying sign if you ask me. The positive reaction they received from most didn’t help matters either – they’ve turned us into a joke of late and we’re stood there cheering them.
It struck me that the popular appointment of Billy Davies gave them the motivation to undertake their walk down the pitch. Billy, I’d imagine, wouldn’t have approved if he’d been there. Instead he was apparently watching Bolton ahead of our game next week.
It’s a sign of how badly things have gone that I’m now welcoming Billy back to us with open arms. Last July and even after O’Driscoll had left I wouldn’t have been so keen. There’s no denying that he’s a great manager at this level but he also proved to have a destructive aspect that eventually cost him his job the last time. It has also cost him finding any employment elsewhere since then. Forest crave stability and Davies hardly fits that criteria.
When he left in May 2011 I remember Nigel Doughty saying that Billy would have no problem finding work again when a club was in need of a ‘fire fighter’ to help transform their fortunes. Little did he know that club would be us.
While I hold some concerns about the return of Billy, I think these are outweighed by the positive impact he can have. At present, we have lost our way. Results are very poor and performances are almost non-existent. Even the fans seem to have grown largely apathetic about the team.
It is a situation like ours where Billy is at his best. He will lift this club out of the doldrums and get this team playing out of their skins for him. It wasn’t always brilliant under him before which shouldn’t be forgotten but we are very much in need of the Billy Davies effect.
There’s another reason why I think he’s the right man too. That is that he’s as far from a ‘yes man’ as you can get. It is to the Al Hasawi’s credit they have opted to recruit Billy as they must surely be aware of his reputation. If they had wanted someone to take their orders then Billy is most definitely not the man. In fact, Fawaz and co. should cross him at their peril because we’ve also seen that he is certainly not afraid to go to war with his bosses if he thinks it is necessary.
The overriding view, certainly from those outside of the club, is that this relationship can simply not work. In truth, it seems unlikely that it ever could. On one hand we have the trigger happy owners and on the other we have Davies who could start a fight in the proverbial phone box. I suspect we may see some fireworks on that basis!
Still, if both sides are thinking rationally, they will each know that they cannot afford for this to fail. The Al Hasawi’s reign is already on the verge of disaster while Davies must see that another acrimonious departure will make it very difficult for him to find another job elsewhere.
For now, I suppose all we can do is welcome back Billy and hope the ride is even better than the last time. It certainly won’t be dull.
I’ve been critical of the owners throughout this piece which I feel is justified but they are able to rescue this situation easy enough. They need to give a manager time; 2-3 years at absolute minimum while supporting him with financial backing where necessary. It doesn’t necessarily have to be millions and millions of pounds but a number of shrewd acquisitions will suffice. Importantly, they also need to sit back and put their faith in Davies and his team and hope they can deliver success. If they can do this then I don’t think we’ll go far wrong.