Is McLeish facing Mission Impossible?

by , December 28, 2012

If I’ve understood the circumstances of Sean O’Driscoll’s sacking and Alex McLeish’s appointment correctly, the Scot has five months to win promotion – and even less time to win over the fans.

On the whole I think the reaction from supporters to McLeish’s arrival has been pretty negative and this must have come as a shock to Fawaz Al-Hasawi. So far he has had a hugely positive reception from the Forest fanbase, with Kuwaiti flags fluttering in the City Ground stands and his Twitter feed attracting a cult following. But as Alex pointed out yesterday, he’s now gambled away that good will and can only get it back if McLeish delivers the goods come May.

But what are the chances of that happening? McLeish’s record as a manager is one of the more successful of the supposed candidates. Neither Mark Hughes or Roy Keane have won major trophies as McLeish has. Outside the Premiership, McLeish’s record is actually very impressive. Of course the flip-side is that his Premier League record is horrendous, but that’s not really an issue at the moment.

The trouble is, I don’t think it is his managerial CV that is the issue here. Forest fans object to McLeish because he comes with a reputation for negative, cynical football. That, more than anything, is what stands between him and winning us over. We famously like our football played a certain way at the City Ground and a manager already arriving in controversial circumstances will endear himself to few by packing the defence and aiming long balls at the forwards.

Would it matter? Dave Bassett wasn’t known for his total football approach and few were complaining when he led us to the First Division championship in 1998. I suspect that any reservations we have about McLeish’s style would be quickly forgotten in end-of-season celebrations.

But what concerns me is that I don’t believe Forest are currently equipped for the type of football many fear McLeish will bring to Nottingham. We don’t have a Nikola Zigic to aim long balls at – we have a Dexter Blackstock to aim crosses at, a Billy Sharp to play through-balls to, and a Simon Cox to torment defenders will the ball at his feet.

Furthermore, we’ve hardly got the most reliable defence at the moment. Maybe in that respect McLeish will succeed where O’Driscoll failed, but under O’Driscoll it was inescapable that we played out best football when we stopped worrying about defensive weaknesses and concentrated on our attacking strengths, just as we did in O’Driscoll’s last match against Leeds.

Will McLeish require even more reshaping of the squad, and if so, how is that conducive to a promotion charge and the consistency Fawaz Al-Hasawi called for in his statement on Boxing Day? Or will McLeish realise that he has a group of players potentially at their best when they pass the ball around as Sean O’Driscoll had been instructing them to do and change his style accordingly?

These are tough questions to see the answers to and I can’t help think they should have been considered before such a rash measure was taken by our chairman. But what’s done is done. All we can do now is hope for the best, hope our doubts are proved wrong, hope that faith in Fawaz can be restored.

Similar conversations were being had when Billy Davies was appointed, and he was certainly able to win over the supporters. But the events and statements of the last few days heap a huge amount of pressure onto McLeish. I can’t help but question his sanity in taking the job. He’s obviously keen for the challenge, and that’s encouraging, but it will most certainly be the biggest challenge of his career to date – not only must he secure promotion by the end of the season to justify his appointment, he must also get an extremely sceptical crowd on his side. Without the latter he’s going to find the former all the harder.