Dougie Freedman has talked a very good game this summer, highlighting a number of issues and explaining that Forest have a manager who wants to deal with them. A cynical sort could argue that it is part of football now that you assess your security as a manager and you tell yarns that boost your position and provide appropriate excuses for failure that you can point prospective future employers towards, but being a little more positive it could also mean that Forest have appointed a realist and a good fit for their current predicament.
Distilling his various interviews down and placing them alongside the failures of the last few years brings together some crucial success factors for the club and manager to be judged on over the coming season and beyond. If achieved they will combine to put right some of those previous mistakes and set down a solid foundation on which the club can build for the future. Below are the four areas I will be looking at as the season progresses and expecting demonstrable progress.
Financial Fair Play
Freedman has commented that by releasing Jamie Mackie on a free transfer to QPR the club are now poised to come below the threshold for FFP and can expect to be released from their transfer embargo next summer. Some commentators have interpreted this as meaning that the 2015/16 loss will be below £15M, which is the maximum loss allowed for the following season, however, I find this difficult to believe. It seems more likely that the club will be able to demonstrate to the Football League that they will fall below the required £15M in the 2016/17 season itself.
Either way it would be a sign of a new financial model and a greater control of the club’s cost base. It is fair to say that wages have become a little reckless in the past three years and have also led to poor trading in the transfer market as clubs, players and agents have seen Forest as a club that can be milked. In this sense FFP appears to be doing its job and forcing a club to gain better control of its finances and act more responsibly.
It is important that this is now achieved and the club is freed from the restrictions placed on it by the football authorities. Although it must continue to be more prudent than in the past the removal of the transfer embargo will allow the club to regain control of the market it operates in for player trading, which is crucial to building a squad that can deliver long term success.
A Stable and Appropriate Structure
This is a long standing bugbear that I do not want to spend huge amounts of time on now, but it is important that the club has a stable and appropriate structure that can facilitate long term development. I believe that this should include a Director of Football to implement the football strategy and a CEO to implement the administrative and commercial strategies, both reporting to the owner.
I would personally also look to establish an independent governance process by the formation of a Board of Directors which would feature former staff, local professional figures and representatives of the fans. The role of this Board would be to ensure that the club remains true to its values and its community irrespective of who currently owns it.
I realise that this is an unlikely aspiration for the club at the present time but they should be able to at least demonstrate improved control, governance and stable management. It is not practical to give the long term direction of the club over to someone whose position is so directly affected by short term results on the pitch. This has led to recurring problems throughout the last three years and need to be addressed in some way.
Dougie Freedman has talked a lot about how he is a manager who wants to play young players. That is great to hear, although it is not something that the Bolton fans seem to agree is in his make-up and it has been noticeable that the academy graduates have played very little part in pre-season, even Ben Osborn who is already established in the first team squad, at least since they returned to home soil from the camp in Sweden.
Youth development is a key area for a club like Forest. Not only does it help produce a team that the fans can relate to but it also provides good value in terms of adding to the playing squad without transfer fees, and the opportunity to increase income by selling home grown players to other clubs. In the past this latter point has been clear with the sales of Karl Darlow, Jamaal Lascelles, Patrick Bamford, Wes Morgan, James Perch and many more, but these funds have been largely wasted and the club has failed to progress as a result of the sales.
There is a great deal of excitement amongst fans about the latest group of players including Osborn, Tyler Walker and Oliver Burke and it is to be hoped that they and others will make clear progress within the club over the coming year. Should the time come in the future to sell any of them correcting the club’s finances and cost structure should also allow the sales to have a positive impact on its development, rather than paying for past mistakes.
Finally it is essential not to be relegated. A target of maintaining Championship status is not intended as a lack of ambition. It is not there to put a limit on what the club can achieve, but to put some realism into people’s expectations of it. This is a period of transition and it is important that the club comes out of it without dropping further down the pyramid. If Forest achieve all of the other targets and remain a second tier club all stakeholders should be satisfied with that, for now.