It was just over a year ago to the day when Billy Davies was announced to the press as Nottingham Forest’s new manager – their thirteenth since the acrimonious departure of the iconic Brian Clough. For Forest supporters, those were indeed heady days.
The Clough years elevated Forest to the pinnacle of the football elite, not only in England but in Europe. Under the often outspoken Clough, Forest won the English league championship, two consecutive European Cups and four League Cups – something which is simply unthinkable in the present climate.
For between 1975 and 1993, Clough added a new colour to the football palette. By combining three key ingredients; that of steeliness, total commitment and eye catching football, Clough had essentially fused present day Stoke City with Brasil. From the outset his football philosophy was clear: simplicity was the most effective weapon. Defenders defend, midfielders manufacture, strikers score.
His philosophy was reflected in his squad. Still, before embarking upon the creative side of things, Clough was focused on establishing a clear spine throughout the team. This was realised through the brilliance of Peter Shilton in goal, Viv Anderson’s no nonsense defending through to the wizardry of winger Archie Gemmill and Trevor Francis’s lethal finishing. Clough had laid down the blueprint for the perfect Forest Formula. Since his departure in 1993, a succession of relegations, instability both on and off the pitch and a sense of nostalgia has blighted Forest in their bid to once again relive the glory days of the Clough era. Yet, in the form of Billy Davies, the Reds may well have rediscovered the Forest Formula.
Having escaped relegation by the skin of their teeth at the end of the 2008 / 2009 campaign, expectations for the 2009 / 2010 campaign were relatively low. However, the summer brought with it drastic changes. Nine players were bought in for a total of £6 million – big money given the financial structures within the Championship.
Admittedly the season did not start off the way Davies had hoped for. Forest were playing well but failing to get the results many thought their performances deserved. Ironically though it was the East Midlands Derby victory over Forest’s fiercest rivals Derby County, a former club of Brian Clough’s and currently managed by his son Nigel, in August which has provided a kick-start to a magnificent run of eighteen games unbeaten in both league and cup.
It is highly unlikely that Davies will ever be spoken about in the same breath as Clough but Davies football philosophy is akin to that of Clough. Of course nowadays there may not be any familiar names in the Forest teams like those of days gone by; however Davies has managed to skilfully build a well oiled machine.
There is an impressive blend of youth and experience, steeliness and creativity within the squad and crucially a positive vibe in the dressing room which has translated itself to the supporters.
Some will point to the money spent by Davies as a big factor in Forest’s rejuvenation however crucially, unlike others, he has spent extremely wisely. The acquisition of twice capped England left back Nicky Shorey on loan from Aston Villa, the defensive and leadership qualities of Forest captin Paul McKenna, the creativity provided by Rados³aw Majewski and the steady supply of goals from Dexter Blackstock are among the highlights.
Unlike his predecessors, Davies has placed round pegs in round holes. Having established a strong spine, Davies has introduced a new dimension to the Forest team: that of fast flowing absorbing football. Above all though, Davies has brought something with all Forest fans have been craving for for many years: stability.
Having seen the chopping and changing at both board and ground level at Portsmouth and most recently at Manchester City, it is clear that football is now more and more becoming a results-orientated game. However, Messers Ferguson and Wenger have shown that with the backing from the right people and a desire to head in the right direction that success will eventually come. Forest fans will be keen to see that the same faith is manifested in Davies.
Davies maintains that his team are not yet ready to go up. His torrid time with Derby County in the 2007 / 2008 Premier League campaign is still a painful memory. Yet, if Forest’s scintillating form continues, they may well end up back in the big time.
In the City Ground, Forest currently boast the tenth largest stadium outside the Premier League and with plans to build a new 50,000 stadium should England win the right to host the 2018 World Cup, they are certainly moving onwards and upwards. The infrastructure for the present and future is there and the support has been unwavering throughout. The days of Clough are still talked about and will never be forgotten. But one thing is for sure: by being the first manager in many a year to crack Clough’s elusive Forest formula, Davies may well be on the way to writing himself into the Nottingham Forest history books.