Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Sod's Seven

You can take a good thing for granted can't you? Rewind 12 months at the City Ground and Steve McClaren had already made his first few noises about not being able to bring in the players he wanted to re-shape the squad. Expensive players had arrived in the shape of Ishmael Miller, Matt Derbyshire and Jonathan Greening but it was clear that the brolly wielding supremo wanted and expected more.

The embarrassing and slightly baffling non-signing of Wesley Verhoek and long and unsuccessful courtship of Wayne Routledge had just transpired and it was clear (with the benefit of hindsight of course) that all was not hunky dory with the new managerial regime.

Rewind 24 months and a certain wee Scot was busy 'recommending and advising' til the cows came home to our much-maligned and probably only half understood transfer acquisitions panel. We got the now Team GB left back Ryan Bertrand on loan but Billy was grumbling about not building on the previous season's so-near-yet-so-far play-off bid and again a lack of new faces was proving troubling.

On that evidence it's a minor miracle that the Al-Hasawi/O'Driscoll regime has conjured up seven signings, seemingly with the minimum of fuss, in a shortened post-takeover summer. On the face of it we've got no expensive donkeys and don't appear to have been ripped off either. It doesn't feel quite right does it?!

To be fair the sensible spree was born out of absolute necessity. With Garath McCleary, Joel Lynch, Luke Chambers, Paul Anderson, Chris Gunter joining last season's loan rangers out of the exit door (added to January's survival funding sale of stalwart Wes Morgan) it was beginning to look like we might be fielding the Robin Hood mascot at centre half.

Something about O'Driscoll just oozes calm though and he's dug up three Daniels - Ayala, Harding and Collins - as well as Greg Halford to begin to forge a decent looking back line. Halford may feature in midfield, with Brendan Moloney getting a deserved chance to step up leaving Jamal Lascelles and a seemingly Sheep bound Kieron Freeman as back up as things stand. All four signings have a decent pedigree, have played at this level, are a good age and have the ability to play O'Driscoll's brand of football. SOD certainly seems to be owed considerable praise for tempting a reportedly reluctant Daniel Ayala to make the switch back to the Championship from Norwich in a season long loan. The Liverpool schooled Spaniard seems to be very well thought of so it's something of a coup to get his services.

If the defence does gel it will be some achievement. It does at least appear as though Lynch, Chambers and Gunter have been adequately replaced. Big Wes still leaves big boots to fill when it comes to the physical, ugly stuff - hopefully Collins has got the sizeable feet required to do just that. SOD is no mug and will be all-too-aware that defenders who are good on the ball are fine but there are plenty of wars to be won against robust forward lines in the weeks and months to come. The physical test of Championship football alone would suggest the squad is at least one defender short of being fit for a 46-game campaign.

Adlene Guedioura's capture has perhaps caught the eye most, mainly for the way he lit up our relegation fight when borrowed from Wolves last season. I'm itching to see what he can do given more time - if he, Reid and McGugan can spark off each other we may be in for some mouthwatering play in the middle.

He's joined in the midfield by free transfer Simon Gillett. His capture was reportedly a close shave but should add some cutting edge and was definitely the best Oman (Al-Hasawi) could get. Ok, that was poor and predictable but it's out of my system now I promise! In all seriousness I've always liked the look of Simon at Doncaster. He's got a classy touch and good eye for a pass and I'm sure the likes of Reid, Guedioura, McGugan and Majewski will relish playing with someone like him. I'll be interested to see how SOD deploys him, Moussi and the the soon-to-return Cohen but I do think he adds a little something else that might make all the difference in a tight midfield battle.

The seventh signing saw Simon Cox check in from West Brom. SOD will be hoping that the 25-year-old can show the freescoring pedigree from his Swindon Town days after what must have been a frustrating time on the sidelines with the Baggies - playing odd games and mostly in midfield when given a chance. Anyone who has seen some of the goals he put away for the Robins will have witnessed he has an eye for a goal and I'm excited to see if he can be a foil for the hardworking Blackstock.

So seven up... but is it enough? Perhaps the greatest loss to the squad was a player who has yet to be replaced in Garath McCleary. Garath finally fulfilled his considerable potential last season and there's no denying in my mind that we'd have been a League One club again had it not been for his dazzling displays under Steve Cotterill. You can't begrudge Garath a go at the Premier League but his departure, coupled with that of Paul Anderson (who always flattered to deceive for me) leaves only Andy Reid who can play in a wide midfield berth. It's yet to be seen if triallist Franck Moussa will be snapped up (presumably to the annoyance of commentators who would be tongue-tied by a Moussa-Moussi one-two) but the winger's position is undoubtedly a missing piece of the jigsaw ahead of the first league fixture this weekend. I worry that without a bit of pace on the flanks we might become easy to 'crowd out', especially at home.

So another defender or two and at least one winger needed? Like I said at the start it's easy to take this signings business for granted!

Not since Billy's first summer have we seen so many new signings check in on Trentside - and several of his were loanees coming back for a permanent spell. Aided by the fact that many of his new faces were not new to the club, the fiery Glaswegian added Paul McKenna and some forward firepower and conjured up a brilliant third place. With a new back four to bed in and some pieces of the jigsaw still to find it'd be a big ask for SOD to replicate that feat. In fact, defensively in particular, I think we should expect a very slow start (well we always get one anyway don't we??) as SOD not only searches for his favoured starting eleven but also looks to impose his own style on the club.

The canny little tactical tinker with Greg Halford on Monday against Fleetwood is a good sign that he's starting to find ways to win with what he has already. We'll need a bit more of that, another player or two and some luck as we head into the league fixtures. It's difficult to know what to expect from this Forest side this season. It'll be fun to find out just what they are made of though...roll on Saturday.

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...

Friday, 24 February 2012

That winning feeling

It's a funny old game isn't it? Last weekend I went away and missed the action on Trentside. And we only went and won one!

A paranoid fan would think they won the Coventry game just to spite me. I am a paranoid fan.

I'm still to see us register a victory since November 19 and have only had Garath McCleary's goal to cheer (at a live game) since that date. I, like pretty much everyone else in the City Ground that day, was stunned into silence momentarily as the ball hit the net - 'so THIS is a goal?' I had genuinely forgotten how to celebrate. So heaven knows what a victory must have felt like for the crowd last week...

Mind you it was a pretty useful three points and brought me out in a temporary hysteria. We'd won, so cajoling people into joining me at Barnsley away in a couple of weeks seemed perfectly sensible. It probably won't feel so sensible when we're there, but you've got to live a little right? Even if that is at Oakwell.

For now, however, the attention is on our trip to St Andrews tomorrow - a game i'll be following in my usual state of panic while looking on Twitter, Final Score and online in a futile bid to find out every little scrap of information. I don't want to pay for Forest World and don't fancy my computer's chances keeping up with some dodgy foreign stream so getting increasingly angry at the painfully inept Garth Crooks and pressing refresh more times than is healthy await.

Tomorrow marks the all-important 'next game'. We'd been told for a while that if we could 'just get one goal' more would come and after that if we could 'just get one win' we might get on a roll. They're both naff cliches but there is something to be said for momentum in football and now really is the time to get some.

It sounded a pretty ugly game against a pretty ugly Coventry side last week, but style really isn't a consideration at this stage is it? Birmingham away is a tough ask but we are running out of time and nicking even a point against Chris Hughton's men would set up the chance to build a run with the aforementioned Barnsley away game and back-to-back home clashes against Doncaster and Millwall.

Since my last blog post a lot* has happened and much of it has left me more than a little unconvinced by the appointment of Steve Cotterill. There's a separate blog brewing on that shortly but, rightly or wrongly, it does seem that Frank Clark fancies him as the man to steer us to safety, so we're stuck with him.

One thing Cotterill must work out is the formula for away day success. Not just so I don't have a wasted trip to Barnsley (although I'm sure it's lovely there regardless right?) but also because nine of the remaining 15 games are on the road. We are going to have to win at least some of those to stand a chance of survival.

Having said that, we've won as many away games as home this season (4 wins in 14 away, 4 in 17 at home) and the in-form Garath McCleary should give us a useful counter attacking threat tomorrow. The mercurial McCleary coupled with the wily Andy Reid and impressive looking loanee Adlene Guedioura should give us the quality to unlock a defence. We just have to hope that the mis-firing strike force pack their shooting boots and take their chances. I'd still like to see the creative talents of Lewis McGugan and/or Radi Majewski put to good use but both seem almost irretrievably out of favour (and in Radi's case, injured).

Birmingham are pretty formidable at the moment and Chris Hughton has done a fantastically good job to regroup and revamp the relegated Blues into promotion contenders. Given the amount of games they've played you'd think they'd have to burn out eventually but they haven't shown much sign of that so far. It'd be clutching at a particularly short straw to hope their endeavours catch up with them tomorrow but, given the desperate nature of this season, I'm prepared to grasp at any small crumb of half comfort.

I last went to see the Tricky Trees at St Andrews in the ill-fated ITV Digital era. It was an early kick off on New Year's Day and fans helped clear the pitch of snow to get the game underway in front of the TV cameras. Only, according to something I read later, this was the first game to register 0 viewers because it attracted less than 1,000 people. The people who were shaking off their January 1 hangovers missed Stern John's last ever goal in the Garibaldi, I'm sure they're gutted. That game was 1-1 -  and I'd certainly take that tomorrow, wouldn't you? It would at least give me some false hope that going to Barnsley is the right thing to do.

Come on You Reds

*'a lot' is barely adequate to describe the huge shock of the loss of Nigel Doughty. That's another matter for another blog mind you - I've been very slack recently!