Like winter in Alaska, Forest’s manager search continues to drone on, with every former Forest player being rumored for the post at some point (yes, even you Marco Pascolo) as well as any manager who won over 30% of their games and is currently available. Most of these rumours are unfounded banter generated by agents that disintegrates after about five minutes of investigation, but one name that emerged over the past week had a different character to it altogether: former Standard Liege interim manager Ivan Vukomanvic. The oddity of it all brought to my mind, at least, a question: have we ever seen a foreign manager with virtually no managerial experience take the reins of a club in the Championship?
The short, quick answer is no. There have been countless forays into the foreign manager market by clubs over the years, both those flying high near the top or languishing near the bottom of the table. Swansea gambled with Roberto Martinez (who, it should be noted, made over 100 appearances for the club) and it led to promotion. Same with Watford and Slavisa Jokanovic. More often than not, however, the tenure of foreign managers who seem to appear "out of thin air" is short-lived and unsubstantial.
This sordid and largely forgettable list includes Stale Stolbaeken at Wolves, Jan Poortvliet and Mark Wotte at Southampton, Darko Milanic at Leeds, Gudjon Thordarsson at Stoke, and both Jose Riga and Guy Luzon at Charlton. Often, these men have a connection to the club’s ownership (who may be tied ethnically to the country of origin of the manager themselves) or come with a big reputation from elsewhere, such as Felix Magath. The big difference here with Vukomanovic is an utterly bewildering lack of experience and, well, any semblance of a connection.
All of the aforementioned managers had ample experience overseas with clubs big and small. In most instances, the men listed above were rousing successes at their former clubs. Did you know Guy Luzon had won 66% of his games, approximately, before taking over Charlton? Or that Mark Wotte had coached nearly every team on Earth before landing at Southampton? The point is these names aren’t even remotely as random as the individual Forest allegedly interviewed this week, a rumored event that smells odd at first take, since: a.) this would be the first formal interview the club had conducted for the post, and b.) WHO IN THE HELL IS IVAN VUKOMANOVIC?!?!?
The main reason this bizarre managerial candidate doesn’t pass the common sense test is the total absence, I mean zero, of any experience with the Championship game. Or the Belgian, Kuwaiti, Japanese, or Malian games, for that matter. This also completely rebuffs the edict Forest owner Fawaz al-Hasawi gave to Natalie Jackson during with an interview with the BBC shortly after Dougie’s sacking: the next Forest manager would have Championship experience and have a plan for how to work on a budget and develop talent. All great parameters.
The problem is that none of these benchmarks are met with the one name who has reportedly interviewed for the post. Most fans would scoff at a random assistant coach from a current Championship-level team being interviewed for the job, let alone Standard Liege. Want proof? How would you feel if I told you Christopher Buehler was the front runner for the Forest job? Underwhelmed? Mad? You shouldn’t be, as he’s the current Assistant Manager at Huddersfield, foreign, and already has way more experience with the English game than our fair Ivan.
I have no doubt that club Chairmen and Directors of Football (of which we still desperately need one, by the way) get dozens of applicants for vacant managerial posts. I am sure about half of those are so-and-so random guy who coaches in Romania or Greece thinks he can do a job and is desperate to break into the English game. But the other half surely bear some deeper investigation. I am confident Forest have gotten a few CVs they’ve laughed at. But maybe the approach now shouldn’t be to take the cheapest, most aggressive applicant on the pile but to instead do some old-fashioned legwork to get the right man in. You know, the one that you go and pursue. The one who was otherwise occupied until their dream job, where they get to be manager at Forest, came along. That’s what the club should be focused on. If there was ever a time for al-Hasawi to show he was willing to invest time and effort in getting the right captain for the ship in addition to just throwing money at a problem (or not throw money, as is alleged by some regarding Vukomanovic’s interview), now would be the time.
Perhaps this is a bit unfair to Mr. Vukomanovic. I have no doubt he is a smart footballing mind and his record isn’t dreadful over a small sample in the Belgian League. He did apply for Forest, after all, which says he’s got a certain amount of smarts. But the key question for those making this immense decision has to be which man will bring out the best in this club? Is it Nigel Pearson, a local boy who made good at one of our rivals and is likely itching to prove he can do more than build a pretty foundation? Is it Tim Sherwood, a seasoned pro who coached one team in free fall and another with endless delusions of grandeur but who seems to have a certain bit of talent that could work at a Championship side? Or is it any of Roy Keane, Martin O’Neill, or Nigel Clough, all former Forest icons, all experienced, all of whom would rouse supporters and surely, likely albeit temporarily, raise the attendances and the level of patience among those in and around the club?
Those in charge have to think about what the current Forest squad would think when greeted in July by their new manager. What sort of command and credibility would a guy like Vukomanovic, with zero experience or familiarity with the Championship, have among them on day one? Would that be the kind of guy professional players would be itching to play for? Before you answer, remember how things are going with Manchester United and Louis Van Gaal, who has won championships and cups around the world and is considered a tactical genius.
Ultimately, I don’t have the answer. But it is worth showcasing how unprecedented this type of hire would be. But stranger things have happened, including at Forest. Don’t believe me? Well then, I have a nice summer home to sell you in Alaska.
Brad Lecya also wrote this back in December on the role of the Academy within a football club. Definitely worth a read.