Firefighter at Forest who won't change the record
Non-stop – but honest – grumbles at club's transfer policy from manager who admits he is a pain, as spectre of O'Neill looms large
Sunday 15 August 2010
Honesty is a good thing, suggested the New York newspaper columnist Don Marquis some 100 years ago, but it is not profitable to its possessor unless it is kept under control. To which your modern-day football manager might very well respond, well, that rather depends on the severance term in your contract.
Given the number of times the Nottingham Forest manager Billy Davies has explicitly and implicitly criticised the manner in which the club conducts its transfer business, many people might conclude that the relationship between the 46-year-old Scot and his employers at the City Ground must have all but broken down.
They might also assume that Davies, like any well-advised member of a profession in which at least half the occupants lose their job every year, will have a clause in his contract ensuring he receives substantially more than the statutory minimum payment in the event of his being sacked.
Davies, boyish features offset by the bags under his eyes, sighs. "The media constantly ask me questions about new signings," he says, "and I can only tell you the workings of this club, I can only tell you about the recommendations being put forward.
"But still people are writing 'Davies is a pain', and he's this and he's that. I answer the questions you're asking me about my recommendations about how this club works with regard to the three departments, of board, acquisitions committee and manager. The roles and responsibilities of these three groups, if you like, and I will always, always, always work with what I've got.
"So when the transfer window closes, if I'm left with just under-14s at this club, I can tell you I will work with the under-14s, and do the best I can with them. Nothing will change. I've got no intention whatsoever of breaking my contract of employment. I'm answering your question, and trying to be as honest as I possibly can. That's it. I'm sorry if you don't like the answer. That's the way it is."
In fact, as Davies is all too aware, the media do like the answer, at least insofar as it makes for more entertaining reading than the meaningless platitudes to which so many of his fellow managers automatically resort.
And just because Davies's bemoaning of the failings of the club's acquisitions committee (which includes owner Nigel Doughty, chief executive Mark Arthur and football consultant David Pleat) has become repetitive, does not mean it's not justified.
On Friday, preparing for Forest's first competitive home game since they lost the Championship play-off semi-final to Blackpool last season, Davies went into more details. "Every club has got its own financial constraints and budgets, and I've never had an issue or problem in dealing with that. Unfortunately at this club I've been told that there is no budget as such, so all you do is try to recommend with your choices how to keep the club moving forward, and how to keep it hitting the targets you try to set.
"That's why I never recommend one player for one position. I've recommended many players for many positions. To date I've recommended probably – over the four transfer windows I've been here – well over 60 players for different positions. Different players with different qualities, four, five, six per position in every window, and that's all you can really do. I've said before, quite rightly the board decides pound for pound who is best for this club. The board obviously being the acquisitions committee. At the end of the day they know how to run the finances, all I can do is recommend and let the chairman know what I feel is needed to move it forwards. But I'm under no illusions, I've got no issue with what gets done and what doesn't get done. That's up to the chairman."
So Forest take on Leeds United today with pretty much the same squad as the one which made the play-offs last season. True, the long-term loanee Radoslaw Majewski has now been converted into a permanent signing, and Ryan Bertrand has come from Chelsea on loan, but an offer of £1 million for Cardiff City's forward Peter Whittingham has been roundly rejected, while defender James Perch has been sold to Newcastle United for a similar figure, which was apparently against Davies's wishes.
Does it matter? After all, many bookmakers still make Forest favourites to win the Championship. Or they did before the Reds lost their opening game – unluckily – at Burnley, and were then beaten in the Carling Cup at League Two Bradford City.
Yes, Davies insists, it does. "I think that it's important to shake up the pecking order – very important. To make sure that there is no hangover, that there's a freshness, I think the club internally works better with the group evolving."
But can the players who came so close last season be coached to improve by enough to make up the difference? "Well, I think they want to see encouragement. The players who were here last season who, if you like, completed a great task, narrowly missing out on promotion. I think what they want is the encouragement of new players coming in, building on what we had. I think that's what the desire would be.
"They're not worried about competition at all. There are great pros here, a great bunch. [Chris] Gunter, for example, doesn't give a damn who we sign. [Robert] Earnshaw won't care who we sign. They don't care, they want to feel encouraged by realising their position is under threat.
"To keep evolving and moving forward, that's what you have got to do every single season. You do that by showing that the club is evolving and making the pecking order a concern for some people."
The words are uncompromising. Many Forest fans, despairing of the dysfunction, have noted the abrupt resignation of former Forest favourite and European Cup-winner Martin O'Neill as manager at Aston Villa, and if Davies were to be moved on, they would dearly like to see the Northern Irishman – who still lives within commuting distance of Nottingham – installed in his place.
Compared to the short price being offered on O'Neill becoming manager of England, odds of 14-1 on his taking over at the City Ground do not seem ungenerous.
One thing seems certain, though, and that is that Davies would have to be pushed. Being beaten at home by Leeds United today might just hasten that process.
Ins and outs
Billy Davies's transfer record at Nottingham Forest since January 2009, not including loan deals:
Ins Radoslaw Majewski (Polonia Warsaw, £1 million); Lee Camp (Derby County, £150,000); Paul McKenna (Preston North End, £750,000); Chris Gunter (Tottenham Hotspur, £1.75m); David McGoldrick (Southampton, £1m); Dele Adebola (Bristol City, free); Paul Anderson (Swansea City, £250,000); Joel Lynch (Brighton & Hove Albion, £200,000); Dexter Blackstock (Queens Park Rangers, fee undisclosed – thought to be about £2m). Total: £7.1m.
Outs James Perch (Newcastle United, fee undisclosed – thought to be about £1m): Arron Davies (Yeovil, free); Ian Breckin (Chesterfield, free).
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