Are Nottingham Forest right to make prudent plans?
After missing out in the play-offs for the second consecutive year, Nottingham Forest are taking a slightly different approach this time around. Steve Wright explains.
Over the last few days, Nottingham Forest chairman Nigel Doughty has been keen to impress upon fans the potential impact of financial fair play rules that could be brought into effect from the 2012-13 Championship season. These rules have not been finalised as yet, although the clubs have agreed that some sort of enforced framework will be implemented.
Doughty has explained that he believes that this will mean no more subsidies for clubs like Forest, who benefit from the financial assistance of a rich owner. He has therefore stressed that the way Forest structure their playing staff will need to change – with shorter contracts and fewer recognised first team squad members.
The obvious fallout from such a move, apart from saving Doughty a substantial amount of money each year, is that clubs relegated with parachute payments will be at an enormous advantage. Relegated clubs will receive £14million in each of years one and two after relegation and £8m in years three and four, assuming that they do not get promoted again in this period.
Given that Forest, who are a good-sized Championship club, have a total turnover (without the Doughty enhancement) of roughly £14.5m, it is easy to see the problems they will face competing. In order to level the playing field they will rely on the skills of their manager, the strength of their scouting network in spotting value for money and the ability of their academy to provide young, cheap and talented players to support a slimmed down first team squad.
Forest fans will stress at this point that the squad is already small. At the start of the 2010-11 season, however, the striker roster consisted of Robert Earnshaw, Dexter Blackstock, David McGoldrick, Joe Garner and Dele Adebola, as manager Billy Davies insisted he needed different types of forward for different situations. Adebola was signed on a free transfer but joined the club reportedly due to the offer of a substantial two-year contract, despite being essentially a bit-part option, while the others had all been bought by the club for substantial fees.
When Dexter Blackstock sustained a serious injury in a match against Cardiff City, the club went out and signed Marcus Tudgay – another established player at this level – and USA international Robbie Findley. Towards the end of the season, they also took on the enormous wage liability of Kris Boyd on loan from Middlesbrough. In a world of financial fair play it seems highly unlikely that Forest would seek to carry eight expensive first team strikers whilst allowing promising young forwards from the academy to rot with no hope of a run in the side — and it is difficult to argue that this is not sensible either.
Forest look like they are already trying to adapt to the potential new landscape by placing importance on the role of Development Coach, which has been combined with Assistant Manager and handed to former Leicester City manager Rob Kelly. While signings have been made in the midfield, a key area in McClaren’s style of play, it is clear that highly rated youngsters from the academy will be expected to fill in the squad this season and can expect to make appearances. Kieron Freeman, a 19-year-old left back who has represented Wales at under-19 level, has featured quite heavily in pre-season games and duly praised by the new manager. Fellow defenders Jamal Lascelles (17) and Karlton Watson (19) are also clearly being expected to develop into first-team players in the near future.
Already some Forest fans are seeing Doughty’s comments as another stick to beat him with and a sign of his own “lack of ambition”, that favourite phrase of the embittered fan. It is fair to say that a football club owner will offer more value in his ability to run a club than the size of his wealth, which will raise questions about the chairman’s achievements at Forest to date.
The mode of operating at which Doughty hints potentially offers a much more satisfying and edifying way to build a football club. The impact of parachute payments is a significant problem, as the Championship’s excellence owes much to its unpredictable nature, and this is something that the league will have to address. Nevertheless, the wider context of managing within your means and developing your own talent could be both sensible and exciting.
The likes of Leicester City continue to throw everything at breaking into the Premier League’s big money club while the doors are still reasonably ajar. While this approach is still being taken by other clubs, Doughty’s words will seem like just another excuse for not buying this or that player. But the financial landscape of the football league will have to change eventually and, although it is understandable that some fans will be sceptical, maybe Forest are sowing the seeds to adapt well to that new world.