Football: Bassett a victim of the great divide

A manager is brought down by intransigent directors and discontent in the dressing-room
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The Independent Online
DAVE BASSETT'S dismissal as manager of Nottingham Forest yesterday relieved the 54-year-old Londoner of what had become a job perhaps beyond even his impressive capabilities.

In his 18 years in management, Bassett has achieved some remarkable feats, taking pre-Premiership Wimbledon all the way from the Fourth Division to the First and lifting Sheffield United from Third to First and keeping them there, against all the odds, for four seasons.

But at Forest he found his efforts undermined from two directions: on the one hand, by a plc board unwilling to provide desperately needed new funds, and on the other by a disillusioned and divided dressing-room.

The heavy-handed, discourteous way in which he was sacked merely strengthened Bassett's antipathy towards the men who hired him almost two years ago after their successful takeover of the club.

Nigel Wray, a multi-millionaire property developer, is a rugby man apparently far more interested in the development of Saracens, which he also owns, than with Forest, in which he was persuaded to invest at a time when football appeared to be a boom market. He is chairman of Forest plc but rarely attends their matches.

Irving Scholar, a former chairman of Tottenham Hotspur, recruited Wray and other less visible backers and became Forest's football consultant. He controls transfer finance and other related matters but operates from his base in Monaco.

Phil Soar, the chief executive who informed Bassett of his fate after it had appeared in a national newspaper, is a lifelong Forest supporter who hoped he and his colleagues could re- establish the club as a force at home and abroad but admitted recently that they had seriously underestimated what it would take to do so.

Scholar masterminded the signing of Pierre van Hooijdonk from Celtic, spending pounds 4.5m in a deal that convinced supporters of the club's ambitions, despite their relegation from the Premiership, and proved to be Bassett's trump card in winning promotion back to the top flight - as First Division champions - at the first attempt.

The pounds 16m takeover paid for Van Hooijdonk, but a substantial proportion - some pounds 11.3m - went on settling existing debts, and the club has subsequently run up another deficit. In the last financial year, Forest traded at a loss of pounds 7m.

Soar blamed soaring wage costs, which at pounds 9m, including signing-on fees, absorbed 73 per cent of the club's revenue.

"Certain circumstances are different now than we would have predicted," Soar said. "Player wages have risen by 50 per cent - further than we or anybody else would have imagined. That means that a club of our moderate means has a problem in the transfer market, not of finding a player to buy for pounds 3m but affording his wages."

Money raised from Forest's flotation on the Alternative Investments Market fell well short of what had been anticipated. The club went public despite warnings from the City that the football market was over-funded and was able to generate only pounds 2m in extra funds, when pounds 3.5m had been originally put forward as a conservative estimate.

Wray and his partners have consistently refused to put more money into Forest, insisting that Bassett financed further purchases through sales. Such players as he has received the go-ahead to buy - including Neil Shipperley, Dougie Freedman and Nigel Quashie - have so far fallen short of Premiership standard.

Meanwhile, the board angered Bassett last summer by selling the striker Kevin Campbell for pounds 3m while he was on holiday and went over his head again when Van Hooijdonk embarked on a one-man strike in protest at what he perceived as the club's lack of ambition. Bassett declared that he would happily "leave Can Hooijdonk to rot" but Scholar and the board wanted him in the market place.

All of this had an effect on morale in the dressing-room. Yesterday, Mickey Adams, Bassett's assistant and the man given temporary charge, admitted that support for Bassett had not been unanimous.

"As happens when any manager is sacked, some players are highly disappointed, some are highly pleased, although I think most felt they had let him down," Adams said.


1944: Born 4 September, Wembley.

1974: Gambled by choosing football ahead of business career, joining Wimbledon in the Southern League.

1977: Played 35 times during Wimbledon's first League season.

1981: Succeeded Dario Gradi as manager of Wimbledon.

1983: Led Wimbledon to the Fourth Division title at the first attempt.

1984: Steered Wimbledon to promotion to the Second Division.

1986: Took Wimbledon into the- then First Division by finishing third in Second Division.

1987: Wimbledon finished sixth in their first season in the top flight.

1988: Joined Watford but left and moved to Sheffield United, who are relegated to the Third Division.

1989: Gained promotion back to Second Division at Bramall Lane.

1990: Achieved second successive promotion, with Sheffield United finishing runners-up in Second Division.

1994: Sheffield United relegated. Bassett's contract is extended.

1995: Rejected chance to replace Brian Little at Leicester.

1996: Quit United on 12 December.

Appointed manager of Crystal Palace on 8 February.

1997: Resigned as manager of Crystal Palace and became general manager of Nottingham Forest. Signed Pierre van Hooijdonk for club record fee of pounds 4.5m from Celtic.

1998: Van Hooijdonk is top-scorer as Forest clinch First Division title. Stunned as the striker criticises the club in the pre-season and begins strike action. Van Hooijdonk returns after three months. Forest set an unwanted Premier League record of 17 games without a win and slump to the bottom of the Premiership.