It’s been a drab last few months, let’s face it. Many of us had to forge an interest in the Women’s World Cup, just to get a fix of football. Any football. Just to keep the withdrawal shakes and sweats at bay. The Copa America provided a bit of relief, but served more as a football methadone, rather than a proper fix. So the arrival of August brings a much-welcomed light at the end of the tunnel as it signals the start of a brand new season. But for Nottingham Forest, this isn’t just another year, this is the club’s 150th anniversary…
150 history-soaked years. Most notably; Clough & Taylor, two European cups (Champions League to the kids) and of course beating hated-rivals Derby in the FA Cup final. This club has reached the heights that most others can only dream of. So we should be going into this term, at least on the brink of something special. But I’m struggling to remember a time period when expectations were as low and the atmosphere surrounding the club was so lacklustre. Poor club-management has found us in a bit of a hole. For breaking Financial Fair Play rules (still not entirely sure what’s “fair” about it), we’ll be heading into this season under a transfer embargo. Which limits new signing options to free agents – in other words; scraping the barrel.
Freedman, the current manager, has received a lot of plaudits for making a handful of signings under difficult circumstances. But if you think about it logically, he’s actually got an easier ride than previous managers. If there is no option to buy players, then there’s only a select group you can chose from, which will work massively in his favour – as not having an eye for a good player doesn’t matter, it’s just a case of getting what you can. It’s also a lot easier to convince players who don’t have a club to sign for you, because they can’t afford to be choosey. And ultimately, if we end up struggling, the man who “saved us from relegation” last season can easily blame the fact that he has no budget to work with. And on the flip side, if we do well, Harry Houdougie will take all of the credit. He literally can’t come out of the situation looking bad, its win-win for him.
The players we’ve gone for wouldn’t exactly had clubs knocking their doors down to secure their signatures. But I’ll always give credit where due, and it certainly is with the Darius Henderson affair: Give a ‘trial’ (yes, another one) to a player who everyone knows is useless, hence his release from Leyton Orient, causing concern amongst the entire fan base. Then after a couple of weeks of “monitoring his progress” decide to not offer him a contract, causing huge relief amongst the supporters and giving the impression that you do actually know what you’re doing. Quite frankly, it’s a genius move.
Nicky Maynard would have been an OK signing, but he would have more than likely been sat on the payroll just to be in the treatment room, so not offering him a contract was probably the correct move. Paul Taylor could probably do a job at the mid-lower Championship level, but judging by his past, he’ll most likely be consumed in the lifestyle Nottingham has to offer. Matt Mills is probably the pick of the bunch, he’s a good squad player at this level. Daniel Pinillos is still young and could yet turn out to be a decent signing. And let’s face it, anything is better than Danny Fox.
The Jamie Ward signing was immensely disappointing, although not surprising. I can see why the manager would target him, as they’ve a lot in common; both were slating the club in the papers, only to join up less than a year later. Very classy. But just like the manager, he’s saying all the right things, so it’s something else to sweep under the carpet. The signings were always going to be underwhelming though, it was inevitable, what other choice have we got. They’re being targeted for the same reason the manager was; they’re available.
There’s no doubt though that the best bit of business was handing new contracts to promising youngsters Dimitar Evtimov, Oliver Burke and Tyler Walker – son of Forest legend Des. That is one thing Fawaz Al-Hasawi deserves credit for, tying down the promising young players, in order to prepare for the future. With Assombalonga out until the New Year at least, we might be relying on Walker to get us the goals. Although the current manager is notorious for holding back promising youth players at his former clubs. Most notably Zach Clough and Josh Vela – two players he froze out at Bolton, but flourished soon after Freedman was sacked. But being unable to bring many players in means there won’t be much choice but to give them a chance. So every cloud really does have a silver lining, and I’m really excited to see what they’ve got to offer. As long as the Premier League vultures don’t start to circle. And if they do, hopefully Al-Hasawi will hunt them down. Which is something he’s very good at, as has been revealed in recent days.
Luckily, we have a decent squad already in place and hopefully Andy Reid and Chris Cohen will be back wearing the garibaldi sooner rather than later. Although with persistent injuries and Reid’s age and (probable) weight, they’ll be limited on what they can actually offer. But we need, more than anything right now, players who will give it all for this club. Who will play for the fans, the shirt, the badge and not for their own unjustified ego. We haven’t lost anyone too important yet either. I was sad to see Majewski leave, on his day he’s one of the best players in the division, but his day rarely came. But at least we’ve finally seen the back of Abdoun. And more importantly Darlow and Lascelles. But Newcastle’s loss is our gain.
One thing that should work in our favour is that it’s a very weak Championship this year. The three relegated teams are no great shakes, although QPR are still spending left, right and centre, despite also breaking Financial Fair Play rules (seriously, what’s “fair” about it?), but Chris Ramsey is far too naïve as a manager to pull up any trees. Boro will be the ones to watch this season, and Derby are splashing the cash but it’s pretty much a division made up of 23 bang average sides. Plus Milton Keynes.
Off the pitch though, we were all hoping for something a bit special. A decent friendly to open the occasion wouldn’t have gone amiss. But instead, we got Aston Villa – for the record I’m not suggesting that Villa aren’t decent opposition, I’m fully aware they make up one fifth of England’s club-elite. But an Inter or even a Liverpool wouldn’t have been too much to arrange, would it? Bournemouth got Madrid last year! Even the Notts County friendly would’ve been good, instead of Donny. But we backed out of the fixture, despite having made a formal agreement to stage it, with no real explanation. Another club we’ve burned bridges with then – have we paid for Assombalonga yet? – It is a shame though, it’s always good to meet our older brothers from across the Trent every now and then, just to remind them who rules this City.
What is more worrying though, is that we are still unable to attract a sponsor. Income from advertising would go a long way to reduce the deficit and help get us out of difficulty. It’s been said time and time again, but we desperately need to employ, and keep, a football-minded CEO. Paul Faulkner still hasn’t been replaced after he walked out for not being allowed to do his job by Fawaz’ freak-show entourage. It is imperative that we have someone who knows what they’re doing, who will ensure the necessities are in place, to keep the club running properly.
And by someone who knows what they’re doing, I don’t mean listen to those who blow smoke on Twitter. It was listening to Twitter that brought Billy Davies back and it was listening to Twitter that got Freedman an extended contract – despite taking us backwards (100% fact) since his appointment. We could have gone our separate ways at the end of the season and avoided the inevitable pay-off, and Mark Warburton was available. Giving credit where due though, I’m a big fan of the shirts this season. In my opinion, the best we’ve had for years. I’m so glad they’re available to buy sans ‘sponsor’ though – slapping “FAWAZ” on the front would be a bigger travesty than spilling red wine on a wedding dress (if you’re reading this, I’m still truly sorry about that).
One thing I am really looking forward to this year though is the book and film, I Believe in Miracles. I’m relying on them to bring back the loving feeling I’ve lost in recent months. In the Al-Hasawi era, we’ve dropped three places every season. So if we were to follow that trend, we should be expected to finish 17th this term. But if they play with the right attitude and, most importantly, avoid Antonio being poached, I think we could be on course for a nice, comfortable mid-table finish. I know a couple of non-Forest fans who have money on relegation but personally I don’t think that’s a realistic possibility. But I don’t think there’s many who would be genuinely shocked if that was to happen.
Overall though, it seems like we’ve completely missed the boat on making this year a special one. But I suppose there’s always the 200th
By Danny JCS