The only certain thing is uncertainty

by , April 27, 2012

With relegation comfortably brushed off as if it were never a worry (yeah right!) and nothing to play for but pride in tomorrow’s season-closer, this would normally be a time when fans start looking ahead to next season. But right now what can we really say for definite about next season?

Our future as a football club has never been more uncertain. In the club’s history we have been through several scrapes and close-calls in terms of financial security, but never found ourselves in such a limbo as this one. We’re an owner-less club, sitting on the lost property shelf of football waiting for someone to claim us. We’re a Peruvian bear wandering around Paddington Station with a hopeful note attached to our duffle coat. We’re Peter Pan searching the bedrooms of Edwardian London for a mother. We’re… okay, you get the idea.

The point is, I haven’t got much else to say about the club’s ownership problem. I haven’t got any boardroom contacts who can let me know exactly how many consortium are locked in a fierce bidding war, nor have I seen any tell-tale camels in the Main Stand car park. I know nothing and I suspect that most of the people who claim to know something know even less than me.

The vote to introduce Financial Fair Play regulations in the Championship will obviously have huge implications for all clubs at our level, but for Forest particularly it will affect the kind of investment we receive. Sheikhs with millions burning holes in the pockets of their thawb, and other such frivolous playboys, will be put off, but on the other hand someone who genuinely wants the challenge of turning around a football club will appreciate the new levelling measures and might see Forest in a better position to compete on this fairer playing field than others. The likes of Vichai Raksriaksorn will no longer be able to splash unlimited riches on new playing staff, so it stands to reason that Forest should be able to compete in future without breaking the bank. Our recent opponents Reading have shown that it was possible to win promotion with sensible spending even before FFP, but the regulations will make it even more so.

Sensible spending is what Forest will need to do over the summer, as well as sensible selling. Steve McClaren left our squad bloated with over-valued, over-paid players we simply do not need. Before his death Nigel Doughty had, when talking about FFP, predicted a drastic reduction in Championship squad sizes, so why on earth did he let McClaren fill our ranks with forwards (Derbyshire, Miller) and central midfielders (Greening, Boateng) when those were the positions we already had good cover for? As has been the case for every summer in recent memory, a left-back is a priority in the transfer market this off-season, but shedding some of the dead wood is just as important.

Rather than deadwood, we might be shedding some very fruitful young shoots this summer. Garath McCleary is obviously the first name that springs to mind, but with Joel Lynch and Luke Chambers both seeing their terms expire this summer the squad could end up even more unbalanced unless renewals can be negotiated. The lack of an owner to guarantee any contracts offered is, as the manager complained of before our last game, already holding Forest back in their preparations for 2012/13 – we can’t sign up current players and we can’t offer deals to new ones.

And of course the manager himself is still an area of doubt. Or more accurately, the management team. Steve Cotterill’s position would seem to be safe after guiding us to promotion, but there is a wide-spread view that Sean O’Driscoll’s appointment as first team coach was a key factor in our turnaround of form. As someone who called for people to support Cotterill earlier in the season, I don’t think it’s a concession to also agree with that – every manager needs support and one of the many problems Cotterill faced when he joined the club was working with the previous manager’s back-room staff. Current talk is of Stuart Gray, Cotterill’s assistant at Portsmouth, joining the City Ground staff and even though Cotterill hardly has universal support amongst fans, the more of his own people he can have around him can only be a good thing. If he can’t sign any players, he might as well get that sorted out.

It would take Donald Rumsfeld to describe all the things we know we don’t know and the things we don’t even know we don’t know about next season. In fact the only thing we really know we know is that we’ll be playing in the Championship. As John Pelling told Radio Nottingham today, relegation would have put a dent of £5 million into the club’s yearly turnover. Nice to know. We can’t speculate with any purpose about next season and I suspect the season that ends tomorrow is one that few Forest fans will want to spend long reflecting on tomorrow. But at least, uncertain as out future is, we know it’s not as bad as it could have been. So, for that at least, well done and thank you to Steve Cotterill, Sean O’Driscoll and the Forest boys who have stepped up in the last couple of months. It’s going to be a long and intriguing summer and maybe we’ll see you on the other side.