The news when it came was, in fairness, rather surprising. But is anything even a shock anymore at this bewildering football club?
There was a natural instinct for some to react in correlation with their long held view that this manager was or wasn’t the answer. Delight or dismay.
While what seems like a majority just reacted with a shrug.
‘Another one gone.’
This latest managerial beheading is harder to conjure up words for. It would be easy to simply churn out the same message and the same worries. But this isn’t confusion like with Warburton or anger like with Karanka. I’m not really sure what this is. And that’s the problem.
There can be no doubt we have become numb to such events. The new shirt provoked more intense emotion than a change of manager. And that is probably understandable considering we currently average more managers than kits.
The Martin O’Neill saga was brief but tiring. It magnified divisions amongst fans that ran and ran, giving rise to arguments that showed no sign of being exhausted. Some cared deeply about supporting or, conversely, ousting him. A few just seemed to enjoy the chance to be nasty to one another.
Two extremes emerged – a collective who focussed on O’Neill’s contribution to Forest’s history and another who lamented his presence as a ‘job for the boys’ with a few delving into a murky layer of personal insults towards him. Yet what could easily be interpreted as a mass, arduous conflict was in reality two dozen people squabbling for four months online.
As I wrote not long after the first genuine cracks appeared in the O’Neill reign, I was never convinced that the man himself was the issue. Not really. More clearly I don’t think the (lack of) ability of whoever manages Nottingham Forest is the fundamental cornerstone that we think it is. Not at the moment anyway.
O’Neill’s era was only ever going to be months. We knew it. We knew he was a mayfly, existing for a short, and in the grand scheme of things, pointless period. A mayfly, however, might argue that their brief glimpse of life has meaning; a flourish of reproduction to bring about the next generation.
Our football managers offer no such legacy. Quite the opposite in fact.
And like a mayfly, Forest managers simply don’t last very long. Some will burn bright for a while giving an impression of endurance and threatening to break free from certain destiny. Others are picked off by an assortment of predators and are consumed in no time at all. Either way, their lifespan is fleeting. Over so quick.
O’Neill, as a result and in the nicest possible way, just wasn’t worth worrying about. He didn’t merit endless debate and conjecture about his capabilities because he was only ever going to be another casualty in what has now become an unsavoury quest for Premier League football. I can’t help but feel the same about Sabri Lamouchi – he’ll get my unequivocal backing as he will yours and we’ll soon be singing songs pleading with him to ‘Take Forest up for me’ no doubt. But in truth I’m already wondering which month he’ll leave.
O’Neill was not a terrible manager but I didn’t see him shaping Forest’s future for the positive. Part of that reason was because it was inevitable that the challenge offered to him was too great. O’Neill had all the disadvantages of the previous incumbents who held his role – a lack of time, sifting through the deadwood of previous eras and the rest but also with the added obstacle of following on from a turbulent few weeks that ended the Karanka reign and the catatonic state it left us in. O’Neill was resented because of that – not being a handsome Spaniard was a black mark against his name before the first press conference was over. That reason combined with a perception of O’Neill being a nostalgic appointment left a perilous path ahead.
Lamouchi will inherit a tough task but he will have the benefit of not being the man to pick up the pieces of the post-Christmas hullabaloo like his predecessor.
There was an inevitably about 2019/20 with O’Neill at the helm. Discontent would fester and, at some point, erupt. We all knew it. Furthermore, it was hard not to get the impression that some would be itching for it. The divisions would have grown wider. The suggestion that the players shared the view of some fans served to compound a sorry situation. And is a worry in its own right, especially with the suggestion that they were also instrumental in Karanka’s downfall.
Alas the deed was done. And without fuss. There was none of the nonsense that dominated the Karanka episode which is a blessing. Furthermore, the clinical nature of reacting to a perceived mistake was at least refreshing. There is no shame in getting it wrong and rectifying it.
40 years ago this summer Clough & Taylor sold Archie Gemmill to Birmingham and replaced him with Manchester City’s Asa Hartford. They realised their error within weeks and Hartford was promptly moved on. It happened again years later with John Sheridan. Provided they don’t become too regular then mistakes are not a reason to vilify.
O’Neill’s achievements in our shirt should not be reason enough to alter his fate but it should have been enough at the very least to afford him sanctuary from the more toxic attacks. It’s worth noting that such abuse was exclusive to social media which is hardly representative. But as unfortunate as it was it does demonstrate how disillusioned certain parts of the fanbase have become.
It is understandable why O’Neill became the focal point for ire from the support but he did not have the scope to put us into a tailspin alone. Any damage he did (or could do) is insignificant compared to the continuation of a strategy that places emphasis on promotion as quickly as possible and at any cost.
Events since Boxing Day reinforce this being a plan that has not worked and, I fear, will never work. Even if promotion was secured those ill prepared for it don’t often last long. Yes, they return with a lorry full of cash but, as we know all too well, money does not guarantee you a thing. And besides, our ambitions are clearly greater than a one season hurrah in the big league.
I do not profess to speak for anyone else here but I believe I am correct in suggesting that the new ownership succeeded originally in achieving our support, not because of the millions invested or the prospect of a return to the top flight, but because we subscribed to their vision of rebuilding NFFC from the ‘intensive care’ where it lay in 2017 after years of Kuwaiti neglect.
There was an effort from supporters to shed that image we have developed of being fans who quickly turn on our team. Think about it for a moment – we aren’t a support who regularly and vocally air our frustration after twenty minutes anymore are we? Nor have we turned on managers at games, another calling card of the past. The new regime helped move us forward because we joined them in wanting to create a stable, nurturing environment. We listened and responded.
Yet now that message has been trampled on. We are under the fourth manager in the two years of Greek rule and I’m not sure anybody really knows what to think anymore.
This is not meant to detract from a catalogue of brilliant endeavours to put Forest at the core of the city and the community. Such efforts are superb. But the football side is absolute. Everything comes back to it.
I can recall tweeting something a year ago acknowledging that we needed to strap in and enjoy the ride. I even added a nice rocket emoji to document our upward trajectory. In my defence I foolishly never considered we’d be on our third manager less than twelve months on!
The summer of 2018 was a giddy experience. But whereas lots of us were just happy to bask in a club reborn and taking its first solid steps towards a better place, we did not appreciate there was such a strict target for promotion. Or that the positivity that had been created was so finely balanced.
It’s not essential for fans and Club to be on the same page but it’s clearly advantageous. Are we comfortable with a model that places such an emphasis on the Premier League? It’s fine if we get there but what are the consequences if it’s still eluding us over the next 2-3 years?
And I’m not being rhetorical here. Mr Marianakis… What are the consequences?
My worry is that this is a damaging aim to crash through the shop front of the top division with the intent of grabbing as much riches as we can carry. And that this boom or bust approach not only strays us close to potential financial hardship but down a path that will alienate and aggrieve many supporters.
As I say, all is fine if we get there.
So much good has been done to reconnect supporters with the team but the these unprecedented numbers through the turnstile are not just the result of impressive pricing and marketing, they are due to belief in a football club that was going to climb out of the rubble and leave it behind for good. And it was faith in this regime specifically.
That faith is hardly running dry but it has now taken some hefty blows since last Christmas hasn’t it?
Still, the reappearance of our previous owner eager to poke his stupid fucking face into proceedings is a timely reminder that we are long way away from that sort of circus.
And I will stress that my words must not be interpreted as some sort of backlash against those running NFFC. They should retain all of our support without question. My intention is to highlight some legitimate concerns and to try and demonstrate why I think this is an absolutely critical time. This isn’t so much about wanting answers but for the powers that be to understand why supporters are cautious about what the new season brings. We as fans are a neglected dog – happy to have what seems like loving owners but still scarred by events of the past. Handle us with care!
On a broad scale there is still much to be happy about. I’d say we have a similar chance of promotion as last season, season ticket sales are close to matching last year’s level and we have stadium redevelopment plans gathering pace. We are not in crisis. Yet there is a level of disenchantment creeping forwards which shouldn’t be avoided but greeted.
As fans, we enter pre-season more world-weary. The contrast between the summer of 2018 and 2019 is stark, maybe the reduced expectations will transpire to help or perhaps a spending spree will get most of us feeling all warm and cosy once more. Certainly a number of early season victories will help diminish any concerns but that can never be relied upon as either a certainty or a litmus test for future success.
Without wanting to stray too far into the world of cliché there is a job for all of us in this. The O’Neill reign is finished and with it will hopefully be much of the discontent. But negativity breeds negativity and it’s a killer. It’s us supporters that are going to be key to restoring a united front. The rest we must hope will be addressed by those with a duty of care.
The manager’s role at NFFC should become less about the man who sits in the chair. He is undoubtedly vital but his character and his philosophy must be fluid – it should mould into our own desires and objectives that we set and, crucially, we stick with. The past is littered with the opposite of this where we change our own ideology on a whim to match our preferred candidate. The result is chaos.
Instead our man should be buying into an established system which allows some flexibility but has a rigid spine. Playing systems, player procurement and our aims should all emanate from this identity. Subsequent managers and operational staff will ease into this existing blueprint and have the opportunity to build upon the work of those who went before. Not swipe everything off the table and pick up a pencil to start again every six to twelve months.
As you can no doubt tell from my ramblings, I don’t really know what to make of it. We were assured about stability but it has not materialised – common sense suggests that ship has long since sailed but no-one is sure and it remains a point of confusion. Nevertheless, there is still hope that we can finally find the perfect mix of urgency and skill to take us up to the top table. However, I for one hope that our planning when it comes to promotion is based on an ‘if’ and not a ‘when’.
And finally, welcome Monsieur Lamouchi. May your stay with us be rewarding and… long. It will not, under any circumstances, be dull.