At least, Alex McLeish might have pondered as he left The City Ground for the last time this morning, he was there for long enough to get Christmas paid for. It’s a small consolation for the now former manager of Nottingham Forest, but small consolations are as much as many Forest supporters can take succour from after the club confirmed this morning that McLeish had left the club after just forty days in charge. Since it had been strongly rumoured that McLeish was at the point of resigning his position after the club’s transfer deadline day disaster – which saw George Boyd turned away on the spurious grounds of not having perfect eyesight, only for the player to be offered a loan deal until the end of the season – it is, perhaps somewhat surprising that he lasted as much longer as another four and a half days. Not that those days were particularly happy ones, mind. A defeat at the hands of Birmingham City at the weekend was followed by McLeish pointedly refusing to discuss his future after the match.
There are grounds for suggesting that this was for the best. McLeish’s records at Birmingham City and Aston Villa meant that his initial appointment was greeted with a degree of scepticism by many Forest supporters and he had hardly set the world on fire since taking the job, with just one win in his seven matches in charge of the club (against the Championship’s bottom club, Peterborough United) as well as a home defeat in the Third Round of the FA Cup at the hands of League One strugglers Oldham Athletic. That said, though, we’ll never know, and whilst he might have departed from both St Andrews and Villa Park with his tail between his legs, he will justifiably leave The City Ground with the feeling that Nottingham Forest is rapidly becoming a football club that is unmanageable, due to the increasingly eccentric way in which the owners are running it, and this is something that should probably also concern those of the opinion that McLeish might not necessarily have been the right choice for the club following the departure of Sean O’Driscoll in December.
On the one hand is the very real question of what the fact that Nottingham Forest will soon be on their third manager of the season (and their fourth since taking control of the club – lest we forget Steve Cotterill, who lasted just two days after their take-over) says about the stewardship of those running the club. We can only speculate over what was said during during the negotiations that were held at the time of his appointment, but one recurring theme of the last few weeks has been the effect of Omar Al-Hasawi, who had appointed of Sean O’Driscoll in the first place, and his replacement with his cousin Fawaz in the middle of December. Fawaz Al-Hawasi hasn’t taken long to have an effect on the club’s form on the pitch and its morale in the stands. A win against Leeds United at The City Ground on Boxing Day left the club within one point of a place in the play-offs in a tight and nervy race for a place in the Premier League. The biggest irony of all of this is that Nottingham Forest could yet be a Premier League club next season. They are, after all, still only six points below the play-off places with a little over a third of the season left to play.
Timing, however, can be everything in football and this parting of ways has come at the worst possible time for the club. Any incoming manager will not be able to overhaul the squad of players that he has at present – a direct consequence of the falling out happening on the thirty-first of January, of course – and such a manager would have to come into this position knowing the track record of his immediate bosses. How many managers, and in particular managers of such a quality or pedigree that they can afford to pick and choose, might look at the Nottingham Forest job and think, especially in such a volatile atmosphere, “No thanks, I think I’ll pass on that, there’ll be another one along in a minute.” And there is ample evidence to suggest that they would have a point. Over the course of the last nine months, forty-four clubs in the Premier League and the Football League have made at least one managerial change – that’s almost half, without taking into account any clubs that have changed their managers more than once. Of these nine (out of twenty) have come in the Premier League and fourteen (out of twenty-four) have come in the Football League Championship.
These are extraordinary numbers, and that they suggest a hint of panic in the race to be in the gilded twenty that will make up the Premier League in time for the start of next season and, crucially, the start of that shiny, new television contract. This could be a matter of concern at making leap while the possibility of settling in the Premier League in the manner that, say, Swansea City have over the last couple of seasons, or it may be because club owners are eyeing what they can get from a television deal which can only increase the possibility – and, knowing the frequently reckless way in which football clubs tend to operate their finances, it would remain no more than a “possibility” – of running their clubs at a profit and being able to cream off some of that for themselves. Indeed, as we have seen in recent years, there are some – perhaps many – that don’t even need a club to be making a profit in order to cream money off for themselves.
Such concerns will probably not be uppermost in the minds of Nottingham Forest supporters this evening, though. Nottingham Forest Football Club is one of English football’s oldest institutions. This is a club founded almost one hundred and fifty years ago, which became a member of the Football League and won the FA Cup while Queen Victoria was still on the throne and has been the champions of Europe more times than Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal have managed between them. In recent times, though, Forest have been run badly and it would certainly be a cause for real concern if the circus that has surrounded the manager’s seat at The City Ground is indicative of a wider malaise at the heart of the club. Not everybody has an automatic right to a place in the Premier League, and the majority football supporters know that. It is to be hoped that the events of the last few weeks do not become part of a broader problem facing the club.
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