The news broken in the national papers this week that Steve McClaren was set to resign after barely three months in charge at the City Ground would have shocked the majority of football fans reading it. However for the majority of Forest fans, it was merely the culmination of the latest saga in the never ending battle between the boardroom and the manager.
It centres around the chairman Nigel Doughty and his perceived lack of investment in recent times, along with widespread criticism of the so-called ‘Transfer Acquisitions Panel’ consisting of Doughty, Chief Executive Mark Arthur, Finance Director John Pelling and football consultant David Pleat. Although many clubs have a similar process of signing players, what doesn’t aid the situation at Forest is the publication of this term which has become synonymous with the club’s transfer failings, especially in the eyes of supporters.
It is a debate which first surfaced in January 2010, with Billy Davies in charge. Having led Forest to second place with a demolition of West Bromwich Albion at The Hawthorns, Davies stated that his young and vibrant squad were only a couple of players short of maintaining their push for automatic promotion and a return to the top flight for the first time since 1999. The loan acquisition of Nicky Shorey was an exceptional piece of business, but the expiration of his loan coincided with Forest’s slip. His permanent signing may well have been the difference. Forest’s squad was talented but thin and required depth that never came.
In Doughty’s defence, he spent in excess of £5m in Davies’ first summer, including £1.75m on Chris Gunter from Spurs, £1m on David McGoldrick and substantial fees on both Paul McKenna and Dexter Blackstock. However chairman’s perceived inability to take advantage of a great opportunity is what angers the fans. The following summer Forest barely strengthened, and went into another long season with a threadbare squad. Despite being firmly in the playoff picture, come January, Forest failed to strengthen to the extent required bringing in just Marcus Tudgay on a permanent transfer following a loan spell. A deal was not reached for Ryan Bertrand who had impressed on loan from Chelsea, and despite the exciting loans of Aaron Ramsey and Paul Knochesky, the former was short of fitness and the latter flattered to deceive.
There is a general consensus that Billy Davies’ outspoken nature regarding transfers was one of the reasons for his departure. But having made the brave and expensive decision to replace the man who had led Forest to their two highest league finishes in the last decade, Doughty turned to the big name, the former England boss McClaren. Fans generally were disappointed at the departure of Davies, however there was a realisation that in a battle between a manager and a chairman, there is only one winner. There was also excitement that a manager with European titles and international experience was coming to the City Ground, with his extensive contact book and a highly regarded coaching ability in the game. But what would be the point in making such a change and not backing him in the transfer market? Forest have let nine players go, albeit the majority being squad players, and brought in just five. Only two of these have cost fees, with powerful striker Ishmael Miller costing £1.2m from West Bromwich and experienced midfielder Jonathan Greening for a fee in the region of £600,000.
The Championship has evolved into what many call ‘Premier League Two’, with big wages, transfer fees, big name players and big name managers all evident. This makes the division ever more competitive, and perhaps this highlights another dimension this summer. The aim of the club for the last two and a half years has undoubtedly been promotion and this was enhanced with the appointment of McClaren. However with many of Forest’s rivals strengthening, it perhaps portrays Forest’s lack of signings in an even more negative light. Leicester have spent in excess of £15m, and whilst there is an acknowledgement Forest cannot compete with that, West Ham have signed twelve players, Hull and Ipswich have strengthened with quality, Cardiff have replaced what they have lost and newly promoted Brighton and Southampton have shown real ambition. In order for Forest to maintain their top six status, yet alone challenge higher, they must match the ambition shown by these clubs, many of which have similar or smaller budgets. The ‘stellar signings’ Forest have attempted to acquire this summer have mainly failed, with Forest unprepared to meet the wage demands of Wayne Routledge, or the asking price for Jermaine Beckford or Nicky Maynard. This is worryingly similar to the Whittingham/Pratley debacle twelve months prior.
What has further angered fans is Mr Doughty’s constant referral to the Financial Fair Play regulations coming into force at the start of next season. This, although prudent, carries little weight as an excuse as many of Forest’s rivals are making moves in the market. In addition to this, poor displays against Barnsley, Millwall, Notts County and for seventy minutes against Leicester have enhanced this. Against West Ham, despite having the majority of the play, Forest’s usually solid defence was embarrassed by four soft goals, which could have been more.
Despite McClaren confirming resignation was never an option, this latest saga, be it based on unfulfilled promises on the part of the board or a general lack of ambition shows a clear communication problem between the bench and the boardroom. Is it that the ambition is to challenge for the playoffs and therefore the investment is justified, or a tilt for the title in which case the frustrations of the fans and the manager are completely justified. It is important to remember that Doughty has put an estimated £70m into the club since purchasing it, and undoubtedly saved Forest from administration. This coupled with the catastrophic mistakes made in the Platt era carry some justification to his stance. However, the concerns raised by Davies and now McClaren are surely more than coincidence. The fact remains if Forest want to challenge, they have to invest. And if they back McClaren, they just may get the best out of him and take that biggest of small steps from the playoffs to the Premierleague.
This article was written by Adam Hendry, follow him on twitter here: http://twitter.com/#!/adamhendry14