No one will be surprised I am sure to hear that I am happy to see the back of Billy Davies. I was happy when he left the first time and was not impressed to see him back at the City Ground after the mess of Alex McLeish’s six weeks in charge, which had followed the debacle of Sean O’Driscoll’s sacking.
But that paragraph goes some way to explaining why, despite initial delight that the divisive and wearisome battles of “revenge” and “payback” under Davies have come to an end, I am also concerned about what the future holds for a club that has lost any sense of a long term vision and identity.
Ever since the twin shocks of the formation of the Premier League and the departure of Brian Clough, Nottingham Forest has struggled to find its place. Having initially recovered well under Frank Clark the club failed to adapt to meet the needs of a football world overwhelmed by money and the people that it attracts and it has failed to come to terms with that ever since.
As it stands we have not been a top flight club for 15 years and the longer that goes on the more desperate fans become to see us return. As a result the more we fail to achieve promotion the less willing we are to go back and do the groundwork that would make us the sort of stable and well managed club that could build a Premier League future. We have lost ground on other smarter clubs and continue to do so with every frantic attempt to buy promotion.
Davies was a problem. His personal battles were damaging to the club’s reputation and standing in the game and, whilst he has always delivered results up to a point, his consumption of resources combined with those negative impacts on the club was never going to be worth it. Nigel Doughty saw this after two costly failed promotion attempts and now Fawaz Al-Hasawi has seen it after a third, and most costly of all.
His departure, however, leaves a vacuum and how it is filled will determine the future for this once great club. Everyone has a favourite name that they want to throw into the ring to replace him but the club needs to look beyond that to the structures and values that will define the new man’s role, responsibilities and modus operandi.
One example for me is this idea that the Chairman asks the manager for a list of players he would like to sign when a transfer window or loan window opens. Player recruitment and team building is a long process involving years of planning, scouting and youth development. The club should know what attributes it wants in its players and how it wants the team to develop over time, who will stay, who will be leaving in a year or two, what players are coming through its own ranks, who is on its scouting radar. An evolving squad might see two or three new players added each summer in a managed way, signing lots of players year after year is not a badge of honour.
All of this is about structures and roles that work together to deliver a team on the pitch. It is a collaborative process which we began to hear about when Sean O’Driscoll was at the club, but the desire for a short cut to promotion saw that discarded. We need to go back to those basics now, whoever is in charge.
The Al-Hasawi family have owned the club for less than two years and yet we have seen them spend close to £60M (including £20M buying the club) and sacking four managers in that time but with little genuine progress. They need to invest in the less glamorous stuff of structures and processes to make sure that when they spend on the team it delivers value and success.
Yet again we are facing a crucial summer at Nottingham Forest. History suggests we will just keep doing the same thing and falling further and further behind. Let’s hope lessons have been learned.