Nottingham Forest fan and columnist Tom Head explains why he feels Martin O'Neill isn't the right man for the Forest helm:
An image of a half-empty Trent End came to characterise Forest’s abysmal 2-1 defeat to Blackburn on Saturday.
Fans, quite simply, had turned their backs on more than just the game: This was the culmination of an experiment more heinous than anything that went on behind the Iron Curtain.
Sadly, the sparsely populated stand showed us that the club has fully reaped what they’ve sown. It took 18 months to send Fawaz’s toxic legacy to the bottom of the Trent, but it would only be a matter of weeks before the zombified corpse of apathy was back above the surface.
The scale of our turnaround over Christmas could only be matched by that of Ebeneezer Scrooge. Before the New Year, we had everything to play for. Now, we are a fanbase on the brink of a civil war. Whatever your stance is on the current man in charge, there is no argument to suggest that Martin O’Neill was anything but a flawed appointment.
Call this nailing my colours to the mast, or frame it any way you like, but I know I speak for an increasing number of Forest fans - perhaps now a majority - who have already accepted that no good can come from this marriage made in a cocoon of our own history.
There are two silver elephants sat in our trophy room causing a lot of friction between supporters at the moment.
With this being the 40th anniversary of Forest winning the European Cup, the trips down memory lane were always going to occur more often this year. It has proved to be a wedge driving itself between supporters, who are torn between having pride in their history and coming to resent it.
Only in the truly insane micro-climate of Nottingham Forest could this be a thing. Our achievements are numerous and unparalleled. Yet they also weigh heavy on our current identity. Every celebration of a goal in Munich is a painful reminder of what fans aged 35 and under have yet to experience. Every time we see Robbo stick it in the bottom corner at the Bernabeu, we grow more and more distant from that part of the club.
There is a distinct lack of respect for this sub-section of fans - dismissed as being “too young”, “ungrateful” or “better off supporting someone else”. But how long can we celebrate a cup win we weren’t alive for? How long can we laugh at the same anecdotes of success without our own tales to tell? We see your night on the ale in Madrid and raise a few pints in Oldham’s clapped-out Wetherspoons.
You have to understand just how increasingly irrelevant all these achievements have become. No Premier League for 20 years. No Wembley for 30 years. Thousands of our supporters have never seen us in the top division, so you cannot bludgeon them into permanently living in an era that is light years away from anything they’ve ever known as Forest fans.
We haven’t been liberated by this escape to history. We’ve been suffocated by it. So when we got rid of a manager who was young, dynamic and the right amount of imperfect, the last thing we needed was a blast from the past. But, as has been the case since the mid-nineties, Forest took a bizarre swerve off-course.
Martin O’Neill came in. Some fans claimed it was the appointment we had been waiting for. In reality, it was the one that had passed both parties by many moons ago. It’s hard to swallow the idea that this was a romantic homecoming for O'Neill, after he had turned down chances to manage us in the past and only joined us when his stock hit an all-time low.
I’m going to take a deep breath now, and explain why Martin O’Neill cannot continue as our manager...
His last few jobs - with Ireland, Sunderland and Aston Villa - have ended acrimoniously. He hasn’t managed a single game in the Championship. His status as a “miracle man” may have been enough to impress the board, but can you honestly say any other club above the bottom six in this division would see O’Neill as an improvement on what they currently have? You’d have to say no, and that’s the most damning assessment of this whole saga.
Forest have wilfully ignored more viable candidates, in favour of someone who would struggle to get motors revving at Loftus Road. No wonder it’s all set to end in tears, and it was inevitable we’d reach such a cavernous low in such a short space of time.
The standard of football has been particularly dire which, in itself, could be forgiven for a new manager trying to come in and implement his own style. But O'Neill is seemingly trying to commit his own acts of sabotage. One of our most creative players has been dropped, and our £13 million wonderkid is now a dab-hand at pulling splinters from his backside. If Joao Carvalho spends any longer on that bench, he’ll end up with woodworm.
Criminally negative team selections don’t end there. In fact, Martin has strayed into the absurd: Both Jack Colback and Ben Osborn have been played ahead of a fully-fit Jack Robinson at left-back when both are inferior options. Alex Milosevic has dropped off the face of the earth. And, when the chips are down and Forest need to pull something out of the bag, the Irishman will make sure three defensive midfielders are on the pitch at all times.
You are no less of a fan for wanting to look forward, rather than backwards. It is not “unsupportive” to be abhorred by what you’ve seen from O'Neill's recent tactical offerings. And, most importantly, you must not be bullied into keeping your opinions to yourself: Even if the voices on the other side seem louder than yours...
The flawed appointment also seems to have implications with what the local media can and can’t say - which is a massive obstacle in expressing the pitfalls of O’Neill. Many of his former teammates dominate column inches and the airwaves of Forest-focused outlets. There’s hardly going to be a fair inquisition when the gaffer’s got friends in high places.
It doesn’t half show sometimes. Both the manager and other miracle men have conspired to blame a nosedive in form on the quality of the squad. It’s beyond laughable: After a £20 million revamp. After Lewis Grabban nets his 17th of the season. After Joe Lolley shows us why he’s got the Ballon d'Or 2020 sewn up: We get fed this feeble narrative.
Had we made one or two shrewd additions in January, we’d be looking at a squad easily capable of finishing in the top six. But we were too busy committing gross acts of sabotage to care. Alienating the fans took priority instead.
We are not a lost cause, though. Not yet.
All of what has been written prior to this seems more like an obituary over anything else. It’s merely a plea for those involved with the running of the club to come to their senses. O’Neill is no less of a legend in my eyes, and the blame does not lie with him for taking the job, either. Two very erratic decisions in two weeks cost us this season, but they do not have to cost us the one coming up.
The sooner we cut the cord and admit that this is not the right fit for what we want to achieve, the sooner we can all stop bickering. The divide is a chasm, and although you’ll never get all Forest fans singing from the same hymn sheet, the unity we experienced in the first few months of this season was as good as I’ve seen it over the post-Doughty era.
If you could see the Titanic heading for an iceberg, you wouldn’t look the other way just because the captain is someone you idolised growing up. You’d sound the alarm. You’d stand up and say “this is only going to end in disaster”. That’s all that is happening here. With no vendettas against the club, the manager or pro-O’Neill fans, all we want is a return to values that aren’t dictated by what happened 40 years ago.
Luckily for us, Marinakis is a shipping magnate. And he knows a sinking vessel when he sees one.