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...

1 comment:

Daryl Johnson said...

Commercially, there is the opportunity to increase revenues and possibly have a sniff at making profits. The issue is that this will take years, not months.

Any potential owner would look to spread the brand around the world in the same fashion Manchester United have done so over the last twenty years or so. We are so far behind other clubs now and cannot rest on our 'European Cup successes from years gone by'.

I've a good feeling that these guys have a plan, and that must be the start of something. Bringing in one or two young Kuwaitis and having a Saudi player or other foreigners from largely untapped markets can only be a good thing for revenues.

With regards to players, I'd like to see us follow the blueprint made by Norwich, Reading etc. and not follow in the footsteps of Leicester. Spending large sums of cash has large risk attached and after the shambles of the last twelve years, I'd like the club to become more viable long term.