Pragmatism: the new P-word
I’m afraid I have some rather alarming news to tell you: in recent weeks some Forest fans have attempted to count the number of injuries the club is suffering with, resulting in several dying of old age before reaching the end of their list. Those who have survived this gruelling process have been left severely traumatised and depressed. Do not attempt this at home, folks. Take my word for it: it’s a lot. You know that quote from Douglas Adams about how ‘hugely, mind- bogglingly big’ the universe is? Our injury list is even longer than that!
And now I am going to make this immeasurable list even more immeasurable by adding Billy Davies’ name – not necessarily because he’s injured (though he does have a severe case of Angry Little Man Syndrome), but because his five-game touchline ban is yet another factor in our season falling apart, falling apart to the stage where I think trying to rebuild would be as vain an effort as trying to rescue those crumbling walls in Pompeii.
Those who believe the players we have remaining are still capable of promotion, with or without the manager in the dugout, are deluding themselves, as the last two results should have proven. Against promotion-chasing sides we simply can’t compete right now. It’s not just that the line-ups against Burnley and Wigan were absolutely terrible – players like Moussi and Majewski have been key figures for us in past play-off campaigns, after all. The trouble is, throwing these players into the team at this particular moment means they need to be hitting the peak of their performance after a season spent mostly watching from the stands.
That’s not going to happen. Nor is a team cobbled together from those left milling around once the club physio has done his morning roll-call going to gel together quickly enough as a unit. To get promoted you need to be hitting form right about now and form is something that comes from a settled line-up playing a settled system.
A few weeks ago the aptly named ‘Pharkin Khuntz’ called LTLF contributor Tony Morgan a member of the ‘idiot internet generation’ for having ‘unrealistic expectations’. He was responding to an article in which Tony quite clearly stated: ‘After recent set-backs I’m lowering my expectations for this season.’ If Tony’s expectations that Forest would no longer make automatic promotion but should hold onto their play-off place were not ‘realistic’ enough for Mr Khuntz, maybe my gloomy outlook that the Reds’ season is ruined and even the play-offs would be lucky is more in keeping with what he believes Forest fans should be thinking.
It’s not that I’ve given up all hope or I’m in a fit of depression after the last few results. I’m just trying to be pragmatic. With this injury list, anyone who says promotion is still the most likely outcome is either kidding themselves or trying to light a bonfire under Billy Davies. It would probably be impossible to quantify, but I suspect this is the worst injury crisis the club has ever known. We’re only still able to field a full XI because of huge investment in the team in recent years.
Some have called for the club to splash even more cash by bringing in loan players to replace the likes of Vaughan and Lansbury. But even if suitable players were available, the recent news that Forest overspent by £17m last season shows why this isn’t a viable strategy. This season’s books are likely to land Forest in FFP hot water if the losses haven’t been curbed – we shouldn’t exacerbate this by trying to patch-up a season falling apart at the seams. Spending any more now would be chucking good money after bad.
So what’s the alternative strategy? Give up? Well, we need to at least give up the expectations we had earlier in the season. Of course I expect the players to still give their utmost in our remaining fixtures, but from a long-term strategic point of view we need to get our heads round the idea that this season is probably a write-off. Freak circumstances are to blame and sometimes you have to accept that a situation can’t be turned around.
What Forest need to do now is start preparing for next season. If we can nurse Chris Cohen, Kelvin Wilson, David Vaughan, Henri Lansbury, Jack Hobbs, Andy Reid… (I better stop here before I too die of old age) …back to full fitness over the summer, we can start a new campaign with potentially the strongest squad in the Championship. Why hamper that by spending money now?
More importantly, why completely balls it up by sacking the manager now? At the start of the season many quite rightly spoke about how promotion this season had to be Billy’s target. But who could have foreseen this many injuries? When circumstances change, and regardless of whatever is going on inside the mind of ‘Pharkin Khuntz’, it is idiotic not to adjust your expectations to fit. Media-snubbing, referee-shoving and cousin-employing aside, Billy has done little wrong this season. We’ve signed good players and we’ve all seen the glorious football Forest have produced with a fit team – sacking Billy because of events out of his control would be throwing away that potential.
I’m sure this article will receive responses accusing me of pessimism. I’ll admit that calling a season a write-off when you are still four points clear in the play-off zone with 13 games left to play is a tad on the half-empty side. I’m just trying to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. I’m sure Davies will continue to chase promotion and hopefully his remaining players will respond to that challenge. I just want the club to be pragmatic, to accept the circumstances we find ourselves in, particularly at board level.
Not reaching the Premier League this season will be considered a failure, perhaps even a disaster, by the owner. But sacking Davies and causing even more upheaval would not mean our injured players suddenly regain fitness. Only time and patience (and a little medical assistance) can do that.
Right now we have the right squad and the right manager for promotion – we just don’t have the right luck. But the pragmatic man knows that ‘luck’ is just a way of describing things that have happened, good or bad. If we could sack our luck, hire some new luck or bring some luck in on loan, then that’s what we would be doing, but of course luck is something we don’t have control over.
The things we do have control over, such as who sits behind the manager’s desk, we need to be making the right decisions on, not rash ones. The only thing in the known universe longer than our current injury list is Forest’s list of former managers in the last two decades. The pragmatic man knows that we can’t really help the former, but we can certainly stop the latter from growing.