Pearce uncertain in new Forest regime

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The Independent Online
Nottingham Forest began life under new owners yesterday amid fresh uncertainty over the future of their player-manager, Stuart Pearce. He was expected to reveal plans to spend a pounds 16m transfer fund following Monday's sale of the club to a consortium headed by the owner of Saracens rugby union club, Nigel Wray, and the former Tottenham chairman, Irving Scholar.

But at a low-key press conference at the City Ground, the new regime failed to deliver firm backing for the man who stepped into the breach when Frank Clark resigned in December. Pearce even suggested he might stand down himself if it would help Forest avoid relegation from the Premiership.

Property developer Wray, the main financial muscle behind the pounds 19.1m offer which shareholders voted overwhelmingly to accept on Monday evening, was back at his desk in the City yesterday, leaving the new chief executive, Phil Soar, to take charge at Forest.

Scholar, who took a 16 per cent stake in the club with Wray holding 27 per cent, was at the news conference but sat away from the platform, where Pearce was flanked by Soar and the incumbent chairman, Irving Korn. With no opening address from Soar - and no endorsement of Pearce's position as manager - it was left to Pearce to do most of the talking. The message that came across was that neither he nor his new employers are sure about his role in Forest's future.

Pearce spent an hour and a half in talks yesterday morning, not with Soar but with Scholar, who has been asked to advise the club as football consultant.

"Mr Scholar was very forthright and we learned a lot about each other," Pearce said. "There were one or two issues raised concerning my future and we talked about the possibility of having a general manager. It is difficult to combine all of the things I have to do at the moment, including playing for England.

"I was probably put in the position prematurely. In other circumstances, if anyone had asked me if I wanted to be manager of Nottingham Forest I would have said, `yes, when I've finished playing.' "

Pearce, 34, has told the new owners he will continue until the end of the season but hinted he could stand down before then. "I'm happy to go along with whatever is going to be for the benefit of the club," he said. "If I felt that stepping down as manager and just carrying on as a player would help us stay in the Premiership I would do so without hesitation."

There was no tub-thumping about buying new players, despite Forest's plight in the bottom three of the Premiership and with the transfer deadline just three weeks away. Soar said privately he would be relying on Scholar to help in transfer dealings and Pearce admitted it was part of the job he did not relish. "Sometimes the financial business can keep you away from the training pitch and that's where I enjoy being," he said. "We are on a learning curve really. If it be that someone else deals with other clubs we will do that."

The new owners won control when they received the backing of 189 of Forest's 202 active shareholders at an extraordinary general meeting.

While no one imagines that Wray, reputed to have made pounds 60m from property and media deals, does not see Forest as an investment, the involvement of Soar probably appeased those who wanted to see the management retain a local flavour. Although he lives in Berkshire, the 49-year-old author and publishing executive was brought up in Bilborough, on the city's outskirts, and has been watching Forest since he was nine. As a season ticket holder he has many friends at the club.

Scholar returns to football six years after selling Tottenham to Alan Sugar for a reported pounds 8m. He and Soar have known one another since the mid-1980s, when Soar was engaged to write Tottenham's official history. He pioneered football's entry into the Stock Market, floating Tottenham long before even Manchester United could see the benefits of such a move.

Forest's new owners plan to float this year, joining the bandwagon of clubs trying to raise money in the City.

Forest in pounds 50m flotation, page 21