Football: Atkinson offered Forest job

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NOTTINGHAM FOREST had already offered Ron Atkinson the manager's job at the City Ground before telling Dave Bassett he was sacked, it emerged last night.

Bassett, who had been in charge for 22 months, was dismissed yesterday morning as a result of Forest's 17-match run without a Premiership win and their exit from the FA Cup at the hands of Portsmouth on Saturday. He had been forewarned of his fate when he read the newspapers at home, but was not told officially until he arrived to take training.

The heavy-handed way in which his departure was handled provoked fury from the 54-year-old former Wimbledon and Sheffield United manager, even before Atkinson - on holiday in the Caribbean - admitted he had already been sounded out for the job.

Phil Soar, the Forest chief executive, said yesterday he was unaware of any contact between the club and the former Aston Villa and Sheffield Wednesday manager, although he confirmed Atkinson was a candidate. However, Atkinson, speaking on Central Television, said last night: "I was contacted on Monday. I said I would think about their offer and let them know within the week."

Bassett was scathing in his criticism of Forest's board of directors, branding them "rude and undignified". Bassett read of his impending dismissal in a tabloid newspaper before he left his Sheffield home and heard the news confirmed on the radio. Only after he had arrived at the ground was he taken to one side by Soar and informed of the decision.

"When you get the sack it is always sad, but it is part and parcel of football," Bassett said. "I'm more upset about the way it has been done. I think the club have done it in an undignified manner. To read on the back pages that you are going to get the sack today and then it actually becomes a reality is not my way of doing business. In fact, it is a rather rude way of doing business. That disappoints me more than anything else.

"You can contrast it with when I got the sack from Elton John at Watford. On that occasion, we sorted the situation out, agreeing that while we were both upset, we realised why it had to happen. Then we had a glass of champagne and we remain friends."

Earlier, Soar had formally announced Bassett's departure by reading from what appeared to be the wrong club statement, having to correct himself after initially declaring that the parting of the ways had been "by mutual consent". Soar said that the board wished "sincerely to thank Dave for everything he has achieved with the club in the past two years."

Bassett's successor is likely to be appointed next week. Soar confirmed Forest's interest in giving Atkinson the chance to pull off a rescue act similar to that which saved Wednesday from relegation last season. "Ron Atkinson is likely to be among a number of candidates," Soar said. "although to my knowledge there has been no contact with him yet." Mickey Adams, the assistant manager, will take temporary charge.

Bassett joined Forest 22 months ago shortly after Soar, in partnership with the former Tottenham chairman Irving Scholar and the property developer Nigel Way, had completed a takeover of the formerly committee-run club. Initially, Bassett became the general manager, but he assumed full control in May of that year, too late to prevent relegation to the First Division.

However, the following season Forest won the First Division championship, mainly thanks to 29 goals scored by the Dutch striker Pierre van Hooijdonk.

Forest have struggled to hold their own back in the Premiership, hampered by the sale of key players Kevin Campbell and Colin Cooper and, more significantly, by the one-man strike staged by Van Hooijdonk, who stayed away for three months in protest at what he saw as a lack of ambition on the board's part. After winning two of their opening three matches, against Coventry and Southampton, Forest have not managed another victory, establishing a Premiership record of 17 matches without a win.

Whether a new manager can turn Forest's fortunes around in the 18 matches left remains to be seen. But Geoff Thomas, the former England midfielder Bassett signed from Wolves, expressed doubts. "The way the lads have performed in some of the recent games - with the 2-2 draw against Aston Villa a good example - suggests there is not a lot wrong," he said.

"But confidence is very fragile. It may be that a new man could give the team a lift, but Dave Bassett is one of the best motivators in the game and if he couldn't get any more out of the lads, you wonder who can."