The annual Nottingham Forest post mortem – Interview
Sunday, 4th Apr 2021 16:51 by Clive Whittingham
Another enormous intake of new signings and summer of hope has given way to another winter of disappointment at Nottingham Forest. We asked Jack McCormick…
..what went wrong this time?
I’d usually read back what I wrote in September, but I’m not going to. Let's face it, I was wrong. We all were. We all, always, are.
Forest are the Covid-19 of the Championship; a squad mutating from one season to the next, while the poor man who finds himself in charge this time struggles desperately to find the vaccine we need to finally drag ourselves out of the wrong end of the division, all the while helplessly aware that he, too, is being rapidly infected and will have to be put out of his misery before long.
We've tried all sorts to rid ourselves of the disease, but we're more or less guaranteed to be here, or there, or thereabouts, for the rest of our lives. It's an inconvenience we need to learn to live with.
But what in particular has been causing a spike in Forest-related deaths this season, you ask? The science, at least, suggests an overdose of change.
Sabri Lamouchi was the first manager to escape the sack for a whole season in more than a decade. We welcomed that stability, and it really should've led to at least another ill-fated date with our psychotic two-legged ex-girlfriend. We were excellent for most of the season, but we burned out horribly towards the end before famously capitulating on the final day.
The answer? A glut of new signings, supposedly chosen by the manager, who we then decide to sack five games in. Yes, we'd only scored once in those five. Yes, we looked awful. And, yes, it was a continuation of the poor form that saw us crash out of the running last time. But was it really worth yet another new manager? A new project that would take another whole season to bed in, at which point we'd probably get bored and start again?
Shock, horror, it wasn't. Chris Hughton is, in theory, the perfect man for the job. Prestige, experience of this division and a track record of getting out of it - the sort of manager we've been crying out for. But, as we should really know by now, it's almost impossible to sack a manager during a season and for the new guy to turn things around. Even when you do it so early on. Hughton's job very quickly became keeping us in the Championship - a far cry from the promotion tilt we'd all been dreaming of.
But that's what happens when you're addicted to change. New players, new manager, new coaches, new style of play. Every. Single. Year. And if you spend too much time on Twitter you'll see a good chunk of our fans think it's a good idea to do the whole dance again this summer.
I haven't even mentioned the rumours of a video call where our board undermined Sabri in front of all the players, after the first game of the season, and told a few of them they'd never play for us again. But we've all got a subscription to The Athletic.
I'm sure I'll find myself here again, year after year, conducting a post mortem on what had looked like a promising season. You're very kind to have given me the opportunity later on to explain why next year will, of course, be our year.
Forest league results thus far…
What's the general consensus on Hughton? It's not exactly inspiring to watch is it?
This is 2021, Clive, there is no ‘general consensus’. As is so often the case these days, there are simply two polar opposite schools of thought. You must be willing to die on one of these hills: either he's the right man for the job and must be given time to prove it, or he's another terrible manager who plays dire football and will only keep us up by sheer fluke.
Not that you’d know it when you see us setting up against Norwich to very clearly try and nick a 0-0, at home. Yes, they're the best team in the league, but we made them look like Man City. They were 2-0 up in 13 minutes. On the flip side, three days later we went to Brentford and put out a team that could actually give them a game - and we did. But for a dodgy penalty conceded, we'd have won the game. And poor Thomas "xG" Frank would have been even more annoyed with the scoreline.
So, there have been signs that, if we stick with him for a while longer, Hughton might indeed be able to build a team that can challenge at the right end - but isn't it ridiculous that I'm writing these words less than a year after we had one? Equally, if we're not careful, we could easily find ourselves back in a relegation fight. We're certainly not safe.
Another £30m+ loss announced in the accounts, thick end of 20 players signed since then, are Forest basically just banking on FFP not being a thing because of the pandemic?
It would seem that way, wouldn't it? I'd remind you we sold off another of our best players in the summer (Matty Cash) to bankroll more terrible moves in the transfer market, so our accounts shouldn't look too bad next time - and our owner has written off a chunky loan that should help. But, yes, you get the impression we're only a season or two away from some sort of penalty.
UEFA is, however, making noises suggesting FFP will be scrapped or replaced with something different, which would be an interesting one - and I've read that the rules will be relaxed for this season regardless. Both of our clubs would have reason to feel aggrieved at the sanctions we've faced since FFP was introduced - and the extremely dubious ways certain clubs have tried to get around it - if it was to be suddenly binned.
But it would also mean our very wealthy owner could properly splash some cash without being too worried about the consequences. QPR, of course, the cautionary tale there.
Here we go then…
Summer Ins >>> Harry Arter, 30, CM< Bournemouth, Undisclosed >>> Loic Mbe Soh, 19, CB, Paris SG, £4.5m >>> Scott McKenna, 23, CB, Aberdeen, £2.94m >>> Fouad Bachirou, 30, DM, Malmo, £630k >>> Nikolas Ioannou, 24, LB, Nicosia, £450k >>> Lyle Taylor, 30, CF, Charlton, Free >>> Jack Colback, 30, DM, Newcastle, Free >>> Tyler Blackett, 26, LB, Reading, Free >>> Miguel Angel Guerrero, 30, CF, Olympiacos, Free >>> Abdoulaye Diallo, 29, GK, Genclerbirligi, Free >>> Luke Freeman, 28, AM, Sheff Utd, Loan >>> Anthony Knockaert, 28, RW, Fulham, Loan >>> Cyrus Christie, 27, RB, Fulham, Loan >>> Cafu, 27, CM, Olympiacos, Loan
Summer Outs >>> Matty Cash, 23, RWB, Villa, £14m >>> Tiago Silva, 27, CM, Olympiacos, Undisclosed (because of course) >>> Tyler Walker, 23, CF, Coventry, Undisclosed >>> Liam Bridcutt, 31, DM, Lincoln, Free >>> Ben Watson, 35, CM, Charlton, Free >>> Albert Adomah, 32, RW, QPR, Free >>> Yohan Benalouane, 34, CB, Aris Saloniki, Free >>> Costel Pantilimon, 34, GK, Denizlispor, Free >>> Luke Steele, 35, GK, Released >>> Brennan Johnson, 19, CF, Lincoln, Loan >>> Joao Carvalho, 24, AM, Almeria, Loan Jordan Gabriel, 22, RB, Blackpool, Loan >>> Nuno Da Costa, 30, CF, Mouscron (Belgium), Loan
Winter Ins >>> Glenn Murray, 37, CF, Brighton, Loan >>> Filip Krovinovic, 25, AM, Benfica, Loan >>> James Garner, 19, CM, Man Utd, Loan
Winter Outs >>> Tendayi Darikwa, 29, RB, Wigan, Free >>> Zach Clough, 26, AM, Wigan, Free >>> Nikolas Ioannou, 25, LV, Aris Saloniki, Loan
14 players signed last summer, further additions in January, some huge wages being paid, and yet bottom half of the table - who's doing this recruitment? Why is it so shambolic?
We have a recruitment team, but most of them don't seem to know what's required to win a game of Championship football. We had the failed Mendes/Portugal experiment (our record signing is currently on loan at Almeria in the Spanish second tier), we've tried sending players back and forth between us and Olympiacos (who our owner also owns - more likely a clever way around FFP than a way of securing the best talent), and we've tried signing 'proven' Championship quality. But perhaps that's the problem - we never stick with a transfer policy long enough to see whether it'll work.
The main recruitment guy is also the main recruitment guy for Olympiacos, which raises obvious questions over where his priorities lie. If he spots the next big thing, who does he sign them for? Do we just end up with all his plan Bs? Is he paying us that much attention?
More promisingly, we did restructure recruitment a little recently, with Gary Brazil - who runs our very fruitful youth academy - now part of the team and responsible for suggesting young or lower-league players to go after. And it seems Hughton has strong influence, given he tried to sign his entire promotion-winning Brighton team in January.
I wouldn't want QPR to be judged by QPR Twitter, maybe Forest is the same, but last summer after signings 11, 12, 13, 14, so many comments underneath the announcements were still along the lines of "one more winger and a striker and we'll be ok". Is there any noise, anywhere at Forest that this colossal player turnover every year is perhaps a big part of the problem?
Generally speaking, I'd say the majority of fans - and many of the supporters' groups - are aware that we've made way too many signings in recent years. I'm as guilty as anyone for getting over-excited at the team we'd put together, and not really thinking about how unsustainable the whole thing was.
But we do have quite a few players out of contract at the end of this season, so it's not likely to be a quiet summer. It's great that we'll be able to ship out some of the 'bomb squad', but it does mean another close swason of considerable change.
Will that mean they need time to gel? Probably. Will Hughton realistically be given it? Probably not.
Player of the year candidates?
Bloody hell, are you really asking this one? It would not be a stretch to see James Garner winning it, despite just turning 20 and having only signed on loan from Man Utd in January, after a relatively anonymous spell at Watford. He's been absolutely brilliant in the middle of the park and I’d expect him to be getting into the Man Utd squad in another year or two. I'd love for us to sign him on loan for another season, but I think he's too good for us.
The only other shout would be Joe Worrall, who must be one of the best centre backs in the league. I'm not sure we'll keep hold of him much longer, he's been Mr Consistent this year and has really proven why he's so highly rated by the club. Another who is way too good for us, unfortunately.
Particular weak links in the side?
Our full backs. Their main job is to bomb forward and supply crosses, but none of them are very good at this. That said, Cyrus Christie would probably win 'most improved player', because despite being rubbish in the first half of the campaign he's turned into one of our better players. It’s a low bar.
Our strikers are the other major problem area. The hotly contested race for top scorer is currently a tie between Lyle Taylor and own goals. Four for each. Can own goals hold down a place in the side for the remaining 10 games, or will Lyle Taylor decide to stop rolling around on the floor and moaning at the ref? Stay tuned for what’s sure to be a thrilling conclusion.
Why will next season be different?
Here we go. Next season will be our season because...
I'm really not sure any more. Will it? Won't it? Who'll be in charge? Will any of the 11 we put out on Monday even be at the club? Will any of us be allowed in to watch it?
There are so many unpredictabilities with Forest, it's impossible to know what next season will look like.
But next season will be our season because it has to be. We've been out of the top flight for 23 years now, and are still one of only two or three clubs in the entire football league to have never played at the new Wembley. Can we just agree we're due some sort of happiness, at some point?
On a practical note, we do have the bones of a decent side, if we can keep our best players, and we have some really excited youngsters coming through — again, if they’ll stay with us. Alex Mighten is a teenage winger who’s been getting some game time this season, and looks like he has explosive potential. He’s capped at every level for England up to U19s, who he was with during the international break. Then there’s Brennan Johnson, son of David, who’s been on loan at Lincoln — and has just been away with the Wales senior squad. He’s an attacking midfielder or winger who has been very impressive in League One, and a lot of people are hopeful he’ll make the step up next season.
The problem there is Hughton has a history of not playing youngsters. And is this approach even what our board wants? Or do they want a team of 30-somethings who’ll drain our reserves before retirement, but keep us handsomely in touching distance of 21st place? Again, I have no idea.
But that's why I’ll be back for more punishment in August, once again with all the blind optimism that keeps us paying our hard-earned wages to watch 11 overpaid footballers consistently disappoint us.
Is that the promise of promotion I smell, wafting over the Trent? Maybe it’s just the smell of Bovril and shit lager, and the piss-flooded men’s toilets. But I wouldn’t swap it for the world.
Links >>> Official Website >>> Nottingham Post – Local Press >>> LTLF – Message Board >>> Bandy and Shinty – Fanzine >>> Forza Garibaldi – Blog >>> LFW Reciprocal Interview >>> Matchday with Max – YouTube Channel
The Twitter @jack_mccormick, @loftforwords
Pictures – Action Images
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