By sacking O’Driscoll, Fawaz has gambled the fans’ trust
The comparison was already being made, but it is unfortunate timing for the Al-Hasawis that their sacking of Sean O’Driscoll came the day before Venky’s-owned Blackburn Rovers axed Henning Berg. With Champions League-winning Roberto Di Matteo sacked from Chelsea a month ago, this latest pair of shock dismissals does little to dispel the idea that English clubs are mere playthings to capricious foreign owners.
Of the two, Berg’s sacking does seem the more drastic given that he had only had 57 days in charge (especially when compared to the long stay of execution the hapless Steve Kean was given by the same owners), but in those 57 days he had only managed one victory. O’Driscoll, on the other hand, had been significantly more successful during his brief time as Forest manager. The results he gained, while perhaps not spectacular and certainly not consistent, had nevertheless put us into a strong league position. Furthermore, he had steadied a very unsteady ship and oversaw the construction of a squad that nobody could deny had huge potential.
Like most of us, yesterday I was feeling angry and somewhat despairing at this latest turn of events. Writing about the departure of a manager and speculating about their replacement is a pretty regular occurrence on this website, but this particular incidence was arguably the most unexpected. When Billy Davies was sacked in June 2011, the storm clouds had been gathering for a long time. Still, that was a pretty disgusting move from the owner at the time and one that ultimately led to his downfall. Is Fawaz Al-Hasawi about to appoint his Steve McClaren?
As Sean O’Driscoll, Henning Berg and Roberto Di Matteo will all tell you, football can pull the rug out from underneath you quickly, and that applies to owners as well as managers. Obviously I hope this gamble by Fawaz pays off and Forest can be successful under the new manager, but ousting a boss who is largely popular for spurious reasons could easily backfire on the Kuwaiti.
Which would be a shame as prior to this things had been looking promising. Sure, there had recently been a few problems with club credit cards and outgoing payments, but the boardroom reshuffle that saw Omar Al Hasawi step down as chairman appeared to be a positive response to these administrative hiccups. Fawaz’s ascension came with promises of a more hands-on approach and was shortly followed by the installation of our swanky new video screens, more cause to expect a bright new era.
Since the Al-Hasawi family took over in the summer, it has been regularly noted that the new owners had been ‘saying all the right things’. They played down expectations, talked of long-term plans and seemed happy to subscribe to O’Driscoll’s footballing philosophy. They were also backing the manager with cash for wages, allowing him to hastily assemble a team that earned praise for its style of football within a few matches.
But in recent weeks all that seems to have fallen by. First we were told by the press that the club had moved their sights to promotion this season and the next thing we know the manager is deemed inadequate for the task. There is a massive contradiction here and it smacks of duplicity. Either the talk of measured aspirations earlier in the season was rubbish and O’Driscoll was only ever a short-term appointment, or the owners really are so changeable and impatient as to completely revise their plans within a matter of months.
I’m not sure which scenario is more worrying. On the bright side it does suggest that money isn’t really an issue if they are willing to pay off one manager so early in his contract and then hire a big name to replace him. But then if they are so desperate to get promoted this season, what does that mean if the new boss should fail to deliver? Are they only interested in running Forest as a Premier League operation, or have they got the balls to see a long haul through?
The last owner spent more than a decade trying to do it, at no little expense and with a variety of managers not quite being up to the task. Forest fans knew that hiring a famous face and chucking money around doesn’t automatically equate to promotion – in fact it can nearly get you relegated. That was what made the appointment of unglamorous Sean O’Driscoll so refreshing. For a while all the talk was about football instead of boardroom politics and we seemed to landing our transfer targets with remarkable efficiency. It seemed lessons had been learned from the past.
Now those lessons have been unlearned and we’re back in the unknown. I don’t think this is a time for rash reactions. We haven’t quite become the circus that QPR and Blackburn became after their foreign takeovers, but that frightening possibility does seem more real than it was a few weeks ago. Fawaz has blown his reputation with this gamble and he will only regain it if it pays off. It’s not the time for picketing outside the City Ground, but it is the time to pay very close attention to what our new owners do next. Trust is a big part of the relationship between club and fans, and our trust seems to have been betrayed. If we are a plaything, the Al-Hasawis should remember that children have their playthings taken away from them if they treat them too roughly.