The bewildering boardroom at Nottingham Forest! (part deux)
The situation at the City Ground is awfully familiar. Different manager, similar story. Pat Riddell explains.
If the noises Steve McClaren made before the end of the transfer window weren’t alarm bells enough, the newspaper reports on Friday morning were Code Red. And then, almost as soon as it had happened, it was all over. But not without Nottingham Forest’s dirty laundry being hung out in public. Again.
Given that the ‘McClaren on the verge of quitting’ stories were published across all the national newspapers — and written by many of Fleet Street’s finest — there seemed more to this than mischief-making or a slow news day. Journalists were very obviously, and purposefully, briefed with McClaren’s consent.
Having demanded three players by the close of the transfer window following the 4-1 home defeat to West Ham, and asserting “over the next few days, we will see the ambition of this club”, McClaren had made his feelings very clear after just 11 weeks in the job.
So there was a sense of inevitability about ‘Deadline Day’ last week – and a serious case of deja vu for most Forest fans. Billy Davies experienced similar troubles during his final 18 months as manager but his reputation often made it difficult for many to side with him. A new manager with a distinguished career making the same complaints makes it very difficult to ignore — and very uncomfortable reading for anyone who cares about the club.
Chairman Nigel Doughty, who has been fairly prolific on Twitter this summer, has spent most of the time warning of the impending Financial Fair Play (FFP) implications from the 2012/13 season onwards. He explicitly said that he doubted there would be any net increase in the squad size. More pertinently: “Everyone but Leicester seems to have got the memo [on FFP].” It seems McClaren didn’t get it either.
Interestingly, the Football League announced the FFP agreement on 10th June. McClaren was officially appointed on 13th June. The big question is: what was agreed/promised/discussed during contract negotiations between Forest and their manager-to-be on 12th June?
In his first press conference, McClaren stated: “I bought into Doughty and Arthur’s dreams and vision.” Did that include promises on transfer budgets? Was FFP discussed? Why exactly does McClaren feel so betrayed? For over a month now, McClaren has called for new players while Doughty continued to bang the FFP drum. What, precisely, is Forest’s strategy? It was clear things had to come to a head.
The much-maligned chief executive Mark Arthur, on McClaren’s appointment, said the new manager would be backed and the first priority was the “left-back situation”. He was suitably vague in both comments. Despite talking figures, most of the millions mentioned were funds Doughty had pumped into the club to keep it going – Forest remain one of the biggest spenders in the Championship.
Annoyingly, it’s an all too familiar story and all too worrying for a club that has been two or three signings short of challenging for an automatic promotion place for the third season in a row now. The squad doesn’t need an overhaul — it just needs balance.
But the question is: how did it come to this again? Why is the Forest manager publicly questioning the board within three months of being appointed? More importantly, why appoint someone of McClaren’s pedigree if there is no intention to back him and heed his advice. And why pay off Davies and spend, presumably, more on McClaren?
On the other hand, did McClaren actually do his homework? It’s been very clear now for a few years that Doughty’s sensible, albeit poorly-executed, vision for Forest is of a self-sufficient club bringing youth players through its growing and respected academy. And then there’s the ‘transfer acquisition panel’, which we’re told no longer exists, yet something remains seriously wrong with the transfer process.
In reality, business should be completed by deadline day. And poor management is to blame when it goes down to the final hour. The breakdown of Alvaro Pereira’s proposed transfer from Porto to Chelsea obviously had a bearing on Ryan Bertrand arriving at the City Ground either on loan or as a permanent signing. Now he’s been named in Chelsea’s 25-man Premier League squad that move looks unlikely. The collapse of Wesley Verhoek’s move was something of a disaster – moves for other wingers were obviously abandoned and no new ones were followed up. But if there was £2m to spend on Verhoek then why wasn’t it forthcoming?
It would be ridiculous to try and compete with the money West Ham and Leicester have spent this summer — The Swiss Ramble’s extensive, and timely, assessment of Doughty’s years at Forest proves the debt that the club has to him, both financially and otherwise.
The key point for doom-mongers and naysayers is that the squad has strengthened, they are now managed by someone who has won silverware and there is still a loan window to come – the importance of which is boosted by the Premier League 25-man squad rule. The implications of FFP have cast a shadow over the top flight and there should be a glut of talent available.
Forest have a squad many clubs in the Championship envy — and, indeed, players Premier League clubs covet. The squad is almost strong enough to put out two different sides with little deterioration in quality. The main point is that there isn’t sufficient balance — there is a need for a left-back, a winger and cover at centre-back. A few loans could easily solve this problem and, rumour has it, loans have been promised in the aftermath of last week’s events.
It would have served neither McClaren nor Forest well if he had quit. His reputation needs restoring in England, unless he’s planning on returning to European football, and the Forest job is now something of a poisoned chalice — if it wasn’t already. Should McClaren fulfil the potential of the Forest squad, as Davies almost did, his decision to stay will be justified – and save the blushes of the Forest board.
Make no mistake though, this is an uneasy truce; much as the previous manager had with the chairman. Privately, McClaren is said to be furious and we can only presume his manner is somewhat more amenable than his combustible predecessor. Quite how this goes forwards is anyone’s guess…