The sacking of Sean O’Driscoll and appoint of Alex McLeish as the new Nottingham Forest boss will surely go down in history as one of the countries quickest. Within two hours of leading Forest to a 4-2 win over Leeds United and lying in 8th place in the Championship, a point off the play off places, O’Driscoll found himself looking for another job. The club’s Kuwait owners quickly hired former Rangers, Scotland, Birmingham and Aston Villa boss Alex McLeish as their new manager stating ” it was always their ambition to appoint an ambitious manager with Premier League experience”. Harsh for O’Driscoll to accept as he has done no wrong since been chosen by the same owners less than 5 months previously as the man to take them into England’s top division. The former Republic of Ireland midfielder took to twitter to express his disappointment , simply saying “gutted, that ruins a decent day”.
McLeish to his credit has the experience the Kuwaiti owners crave and his demonstrated in the past his ability to manage at the highest level but he is hardly the man the Forest faithful would have chosen if they were to get rid of O’Driscoll. Since Forest dropped out of the Premiership in 1999 they have struggled in the lower divisions, lacking the passion and drive that once surrounded the club and led them to two European Cups under club legend Brian Clough. But O’Driscoll had come in and managed to restore pride to the club and instill an attractive style of play that got the home fans buzzing once more. Belief at The City Ground was high ahead of the start of this season and performances to date have been good enough to put them on a path towards at least a play off spot. The sacking disappointed the Forest fans who believed strongly that O’Driscoll had put the club on the right path. The objections around McLeish are not around the man himself, more his history and approach as a manager. Forest fans are worried, rightly or wrongly, that McLeish lacks the appetite to continue to play the attacking style that O’Driscoll introduced, and is more likely to stick with his own trusted formations, whether they work or not.
McLeish has developed over the years a strange reputation for inflexibility. The belief is that McLeish lacks imagination when it comes to tactics and prefers not to tinker with it during the course of a game, even if his team falls behind. Critics point towards two examples – his time in charge or Scotland and in his last job as Aston Villa boss where the same tactics were used time and time again but the results never materialised. However closer examination points more towards the personnel on hand in both occasions and their inability to play in a multitude of positions or formations that meant that McLeish had little flexibility to adjust the system. More so, McLeish’s time in charge of Scotland was deemed by many as somewhat succesful, narrowly missing out on taking Scotland to Euro 2008, recording a host of victories including an inspired victory over France in Paris. At the time, France were a formidable force in the world game so McLeish adapted the formation of his team to go more defensive and hit them on the break which proved to be the correct decision after James McFadden’s 40 yard strike won the game for the Scots.
His time at Villa was less than fantastic and he holds the embarrassing record of being statistically the worst Aston Villa manager of all time but again closer inspection tells a different story. In his first and only season, McLeish inherited a squad that had just lost two of its best players – Ashley Young and Stewart Downing to Manchester United and Liverpool respectively. Power striker John Carew and shot stopper Brad Friedel also departed leaving McLeish with a job to replace them. Shay Given was brought in to replace Friedel and the dynamic Charles N’Zogbia bought to take over from Downing. But Young was never properly replaced as the money never materialised for a further signature so Villa lacked his flexibility going into the start of the season. Added into this losing star midfielder and captain Stiliyan Petrov early on in the season, after he was diagnosed with acute leukemia, didn’t help the cause. McLeish tried to put round pegs in square holes all season but the teams lack of goals ultimately led to their poor season. They finished the season in 16th place with only 38 points, narrowly avoiding relegation which to most looks like a terrible season. To be fair, McLeish didn’t win enough games (7 out of 38) but he only lost 14 games in total all season too. The killer for Villa was the 17 draws throughout the year, including 7 no score results. If Villa had managed to retained Young’s services, who hit nine goals and fourteen assists the previous season, the story of Villa’s season could have been so very different.
McLeish has been out of the game since his sacking in the summer but is now back, refreshed and raring to go. He will be aware of the backlash to his appointment and the fans concerns about his style of play but this will not worry Mcleish. A philosopher of the “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach, the Forest fans may not have to worry too much about their new coach. He is likely to stick with the existing tactics that O’Driscoll implemented making changes only on the training ground and in the playing staff where McLeish has the most experience. After steering Birmingham to a succesful promotion in 2008-2009, he will be looking to replicate that success with Nottingham Forest. If he can, then I’m sure the Forest fans will forget all about their concerns of the man better known to most as Big ‘Eck.