Friday, 28 October 2016

Daniel Taylor's book shows pre-Clough parallels with present day

After last Saturday's televised disaster against Cardiff City I felt it was high time to finally pluck Daniel Taylor's I Believe In Miracles from the shelf. I can't have been the only Forest fan in need of cheering up after that display. This, I felt, was bound to do the trick. Taylor is a top class journalist and letting him loose on the material from Jonny Owen's magnificent film was bound to be a winning combination.

Indeed, so it proved. It was great fun, superbly put together and provided plenty of laughs along the way. While fans might well have been over the events of these years a fair few times in the past there was still scope for something new (for me at least) along the way.

The book doesn't just re-tell the film either. While Owen made the most of the footage - particularly Clough at his sparkling best - and an excellent soundtrack, Taylor's book makes the most of the opportunities a book provides.

Perhaps the best example of this comes in the early chapters - and it was here that there were some eerie parallels with the club's current predicament.

When Clough breezed into the City Ground crowds had declined (even dipping below 8,000), the ground was in dire need of a little TLC, the club wasn't being run in a professional way, the left back position was a problem and the best talents had left.

On that last point, Taylor quotes Clough's assessment on arrival that:
"One of the greatest tragedies, to my mind, is the way quality players have been allowed to leave over the last five or six years."
As Premier League winning Wes Morgan, England squad member Michail Antonio and Bundesliga high flyer Oliver Burke all show, Clough could well have been describing the club right now.

Fawaz's failed ownership makes the committee of the 1970s look like the board of a FTSE 100 company, yet its clear that leadership off the field is a problem shared by both eras. While the ground and the crowds it attracts might also be talking points now we can, at least be grateful for the fact that we're not yet at 8,000 nor are we in need of a cat to chase away mice on the terraces.

Then there's the team of 75. That early Clough line-up is described by Taylor as a 'tired, depressed side with low morale and a tendency to slip into basic ineptitude' and as an outfit that conceded 'all manner of goals'. The lines could've been taken from Saturday's match report.

The situation in 1975 makes the success by the end of the decade all the more remarkable. Yet we can also see that Clough did struggle to get going at the start.

After winning his first match, Clough didn't garner a victory in any of the next 15 fixtures. Even after a year in charge, Clough's record was a meagre 11 wins in 41 matches. I've written before (for Seat Pitch here) how those sorts of numbers in the modern day would have earned Clough the sack from Fawaz (and a fair few other chairmen to be fair).

It's a point Taylor makes too. He writes:
"Clough was probably fortunate it was not the era of knee-jerk chairmen, cut-throat media and irritable internet bloggers, for there was little doubt the bloodhounds would have been on his scent."
It would be foolish to say that Montanier can go on to get anywhere close to Clough, of course. But Taylor's text certainly shows the folly of judging anyone this early on. Clough won two of his first 17 games, Montanier has won six. That doesn't mean he should be immune from criticism, last Saturday was poor after all. But it does, for me at least, show that even the very best need time to get things right.

Taylor shows how Clough and, crucially, Peter Taylor, came to run the club in their own way - calling the shots and running rings around the committee. Fast forward to 2016 and the single most significant figure at the club will be whoever takes the club from Fawaz. Whether it's - as we suspect - a consortium led by John Jay Moores or a late new bid from Evangelos Marinakis, their leadership off the field will be crucial in building a club befitting the tough environment of the Championship.

Yet there's probably one way in which the Clough era is still relevant to the current off the field considerations. The joyous events in the rest of the book established the club's name beyond these shores. We might be ridiculed as fans for being stuck in the past, but you can't help thinking that it's this past that means that, despite everything that has happened in the last few years, there are still several investors considering parting with big money to buy us.

That doesn't necessarily mean we'll attract the right buyer - Fawaz had been attracted by the past glories after all - but it does make us stand out from the crowd a little and helps people see beyond the current trials and tribulations. Investors must think that because we've been a success in the past that we can - within reason - be successful again in the future. You can guarantee that they'll mention it in their first press conference. We can only hope that they are right.

In some respects this is Clough's final miracle. The last bit of his stardust still - 12 years after his death and 23 years after he left the dugout - lingers and could well help us get our ticket out of the mire. It won't last forever, but for now the achievements of Clough, Taylor and their merry men are still making us a more attractive proposition. It's another thing to be thankful for.

Speaking of thankful, we're lucky to have a prominent writer of Taylor's talent on the scene. His book is a real treat and brings to life the men behind the miracle - a group of players who are only now getting due recognition.

The parallels between the pre-Clough era and the modern day certainly give food for thought. Let's hope we don't have to fall further to fall before things look up once again.

Friday, 21 October 2016

Why do Forest get so many injuries?

It has been a troubling week at the City Ground. By now we've all seen the stories in both The Guardian and The Sun and Fawaz's open letter to supporters by way of response. As the club veers towards becoming a laughing stock, we can now only hope that investors come forward and draw a line under this failed regime.

Yet, as the focus returns to matters on the field and the game against Cardiff City, I'm increasingly concerned at another long-running saga. Namely, the near-constant state of injury crisis at the City Ground.

Tuesday night's disappointing defeat at Ewood Park saw David Vaughan and Mustapha Carayol have to leave the field due to injuries. The loss of the man who is vital to making us tick and a man emerging as a potent attacking threat did little to help overcome a struggling Blackburn Rovers side.

Yet these two injuries were just the latest incidents that have marred the first 13 league games of the season. Indeed, by my reckoning, we've now seen 11 players taken off injured in games already this season - and have had to replace another player in the warm up.

They are:

  • Burton: Dorus de Vries
  • Brighton: Alex Iacovitti started because Thomas Lam was ill in the warm up
  • Wigan: Britt Assombalonga and Danny Fox
  • Leeds: Damien Perquis
  • Aston Villa: Matty Cash and Thomas Lam
  • Rotherham: Damien Perquis
  • Bristol City: Damien Perquis
  • Birmingham: Nicklas Bendtner
  • Blackburn: David Vaughan and Mustapha Carayol

Boss Philippe Montanier has come under fire for his own rotation policy, yet it hasn't helped the Frenchman to have had just five games where he's not had to make a enforced change. Yes, some of the same names crop up on that list a couple of times but that's still nine different players (I hope I've got them all) who have come off in games - and that doesn't even take into account others who have been injured in between fixtures such as Michael Mancienne.

Not only is the sheer frequency a worry, but so too is the fact that this is nothing new. In recent years serious injuries have robbed us of the chance to field the likes of Assombalonga, Matty Fryatt (anyone know where he is?), Andy Reid, Chris Cohen and Daniel Pinillos for long spells, while Jack Hobbs, David Vaughan, Kelvin Wilson and Jamie Ward are among the players who seem to have had a string of niggly issues.

There are probably individual reasons for every single injury that we suffer but, when you take a step back and look at the scale of the matter you can't help but wonder if there's something wrong.

Is there a problem with training? Do we have the right fitness staff in place? Have we signed the wrong players? Does chopping and changing the team make things worse? Are we just cursed?!

Sadly, I don't have the answers. I wish I did. Equally sadly, I reckon that this is a matter that might well not be addressed in the short term. Not only is the ownership issue a factor but so too, you feel, is the fact that a manager never sticks around long enough to be able to get on top of it.

I know every team bemoans its injuries but I'd love to know if another club has suffered so many long term issues as us in the last couple of years - or has had to haul off 11 players in the opening 13 games of the current season.

There are many things wrong with the club at the moment and the injury situation is one of them.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Montanier needs to lift the sense of déjà vu

While Philippe Montanier's English continues to improve, it's probably no crumb of comfort for him that it's a French term that neatly sums up the current mood at the City Ground. I certainly can't be the only one feeling a sense of 'déjà vu'.

The team's record in the first 11 games of 2016/17 is identical to the opening 11 games of the last campaign - three wins, three draws, five defeats. Even the goal difference, -3, is the same.

The August transfer window has been and gone and, right at the end, saw the manager stripped of a star asset - a pacy, physical attacking winger. For Antonio, read Burke.

Off the field, the club continues to be a huge concern. Outside of Fawaz, his chequebook and one or two others there is no structure. Pedro Pereira has, just like Leon Hunter and Paul Faulkner, left within a few months of starting a role at the club. The loss of the director of football makes a mockery of Fawaz's plans to invest the money from the sale of Burke, with the one man best placed to draw up a list of targets now having handed in his notice.

Montanier is, if the rumours are true, already under pressure to deliver better results, with the real risk of a sixth consecutive season in which we can't last the whole campaign with the same manager. Home attendances are poor and injuries have robbed us of the chance to field our strongest line up.

Yet, while there is a sense of depressing familiarity, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Off the field, it seems as though Fawaz has decided to sell up and is in talks with an as-yet unknown 'American consortium'. If he doesn't insist on a role in the new regime, he might well be able to hand the club over to someone who can make a better fist of it. This could well be some way off but hopefully being out of a transfer embargo will at least make the club more attractive to buyers.

While the lack of a director of football is a worry, there is - if Fawaz is good to his word - time and money to plan for a much better January transfer window than the usual disappointments.

While results on the field might technically be identical, there is also a sense that things on the pitch are different too.

Last year's first 11 games yielded just nine goals. This year that figure stands at 19. The football has been more entertaining, even if six consecutive squandered leads is cause for concern. Several signings are yet to show us their best form - including Nicklas Bendtner - and Britt Assombalonga could (fingers, toes and everything else crossed) finally be ready to return to more regular first team action.

The clean sheet problem needs to be sorted but the evidence of last season suggests that this can come in time. Even frugal Freedman only collected two clean sheets in the first 18 games of last season. Once he'd had time to work with his team, he managed to oversee six clean sheets in the 12 that then followed.

Hopefully Montanier has used the last couple of weeks wisely to draw up a plan to finally keep the first clean sheet of the season. It appeared as though he was heading towards a first choice 'back five' of Stojkovic, Lichaj, Mancienne, Perquis, Fox - injury notwithstanding. I hope, if this is his favoured five, he allows this time to knit together as a unit.

Montanier does have an opportunity to avoid following the pattern of previous seasons. While the four remaining games in October won't be easy, the home games against Birmingham and Cardiff and away trips to Blackburn and Reading should present a chance to pick up some points. A couple of wins would at least ease talk of the Frenchman's future.

There's much about the current season that appears to be following the same tired old pattern. There are, however, signs that we needn't get stuck in a tiresome 'groundhog season'. You feel that the next few weeks will do much to determine whether or not it's the glass half full or half empty path that 2016/17 takes. Déjà vu? Let's hope we're en route to a spot of joie de vivre instead.