Ask and you shall get (the sack)
In the wake of Billy Davies’ departure from Nottingham Forest, the BBC’s Midlands reporter Pat Murphy claimed a second play-off defeat in two years had brought an end to the “uneasy truce” between the manager and his chairman, Nigel Doughty. It’s a strange kind of truce where one of the warring factions regularly clambers out of the trenches and into no man’s land to fire pot-shots at the other.
Davies had become like a stuck record (and a stuck Krautrock record at that), so often did his post-match interviews consist of veiled and not-so-veiled demands for significant financial backing in the transfer market. The club’s hierarchy were always going to look less favourably on failure having been repeatedly needled, nudged and made to look tight-fisted in public. They might have struggled to muzzle the annoying Scottish terrier yapping and tearing at their trouser-leg, but they certainly had the power to put an end to the situation and sure enough Davies was duly escorted off the premises.
But did Davies have a point? I’d say so, yes. Chief executive Mark Arthur may have since countered that “I think it’s a bit of a fallacy to say that no money’s been made available“, but other rival clubs towards the top end of the Championship have spent more (certainly since an initial £4m spree six months into his reign in summer 2009), and while Davies was canny enough to continually play down his side’s chances of promotion, pointing to youthfulness and inexperience (his other post-match mantra), he was right in feeling it wouldn’t have taken much investment to transform the current squad into title contenders.
So has he been harshly treated? Probably. As an ex-Derby manager, he was always going to have difficulty winning over the fans, and it doesn’t help that the board seems to share their general view that Forest have some kind of divine right to be in the top tier. A more realistic assessment of the last two seasons would point to the fact that they ran the two outstanding candidates for promotion Newcastle and West Brom – both freshly relegated and with plenty of Premier League players on Premier League salaries still on their books – admirably close in 2009/10, and then were unfortunate this campaign as newly promoted Norwich stormed to an improbable automatic ascent. Next season, with a few astute purchases, the title could well be theirs – but Davies has been dispensed with and won’t be around to see it.
Davies doesn’t come across as a very likeable character. Like Neil Warnock, he’s a firebrand and an irritant, susceptible to paranoia and adept at manufacturing a siege mentality – but like Neil Warnock, you suspect his players enjoy that “us against the world” feeling. Chairmen may reflect on Doughty’s experience and think twice about touching Davies now, but he’s clearly a decent manager – one who, absurdly, would never have been sacked by Derby if he hadn’t led them to an unlikely promotion. I’d expect to see him back at the helm of a Championship side before too long.
Forest, meanwhile, have plumped for Steve McLaren as Davies’ successor. Presumably they were able to overlook his status as another ex-Ram (in this instance as a player), the attraction lying in his having led not one but two unfancied provincial sides to major success and silverware. A similarly ruddy-faced predecessor at the City Ground did much the same for Forest…
After that disastrous time in charge of the national side, McLaren impressively resurrected his reputation in Holland – but, now back in Blighty after an ill-fated spell at Wolfsburg, he has it all to do again. He inherits a squad blessed with talented players – Lewis McGugan, Chris Gunter and player of the season Luke Chambers key among them – but one of his first tasks will be to do what Davies seemingly couldn’t and settle upon a preferred strikeforce, a decision that’s been made a little easier by Nathan Tyson’s defection across the East Midlands. No doubt Doughty’s chequebook will come out too – much to the chagrin of one embittered and unemployed Scot.