This week saw two controversial managerial sackings in the Championship which have raised questions about the way Blackburn Rovers and Nottingham Forest are being run.
Sean O’Driscoll, who was appointed as Nottingham Forest manager in the summer, was shown the door on Wednesday just a few hours after his team spectacularly beat Leeds 4-2. The Al-Hasawi family, who run the club, had insisted they would give the former Doncaster manager time, but with Forest a point outside the play-off spots, they changed their minds.
Meanwhile, in Lancashire, Blackburn’s owners once again displayed questionable judgement, sacking manager, Henning Berg, after just 57 days in charge. This despite giving the deeply unpopular Steve Kean two protest-filled years at the Ewood Park helm before forcing him out earlier this season.
Both Forest and Rovers are owned by vastly wealthy people, with no previous experience in football prior to their investments. And fans at both clubs are wondering, do they really know what they’re doing?
Sean O’Driscoll’s sacking was met with widespread astonishment. Forest were playing entertaining football, just a point outside the play-offs, and though they hadn’t set the world alight, there were promising signs.
O’Driscoll, who had gained an army of admirers for achieving success on a budget with a stylish but unfashionable Doncaster side, was brought in with the aim of building a side in his image. He stuck to his beliefs at Forest and looked set to challenge for a spot in the top six.
But halfway through his first season, after one of the most impressive performances of his time in charge, he was shown the door by the club’s Kuwaiti owners.
Forest fans were left decidedly bemused by the sacking, and the vast majority opposed O’Driscoll’s departure. Fans claimed they could see a project in motion and a team being built inkeeping with the ideals and values of the club.
But one of the most worrying aspects of this case is O’Driscoll’s replacement.
O’Driscoll’s seat was still warm when it was announced Alex McLeish would be replacing him.
The Scotsman’s a controversial choice at a club which has always been associated with beautiful football. McLeish’s teams have tended to play an unattractive, but largely effective, long-ball style of football.
Forest’s greatest ever manager, Brian Clough, once said “If God had wanted us to play football in the sky, He’d have put grass up there.”
Not only does McLeish’s style not fit perfectly with Forest’s historic image, on the face of it at least, his direct style doesn’t fit in with the current setup.
O’Driscoll had a side which was familiar with playing patient, passing football. Are the players capable of adapting to McLeish’s more physical, negative style?
McLeish will undoubtedly be given substantial funds in the January transfer window, and he can use it to bring in players who will understand his system. But fans are worried McLeish’s appointment could go badly wrong for the club.
McLeish could take Nottingham Forest up this season, after all, he won promotion with Birmingham City in 2009.
But Big Eck’s image and his football doesn’t fit in easily with that of Nottingham Forest. The fact the Al-Hasawi family have dismissed a football purist like O’Driscoll, in favour of McLeish, shows a basic lack of understanding of the club’s culture. It’s always worrying when wealthy owners begin running the club without consideration for the club’s culture and the fans’ interests.
In 1931, Mahatma Gandhi visited Darwen, near Blackburn, to meet unemployed mill workers who were angry because cheap Indian cotton was undercutting their produce. The people of East Lancashire fell in love with the skinny Indian, and since then there has always been a spiritual bond between Lancashire and the subcontinent.
That was until Venky’s purchased Blackburn Rovers and started running the club in the most chaotic way imaginable. Since taking over, the owners have repeatedly broken audacious transfer promises and consistently angered the fans with outrageous decisions.
Last season’s fan protests against manager, Steve Kean, were particularly venomous, but the owners continued to back the Glaswegian. Even though Blackburn were shamefully relegated from the Premier League, Kean remained in charge for the start of the Championship, but with Rovers 3rd after eight games, Kean was bizarrely forced out.
The club then spent a whole month looking for a replacement before opting for former player, Henning Berg. The Norwegian had previously been critical of the club’s ownership, but he accepted the job, claiming he’d been convinced they had a plan for the club.
It’s unlikely the plan involved sacking Berg after 57 days in charge, but that’s just what Venky’s have done. Incredibly, after defying the fans and keeping the hapless Steve Kean for nearly two years, his replacement couldn’t manage two months.
Admittedly the Berg era has been a joke from start to finish; the football’s been dreadfully low-tempo, he’s only won once and Rovers have rapidly slipped down the table. Uninspiring Blackburn now find themselves 17th in the Championship and dropping towards the drop zone.
The Berg experiment will undoubtedly be viewed as a disaster, and another depressing chapter in the recent history of Blackburn Rovers.
The fact Berg only lasted 57 days suggests those running the club didn’t know enough about him when they appointed him, but scarier still, it suggests they have no structured plan for their football club. Fans have constantly criticised the owners for neglecting the club and allowing it to rot, and their recent activity is a further cause for supporter concern.
Kevin MacDonald will be caretaker manager at Ewood Park until the end of the season. While he is highly respected within the game, and his record as a coach stands up to scrutiny, the appointment of a caretaker for the entire second half of the season (seemingly Roman Abramovich’s invention) stinks of laziness on the part of the owners.
While Forest fans await the beginning of the McLeish era with cautious intrigue, Blackburn fans are simply dreading the next few months, hoping they can evade the drop.
The recent sackings at Forest and Blackburn are cause for concern because on the face of it they show a lack of long-term planning, and a poor understanding of the sport by the respective owners.