Here we go again. Make that 7 managers in 5 seasons for the Championship’s most dysfunctional football club. Dougie Freedman the latest casualty of Fawaz Al-Hasawi’s bizarre reign as chairman of Nottingham Forest Football Club.
In fairness to Fawaz the timing of this sacking makes slightly more sense than some of the previous occasions that he’s pulled the trigger, like when Sean O’Driscoll was axed despite having Forest on the brink of the playoffs after beating Leeds United on Boxing Day. The latest run of five defeats in six games has been fairly brutal, with Forest outplayed at home by strugglers Bristol City and Huddersfield Town then dismantled 3-0 by Sheffield Wednesday this weekend. A game that featured some of the worst defending I’ve ever seen from a Forest side (which is saying something).
Yet while it almost made sense in that regard it has since become clear that Fawaz had no replacement lined up for Freedman, instead Paul Williams (whoever that is) has been drafted in from the backroom staff as interim manager until the end of the season, with the perennially injured Forest legend Andy Reid joining him on the coaching staff in what seems like a desperate, populist move. An attempt to get the fans back on side before the atmosphere turns even sourer.
That’s not the only strange element to Freedman’s sacking; it wasn’t long ago that Fawaz had a very different perspective on Freedman. In January Freedman quoted the chairman as saying ‘you’ll be here a long-time and you’re the future of this club’ with Forest on an impressive 14 match unbeaten run that extended from November into February.
No mean feat given the array of issues Forest is faced with. Hamstrung by a transfer embargo imposed after falling to abide by the rules of Financial Fair Play Forest have to do their shopping on the cheap, unable to pay a transfer fee or give out wages over £10k a week. As a result Freedman has signed a collection unwanted players, Nelson Oliveria and Ryan Mendes have come in on loan from Benfica and Lille respectively and have boosted their reputation with some impressive performances. Likewise Matts Mills and Jamie Ward, let go by Bolton Wanders and Derby County respectively, have been two of Forest’s finest performers this season. Freedman has also had to contend the sale of main goalscoring threat Michail Antonio to West Ham towards the end of the summer transfer window, as well as a ridiculous injury crisis that has seen Britt Assombalonga, Andy Reid, Henri Lansbury, Chris Cohen, Robert Tesche, Dani Pinillos (another player drafted on a free) and now Nelson Oliveira side-lined for an extended period of time.
You have to wonder what exactly was expected from Freedman given the circumstances. The consensus pre-season seemed to be that anything apart from a relegation scrap would be acceptable and Freedman has more than delivered on that. Forest fans have always liked Fawaz, he said the right things when he joined club about its history and identity and seems very passionate too, but he is starting to appear like the epitome of the modern chairman. He has no long-term vision for the club; he’s easily led by social media and oblivious to what is best for club. His mismanagement of finances and instance on dumping a manager at the first sign of trouble has left Forest directionless, stagnant in Championship mid-table.
Although it’s not just an irrational chairman that has created these problems, Forest fans whose expectations often feel like they belong another era, undoubtedly bear some guilt for Freedman’s departure.
Even during the long unbeaten run Freedman was attacked by the fans for his dour football and not living up to the ‘Forest Way’, which seems to be based on Clough once saying ‘if God had wanted us to play football in the clouds, he’d have put grass up there’, forgetting that a big part of Clough’s success was due to a solid defence and counter-attacking football. Additionally concerns about declining attendances perhaps have more to do with the £32 ticket prices and the growing apathy surrounding the club rather than the style of football played under Freedman.
Freedman was also criticised for not giving youth players a chance. Yet he oversaw Ben Osborn’s rise to one of the best midfielders in league and gave Oliver Burke a run in the team that led to the youngster being called up to the Scotland squad. Of course it would have been nice to see Jorge Grant and Tyler Walker given an extended run in the team as well, but Charlton and Bolton are examples of what happens when you throw young players into a team and hope for the best.
It’s no surprise that the most impressive results this season have come away from home, where Forest have picked up victories at Loftus Road, The Riverside and Elland Road in front of the more vocal and loyal away supporters. Too many fans (me included sometimes) turn up at the City Ground acting as though we’re still the heyday of the 1980s, treating league games against the likes of Huddersfield and Bristol City as if they were inconvenient cup ties against some lower league minnows and expect us to win 2-0 or 3-0 with ease. Every minor mistake or backwards pass is met with a chorus of groans and the fans seem all too ready to boo the side.
I know it’s a frustrating time to be a Forest fan, and I’m sure we all felt a pang of jealously when the Wednesday fans broke into a chant of ‘we’re on our way back’ contrasted with how far away we are from the Premier League. Yet the only way we’re going to get there again is if actually stick by whoever is appointed in the summer and accept things might get worse before they get better.