Wednesday, 25 July 2012

An icon? Sod that, I'm happy with Sean

The Al Hasawi family have only put one foot wrong so far.

After finally finalising their purchase of the club the Kuwaiti trio have arrived amid a blaze of optimism and, in a nice gesture, swiftly renamed the academy after their predecessor Nigel Doughty.

They've also, rightly in my view, got rid of Steve Cotterill, appointed Sean O'Driscoll, improved communications with fans and helped seal the deals of former loan ranger Adlene Guedioura and solid and experienced defender Danny Collins.

It's just a shame then, that they slipped the word 'iconic' into their press conference when describing their manager-of-choice.

Maybe that was partly a mistranslation/misunderstanding and, to be fair, it was followed up by saying that the family wanted someone who knew the league well.

But, like it or not, the word was latched onto by journalists and fans and set the Twitter rumour mill into meltdown. Could it be Harry? Hoddle? Sven?!

Inevitably, then, the word has been seized upon with relish by rivals since Sean O'Driscoll became the surprise choice to succeed Steve Cotterill, just months since he left the club following a short-term stint as a coach for the successful survival battle.

Yes, Sean O'Driscoll is not an icon but I think he's a great choice. In fact the thought of a big name boss worried me a little. Schteve McClaren did not work as a high profile appointment last season - he needed too much money and to change too much to be able to work properly here. When the changes didn't happen fast enough for him he packed up his brolly and left (albeit waiving a payoff to his great credit).

Harry was always a ridiculous suggestion that helped fill the coffers of a few bookies and briefly get the attention of national journos eager for morsels of football news.

Hoddle? He had all the hallmarks of McClaren+1year, especially having been away from the English game for a while. He had also flattered to deceive at Wolves when last in charge of a club of this level.

The rest? Well Gordon Strachan was abysmal at Middlesbrough and Sven Goran Eriksson? As a circus ringmaster maybe.

Some of those names may have satisfied the expectation of a big name but none were as suited to actually doing a good job as Sean O'Driscoll.

He's smart, sensible, has good experience of this level, can spot a talented player and sets a good tone for the new ownership. The last thing we want to do now is throw silly money around on an ego trip. The clear model to follow is that of Norwich, Swansea, Southampton and Reading. All of those clubs assembled good squads under the tutelage of good, progressive managers. 'SOD' is an appointment in the mould of Lambert, Rodgers, Adkins, McDermott in my book.

Another positive from having SOD in charge is that he knows the players that are left. That will be vital in 'hitting the ground running' after a curtailed pre-season. It should also help him know the strengths and weaknesses of the playing staff and hep with what will have to be a bit of a dash in the transfer market.

O'Driscoll can, in time, bring stylish football to the City Ground if his work with Doncaster Rovers is anything to go by. His teams regularly mesmerised Colin Calderwood's Forest and for a while held an 'Indian sign' over us. If he can replicate that sort of football on Trentside the fans will be prepared to give him bags of time, just as they did when Paul Hart's young side burst on to the scene. He's also someone that is fully fluent in the modern word of football tactics and, like Billy, understands the need to be smart to win at this level. A straight up, no fuss 442 doesn't really work any more and SOD knows that.

So far so good then. But there's an awful lot still left to do. Danny Collins is a good addition, but will need to be joined by another three players in our now non-existent defence. Lascelles, Moloney and Freeman all have potential and one of them may well be able to make the step up to first team football. But not all together, and probably not any as a first choice just yet.

There's no doubt that knitting together a defence from scratch will be tough. As will developing the side and squad as a whole. For that SOD will need time. With that in mind I don't think we should all be expecting too much this season. The Al Hasawis said they were setting a goal of a top ten finish. That seems difficult but, given good signings, realistic. Of course many will want promotion right away, but that's a huge ask from the position the squad is in at the moment.

It'll be fascinating to see who SOD can add to his squad, how they are knitted together with the key members left and which, if any of the outcasts (Derbyshire, Miller, Greening, McGoldrick) can be brought back into the fold.

The Black Country born boss laughed off the icon tag at today's press conference and I loved his line that 'all the icons I know are dead'. If he can juggle the challenges in front of him and, in time, take the club back to the promised land of the Premier League then I've a feeling he'll be hearing that icon word once again...

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Kuwait and see

Nothing has happened yet. I feel the need to start this post with the obvious since it is easy to get carried away. Many people have (we're the new Man City, we're going to get Benitez etc) but I'm clinging to the words 'due diligence' and reminding myself that that doesn't mean 'all done and dusted'. I suppose it's only natural to dream about what could be, especially while we're at the start of that traditional period of unbounded footballing optimism that is pre-season. And the alternative? If the takeover deal falls through? Well, that's a great big black box labelled 'unknown' that no-one dare open.

I've spent most of the footballing summer convinced that the question of our ownership would rumble on and on, probably into the next season itself (Forest never do do things the easy way do they?). Friday's announcement that the Doughty estate is in an 'exclusive negotiation period' with the Kuwaiti Al-Hasawi family at least brought hope that my cynicism may be misplaced. Perhaps more significant were the highly positive noises from the family themselves - hinting that this was a deal that could and should go through.

Even if that is the case there are a great many unanswered questions left hanging as the club's most pivotal summer for some time continues (suddenly those weeks when we were moaning about no left back seem pretty small in comparison).

On the face of it, why would a foreign investor want to take on ownership of Nottingham Forest? Let's leave the Garibaldi Red-tinted specs to one side for a moment. We're a Championship club at the moment with a squad in desperate need of rebuilding, with two seasons of promotion challenges brought to an abrupt halt by a nervy relegation scrap that was won thanks to a patched up side boosted by now-returned loan rangers. We have a lovely ground on the banks of the Trent, but it needs a bit of a spruce up. It's unlikely ownership of our club will make anyone a penny of money and, in our current position, it's unlikely it will do much to broaden anyones business image as much as, say, purchasing a top Premier League club might.

However (and trying to not to put those specs back on) this is a club that, unlike many others, buyers could get 100% ownership of given our current situation. It has a 'brand' and history (yes, I know we live in the past etc but it is a selling point) and with sensible management could mount a charge to get to the promised land of the Premier League. In that respect I suppose it might be a cheap, albeit long-term, way to get yourself a top flight club. I'm sure that's how it has been marketed but, like it or not, the motives of any new owner, unlike the previous incumbent, are open to question.

And what about the arrival of great pots of money at the end of the rainbow? It's the obsession with cash that concerns me a little. Splashing it about hasn't catapulted Leicester to promotion as quickly as many thought. Yes money helps but you can't 'just' buy your way out of this division. The very best players won't want to play Championship football so it's unlikely that anyone will suddenly accumulate a Premier League team and steamroller all comers. Meanwhile Swansea, Norwich, Southampton and Reading have gone up in style, playing attractive football and spending less than we have in recent seasons. They should be the inspiration for any team at this level.

The key, it seems, to promotion is to find a canny manager and provide him with sufficient time, trust and yes money to build a squad that can cope with the rigours of football in the Championship.

That should mean, perhaps harshly, that Steve Cotterill would not be the right man to remain in charge should rich owners come to the club. Cotterill did, it has to be said, galvanise a club on its knees after the disastrous and ill-conceived 'Steve McClaren experiment'. He finally transformed Garath McCleary into the mercurial talent I had long-hoped he could be and expertly used the loan market, injecting the talents of Adlene Guedioura, George Elokobi etc into a disjointed band of dejected looking Tricky Trees.

Why not Cotterill for the future then? Well, I remain to be convinced that he has the tactical nous at Championship level. At Forest and Portsmouth he has avoided the dreaded drop with sides and clubs that really ought to do so but at Burnley never seemed to have the flair to take a team up to the Premier League. He's level-headed and doesn't duck a fight but can he build a side, unearth talent from the lower leagues and play imaginative winning football in a tight, ruthless league? I can't see it myself. A future Cotterill regime would also be without his talisman McCleary, tactical chief Sean O'Driscoll (suspected by many to be the architect of our away-day renaissance) and the afore-mentioned loan stars. It seems, to me, to be all set for a new broom and one suited to someone with qualities that are not on Cotterill's CV.

Assuming that we do suddenly get some Kuwaiti cash (and that dreaded box of uncertainty goes untouched), the managerial role must then be the first priority. Goodness knows who that should be but let's hope that Darren Ferguson, linked to the role this weekend, is not on the shortlist.

Coupled with a new arrival in the hotseat must be a sensible approach to squad building. Let's use Lee Camp, Chris Gunter, Joel Lynch, Guy Moussi, Andy Reid, Lewis McGugan, Radi Majewski, Chris Cohen, Dexter Blackstock, Marcus Tudgay, Brendan Moloney, Kieron Freeman, Paul Smith, Karl Darlow and Jamaal Lascelles as the starting point for a squad and go out and buy players we need to complement them. We can also look at which of the McClaren flops could be brought 'in from the cold' into that group. There's an awful lot missing from the squad above, but it's undoubtedly a starting point. Why replace what you already have? Leicester seemed to spend all their time signing too many central midfielders and blowing £5m-plus on players like Matt Mills when they already had solid centre backs like Jack Hobbs on the books. Heaven knows how much they forked out getting Nigel Pearson back too.

It'd be nice to think we can blood through some younger players and pick up some bargains from the lower leagues. Surely there's a player in the academy or League Two who could fill our hexed left back berth? Young and up-and-coming talent should be available and carries less risk than, say, spending £1.2 million and 10k plus in wages on a striker that doesn't perform (not that I'm thinking of anyone specifically of course). Maybe if we had money we could risk losing cash Miller-style but short-termism really doesn't seem to work and certainly wouldn't do us any favours if the owners decided to up sticks Portsmouth style and leave an unaffordable bill to pick up.

The future of the club is undoubtedly at a crossroads. Of course, should the Al-Hasawi family take over and invest money into the club we shouldn't 'look a gift horse in the mouth' and bemoan it. The money will be much needed to secure the future of the club and finding a buyer full stop is surely vital. But big bucks aren't the be all and end all. We can only hope that the new owners will be sensible guardians and that the desire to go on an fantasy football-esque spending binge is resisted.

On the field and off the field we need to be clever to achieve anything. The first clever move needs to come from Seymour Pierce to find good owners. But that would only be the first step. We're a long way off just needing a left back after all, and who'd have thought we'd be nostalgic for those days?! Still, typical Forest fan, living in the past...