It has been a very busy January at Nottingham Forest so far, but perhaps not quite in the way that many of us would have expected. Having removed Sean O’Driscoll from his post on Boxing Day and swiftly appointed Alex McLeish to replace him the changes have continued into this new year.
Club Ambassador Frank Clark, Head of Recruitment Keith Burt and Chief Executive Mark Arthur have now also left the club to varying degrees of satisfaction or distaste amongst supporters. The silence from the club’s owners on this issue has left a void for speculation which suggests that there may have been a falling out on strategy and resulting confrontation.
It is not clear what happened with Mark Arthur who was only recently invited back onto the club’s board. Reports suggest that he may have resigned from his post because of his unhappiness with the other decisions being taken. Rumours also abound that Burt has been in conflict over the recruitment of players which has led to his dismissal. All of this is speculation, however, with no side offering any actual explanation.
The oddest move is Frank Clark who’s role was only really ceremonial anyway and yet after 35 years of dedicated service as player, manager and chairman he has been told to stay away from the club. If this was merely a desire to move forwards and break from the past structure then a quiet word to thank him for his efforts and an open invitation to attend whenever he wishes would surely have achieved that. The nature of his dismissal would seem to support an argument and a unfriendly split.
It is not hard to believe that Burt was unhappy with the owners’ insistence on being involved in the recruitment of players, possibly ignoring his advice on specific targets and also being at odds with the in depth work that his scouting team usually put into recruiting new players. Similarly, it is easy to conclude that mild mannered Clark would become frustrated at the upheaval created by quickfire sackings going back to his own managerial appointment Cotterill, than O’Driscoll and now Burt.
Alex McLeish has claimed to be totally in the dark about the decision to sack Burt and has also suggested that the owners are putting forward suggestions for players to be signed via agents and advisers, which he has had final say on, both of which perhaps support the hypothesis of a fall out directly between Burt and the Al-Hasawis and a change in recruitment policy.
None of this is to say that any of the departures are inherently wrong. It is easy to argue that the club has stagnated over the last dozen years and that Mark Arthur and Keith Burt have been in key roles for much of that time. This sort of change is not unusual in football and it could well be beneficial to bring in some fresh ideas.
The concern is the way that the changes have occurred, the uncertainty in the motives for taking these decisions, the timing in the middle of an important transfer window and the lack of communication from those taking the decisions on why this has happened and how it fits in with the long term future of the club.
The level of change that has taken place in a very short space of time has created uncertainty about what the owners are trying to achieve at the club. In the summer the plan seemed quite clear, the end goal was Premier League football but this was being approached through a clear commitment to the long term development of the club.
That made a lot of sense with the appointment of Sean O’Driscoll, a recognised long term builder, and the return of John Pemberton to the coaching staff to oversee the progression of young players from the youth academy to the first team, via a reinstated Under 21 side. Although this was supported by some immediate investment in what was a threadbare squad the focus seemed to be on developing rather than buying progression.
Crucially the youth development side of the club is still in place with Nick Marshall and Gary Brazil bringing through an exciting under 18 team which sits at the top of their league and is playing some very attractive football and Pemberton already introducing those same players to reserve team football as well as trialling a number of new players to fill the gaps created by a previous abolition of the club’s development squad.
The promotion of 22 year old goalkeeper Karl Darlow to the first team is also very encouraging but again the way it has been done raises alarm bells. Lee Camp has fallen out of favour and been told he can leave the club but Alex McLeish was clear that he was seeking an experienced replacement, with former England goalkeepers linked in the media. A little later though Kuwaiti international Khalid Al Rashidi was signed, with a statement that he would not immediately be able to challenge for the first team, and Darlow was declared first choice.
The lack of clarity over the number one shirt raises further doubts about there being a formal strategy for the future of the club and implies a lack of leadership and unity in vision. The messages are mixed and whilst there are some areas of potential optimism they feel haphazard rather than planned.
The Championship is a difficult league which lacks the income of the top flight but none of the expectation. It is very difficult to run a club that has aspirations of promotion on a sound financial footing and many clubs have to look for financial injections from either wealthy owners or debt. Whilst that is a problem that requires the attention of football as a whole it is still essential that individual clubs have a clear route map for their progression and at the moment that seems to be lacking at Forest.
It is not enough to say we want to be “back where we belong”. It is fine to have a goal of promotion to the top flight but there needs to be a coherent plan for how to get there and what the values are that the club will stick to irrespective of the results on the pitch.
The fallout from the last three weeks of what Alex McLeish described in an interview on Forest World as “turmoil” has been for some of us to worry about how the club will move forward. Cardiff are currently sat on top of the league after a concerted level of high spending, the latest of which being the signing of Frazier Campbell on a reputed £30k a week wage. If Forest plan to match these rivals with spending where will the money come from and how will the need to spend over several years to catch up fit with Financial Fair Play rules which come into being next season.
Alternatively if the club has all along been planning to build something more solid that will last beyond the contracts of stellar signings (in a Championship context) and provide foundations for long term success and sustainability why did they so dramatically dismantle the club’s structures five months into their first season?
There are, as I have intimated above, some areas for optimism and I hope to talk about these more over the next few weeks but there are also a lot of questions that need answering. In the absence of any formal communication from the club on these issues it will be actions over the next few months that we must hope will provide them.
Narrow is the Way | Flickr – Photo Sharing! : taken from – http://www.flickr.com/photos/87371141@N00/4501167880/Author: lymangsr http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/deed.en_GB