When Nottingham Forest were taken over by the Al-Hasawi family in July 2012, I wrote a piece explaining my concern at the buyout. Whilst others seemed to be enamoured by the promise of glorious days in the sun, something in my football sentience couldn’t commit fully to the idea.
‘I have no idea what I should think about my club’s potential takeover by the Al Hasawi family in Kuwait, dripping with money and initial promises of glory days,’ I wrote at the time. ‘Should I be happy that our financial problems may soon be a distant memory, or sad that a large piece of Nottingham Forest will no longer be….well, Nottingham Forest. Is dropping down to League One or Two to rebuild the club after the vast overspending and lossmaking of previous years not a relatively small price to pay for a 147-year-old club keeping even a semblance of its core ethos?’
Now, two-and-a-half years and seven managers later, those worries have proved pertinent. This is not a case of ‘I told you so’, more the sad reality that it takes more than money to make a club successful. Always has, always will.
There is no doubt that Fawaz Al-Hasawi cares for Nottingham Forest. His reaction to the victory over Derby, the highlight of Stuart Pearce’s short reign, indicates that he desperately wants the club to succeed. Whether that is through undying love or the drive of the successful businessman is unclear, but ultimately unimportant. There are times when I summate that he really must mean well.
Yet it is impossible to be impressed by any aspect of Al-Hasawi’s ownership. Since the 2012 takeover, Forest have become a parody, a symbol for the all that is distasteful and unpalatable in the modern game. We have had seven managers, seven insistences that the right man is in place to take the club forward, and yet all we’ve done is fallen backwards. Patience is a long-lost virtue.
On Monday, Head of Recruitment John Marshall was relieved of his duties, the latest decision to epitomise the malaise of short-termism that has engulfed the entire club. Marshall was, by all accounts, doing a great job, his scouts attending every game they could in a bid to strengthen not just the first team but academy too. The performances of Matty Cash for the U18s and U21s since arriving from FAB (Bisham) academy in October are testament to that, but there are many further examples. Without Marshall, we are now searching for our third Head of Recruitment in two-and-a-half years. It’s a ludicrous scenario.
Furthermore, the club’s name is quickly being besmirched. On Monday, Peterborough chairman Darragh MacAnthony criticised (a club we presume to be) Forest for their immoral behaviour in the transfer market. ‘There won’t be any incoming signings due to a certain Championship club failing to make an agreed large payment on player they bought from us,’ MacAnthony tweeted. ‘This same club did this to us in August and now again. It’s a disgrace and their chairman is the same.’ Another happy customer, and a name dragged through the mud in public.
This is not about the departure of Pearce, for that became inevitable. Neither is it a protest at the appointment of Dougie Freedman, who certainly has more proven experience and aptitude for the job than his predecessor. It is not even a reaction to the transfer embargo caused by FFP regulations being broken, despite the owner’s promises that Forest would not fall foul of the rules. These are merely the micro issues; they are the symptoms rather than the cause.
This is about sustainability and stability, or a distinct lack of. Success in modern football cannot be achieved through one man and his money; it is far too complex an industry to assume that you can enjoy accelerated success through bank balance alone. The best leaders establish the vision for the future and set the strategy for getting there. Forest’s only obvious strategy appears to be throwing enough s**t at the wall and hoping that some sticks – it’s causing the whole place to stink. Forest are the poster club for reaction over proaction, a house built on sand.
Unfortunately, there seems little reason to be hopeful of change. Chief Executive Paul Faulkner also left the club on Monday, placed on gardening leave after his position became untenable following the appointment of Freedman. Faulkner’s five months in the role have been almost entirely ineffective, reportedly barred from influencing policy by the presence of financial director Lalou Tifrit and Hassan Saef, two close allies of the owner. Faulkner was left strangled, not consulted on either the sacking of Pearce of appointment of the new manager. After his gardening leave period is over, we will undoubtedly hear the grim truth. His position was a sham, a wafer-thin façade of respectability.
Ronald Reagan said famously that a leader must "surround yourself with the best people you can find, delegate authority, and don't interfere as long as the policy you've decided upon is being carried out." Fawaz is proof that the opposite approach bears no fruit. He is wilfully ignorant to the best needs of the club, resorting instead to social media messages of propaganda for supporters to get behind the team. Remarkably, many still seem to lap it up, although eyes are finally starting to open.
Freedman might succeed at the City Ground, or he might not. We might appoint another Chief Executive, or we might not. In truth it doesn’t matter. Until Al-Hasawi learns to take a step back, learns to rid himself of his addiction to playing all parts, things will never improve. Forest are ship without a captain, instead a rich investor who has demanded to turn the wheel. We’re heading for the iceberg.
When the Kuwaiti money arrived into Forest, my saddest conclusion was that, actually, it didn’t matter what I thought. I was merely a fan, the tiniest pawn in a rich man’s game. Never has that felt more obvious. We are at the whims of one man’s desires, ambition and lack of self-regard. Until the owner finally steps back and lets the experts take charge, it’s a situation that will never change. I love the club for its past (and hopefully future), but am disconnected with the present.
Nottingham Forest used to be a club built on decency and honour, but it has now become synonymous with the opposite. Nottingham Forest used to have a plan, but now all it has is money. The grim irony is that we can’t even spend that now.