Troubled times at Nottingham Forest after Steve McClaren's exit

I don't believe a football manager can be judged after 112 days and 10 league games. But a manager can assess the merits of his chairman after that period.

And Steve McClaren felt the glossy brochure waved in front of him in June had become decidedly moth-eaten three months later. We'll never know what exactly was discussed at that recruitment meeting, but soon we had a chasm in perception of just how Nottingham Forest could prosper - and that chasm separated the two most important people at the club.

McClaren had dropped enough hints about his disaffection lately and I understand he was going to resign after the Birmingham match at the weekend whatever the result.

He'd been knocked back too often on deals for players on loan after the penny had dropped with him that there wasn't a great deal of money available for transfers.

He'd seen Sven-Goran Eriksson spend around £15m on new recruits at Leicester and Sam Allardyce building a sizeable squad at West Ham in their own bids for Championship promotion.

A proud man, aware that his reputation was vulnerable on returning to English football, McClaren saw no point in the slow death of false dawns and bromides to the media about rebuilding, patience and the long haul.

McClaren's Forest reign

Steve McClaren
  • Appointed on 13 June
  • In charge for 112 days
  • Left with Forest fourth from bottom in the Championship, one point above the relegation zone
  • His team picked up eight points from 10 games
  • Forest failed to win at home in five games when he was in charge

Once his chairman started talking about the Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules that are due to come into effect next season in Forest's division, McClaren knew that the heady days of June, when the club were dreaming about getting back into the Premier League at the first attempt, had shrivelled into autumnal anti-climax.

It's to his credit that he hasn't taken a penny in pay-off, aware that he had found the experience at a lower level more daunting than he had anticipated. He just couldn't impose the right tactical formula on his team - and he was surprised that some of his players didn't share his zeal for hard daily shifts on the training ground, where he could challenge them.

McClaren recently compared the tactical maturity and eloquence of Dutch and German players with their English counterparts, and sadly said that many English players didn't want to be stretched mentally.

The whole experience proved a rude awakening. It will be a surprise if he has a future in English football over the next few years. There is too much baggage, too many preconceptions about him.

As for Nigel Doughty, who is stepping down as chairman , I wonder if he will want to stay on as owner in the long term. A committed, lifelong Forest supporter, he has sunk £70m of his own money into Forest in his decade as chairman, but still the club can't return to the Premier League, 12 years since they last played in the top flight. Surely no one would blame him if he walked away.

But if he does stay, I understand that the financial restrictions will be daunting. Instead of allowing himself to be persuaded to dip into the coffers at times when his manager is really pushing for a player, the plan is to give the new boss a sum per season that will cover transfers and loan deals - and that will be that. The cloth at Forest will be cut even more austerely.

So that prospect will not appeal to any of the big names who are regularly in the frame when such a vacancy appears.

Then there is the uncertainty whether the owner will still be in charge next season. Why would that scenario entice a Martin O'Neill, a Roy Keane or an Alan Curbishley?

I believe Forest will cast their net more realistically, for a manager who knows all about the grind of coping in the lower divisions and won't be too impatient. Someone like Sean O'Driscoll or Mark Robins would suit the scaled-down vision of Nigel Doughty after his vanity appointment in June failed.

At least Doughty had the good grace to acknowledge his mistake in appointing McClaren one day after he had sacked Billy Davies, the opinionated little Glaswegian battler who had taken Forest to two successive play-off semi-finals.

Forest overachieved under Davies, as he kept warning that the club needed, in his words, "two or three stellar signings". Today Davies can feel vindicated about his constant warnings about the necessity for fresh, proven players.

I wonder if he would have been sacked if McClaren had not been available? We will never know. And I wonder if the chairman would ever admit that? Mr Doughty is not one for regular dialogue with the media, so we'll just have to draw our own conclusions.

So the verdict on the McClaren regime will be wrong place, wrong time, wrong manager. But at least he fell on his sword with dignity, avoiding a protracted, messy saga.

Is it too much to hope that the Forest players will now take a forensic look at themselves, ask if they could have done more for their manager and wonder just why they're not plying their trades in the top flight?

Perhaps, as McClaren suspected, they're just not good enough.

A lot has changed in football since 1999, but Nottingham Forest FC still flatter to deceive. Spare us the nonsense about it being "a massive club" when the new manager is appointed and poses with the obligatory scarf on the centre circle.

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