House of cards

by , February 5, 2015

It’s the week just keeps on taking. First the manager, then the coaches, then the chief executive… and now the owner has sparked speculation that he’s going to step down.

How to sum it up? The quickest way would be to summarise what we have left, which amounts to a squad of players many believe have been grossly under-performing this season and a new manager who, while likeable, has big shoes to fill. However, what will really be left if Fawaz Al-Hasawi does decide to sell up is a legacy of amateurism, humiliation and failure.

From the moment Fawaz sacked Sean O’Driscoll in December 2012, a precedent was set for farcical decisions, each one more disastrous than the last. Paul Severn summed up the series of calamities that has befallen Nottingham Forest since the appointment of David Platt in 1999 in an article a few days ago. I count 41 mishaps in his list, of which 20 can be laid at the door of Al-Hasawi – and that’s in the space of little over two and a half years.

Even before O’Driscoll was sacrificed at the altar of Fawaz’s ego, the Al-Hasawi family’s running of the club was raising eyebrows with reports of unpaid bills. This pattern has continued unabated to the extent that our latest default has resulted in a full transfer embargo, compounding the financial mismanagement that has already seen us punished under the Financial Fair Play regulations.

How have we, the fans, sleep-walked into this situation? Well the circus created by Ringmaster Al-Hasawi over the last three years has been so hypnotically entertaining that debates over umpteen managers have distracted us from a top-down policy of staggering incompetence. Eleven months ago we were singing cheeky songs about Fawaz sacking who he wanted. It says a lot about Billy Davies that the teacup-sized storms he so frequently created amounted to a smokescreen big enough for the owner to safely hide behind.

As the dust settles on yet another mixed metaphor, it is time to look at the facts in the clear light of day. And there’s no way to really avoid them now: Fawaz has had five attempts to find a manager that he was happy with (or was happy with him), and struck out each time. He has also led us so far down the path of false economies that, for the next 12 months at least, we have no hope of being any more competitive than we have been in recent seasons (which, I’m sure you remember, has been not particularly competitive).

Back in August I compared the belligerent approach of Davies to Stuart Pearce’s more ‘laconic, down-to-earth style’ and suggested a period of calm could bring about success. Now you might suggest I was being overly optimistic about Pearce’s managerial abilities, and that’s not something I want to get into here, but look what has happened since Fawaz decided to take action to halt our slide down the league – Paul Faulkner has seemingly decided that he, like several others before, simply could not work with Al-Hasawi, and now perhaps Al-Hasawi himself has realised he can’t work with Al-Hasawi. When you’ve built a house of cards, it takes only one nudge to send the whole lot toppling to the ground.

That said, Fawaz toppled the first domino (just to keep stirring the metaphor melting pot) that has led to the current chaos a long time ago. It has probably always been in his nature and it’s not like Forest fans haven’t tried to adjust to the culture of business Al-Hasawi brought with him to Nottingham. In a way we’ve been fortunate with Fawaz – he has been well-meaning and certainly more respectful of our club than Assem Allam or Vincent Tan. But good intentions shouldn’t stop us taking an objective look at his ownership. He’s been making mistakes ever since he promised an ‘iconic’ manager in the summer of 2012 and never once shown signs that he’s learning from them.

We simply can’t carry on like this. Sacking managers faster than Alan Sugar gets through apprentices and pissing off everybody else in the footballing world by not paying transfer fees on time is not a sustainable way of running a football club, or any business for that matter. I’m grateful to Fawaz for his enthusiasm and indeed his cash, but I suspect we’ve now both reached the same conclusion: This isn’t working. We need to talk.

What happens after Fawaz tells Forest ‘It isn’t you, it’s me’, who knows? But it would seem fitting than an owner who made a habit of plunging the club into the unknown by sacking managers without a contingency plan would announce his departure on Twitter before speaking to his financial advisor about what exactly he’s going to do with his shares in NFFC Ltd. At least the suspiciously quick hiring of Dougie Freedman suggests he’s finally realising that sometimes you need a plan B.

The ironic thing in all this is that Fawaz Al-Hasawi’s last meaningful act as chairman could be his most successful. Like Steve Cotterill in the final turbulent months of Nigel Doughty’s stewardship, in Freedman we have a manager capable of scrapping it out with no money. Fawaz or no Fawaz, the reality is that we can’t spend in the next two transfer windows. Dougie’s experience of working without a budget might just be enough to save us. Sad as I was to see Pearce go, I feel more confident that his replacement can guide us through the wreckage of the Al-Hasawi era. Fawaz might finally, if inadvertently, have got it right for once.