Michael Bailey: They once had youth in common, now the roads are very different for Forest and City
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In his weekly column, Norwich City correspondent and PinkUn Show host Michael Bailey wonders what price Nottingham Forest would consider paying for their Premier League dream.
If there is one thing Nottingham Forest cannot be accused of in recent years, it’s sticking something out.
The Championship 2009-10 under Billy Davies – that was the last time the former European Cup winners saw a manager start and end the same season. Even Davies had another go himself two years later, and didn’t quite make it.
That’s roughly 10 serious managerial appointments in the space of little more than seven years. Plus a few caretakers. Some repeatedly.
Gary Brazil has three temporary stints to his name, while Stuart Pearce’s romantic ‘permanent’ homecoming was supposed to work but didn’t; a dramatic comeback win over Neil Adams’ Norwich in late 2014 was probably as good as it got.
The City Ground atmosphere was something else that day.
The cycle was supposed to change with Mark Warburton’s appointment in the spring of 2017, at a time when the ex-Brentford boss’ stock was still high.
What proved the final roll of the dice under Forest’s then owners the Al-Hasawi family, the idea was unequivocal: a young, talented, erratic and inconsistent squad to build on and one day, deliver the kind of value exemplified by Huddersfield Town.
Three first-team goalkeepers under 25, defensive talents Tobias Figueiredo (24) and Tendayi Darikwa (26) with Barrie McKay (23), Ben Osborn (24), Matty Cash (21) and a superb attacking prospect in Ben Brereton – just 19 – making a genuine impact at the other end of the pitch.
On the eve of 2018 and after their 25th league game – an admittedly shocking 1-0 home defeat to a struggling Sunderland (still better than Norwich managed) Forest were 14th in the table, and their new owner Evangelos Marinakis lost his nerve with the past owners’ direction.
Warburton was gone, ex-Middlesbrough boss Aitor Karanka arrived and before Forest fans could wish people a happy Easter the words Wolves, promotion, money and Jorge Mendes were echoing around the City Ground.
Last summer McKay was sold to Swansea, Brereton made a shock loan switch to Blackburn that is set to become permanent in January, while Forest’s remaining academy products have had to bide a little more time than last term – a cost many supporters will accept, given their club sits fifth in the early Championship running and like Norwich, among the division’s form sides.
Maybe this will be the year Forest make their top-flight return. There’s no doubting that is the sole aim for Karanka and co.
To offer a pure comparison, Forest’s previous journey echoed what Norwich City have been striving to achieve in their post-parachute payments world; City have arguably attempted to manage the youthfulness with cheaper yet more professionally experienced foreign recruits.
What the Canaries have not stumbled across is an ability to even countenance a similar approach to that now taken by Forest.
Instead it has taken supporters and a handful of investors to turn £5m into the club’s significant Colney Training Centre redevelopment – alongside vows that academy life will be no walk in the park for Norwich’s young players; not to be obdurate, but to help those talents survive the professional world that awaits them outside their youth development bubble.
With that sits a first-team head coach spinning integration alongside a whole host of other plates that at other clubs – Forest now included – would carry a greater weight.
Forest’s redirection puts into context the size of the task Norwich have to undertake, and especially the opposition they are coming up against to achieve it.
In turn there is no denying City’s own vision has come under scrutiny since it arrived, and once again with the recent departures and promotions on the business side of the club – scrutiny that will continue with the latest set of accounts primed for released this month, and the club’s annual general meeting towards the end of the next.
It all places the annual emphasis on City maintaining their recent form – currently behind only the top two in the table – through October and beyond.
From observing the mood music, it does feel like those supporters who want to are buying in to what Norwich are trying to achieve. There’s an appreciation of the young players, how inexperienced they are and a willingness to support their development – again, always made easier by a general trend of positive results.
As for those that don’t want to, they are either biding their time or opting to switch their focus on something else. And that’s not a dig. It’s as much as part of football’s cyclical nature as the success and failings on the pitch.
This weekend in front of a bumper City Ground crowd, a fair bit of expectation and the prospect of a cracking Championship football match, will be two visions pitting their wits.
The hope with Norwich City now is that theirs will prove strong enough to survive the short-term football rigours and eventually provide sustainable success that outlasts the length of Jorge Mendes’ client list.
• While we all know the answer of course, it should be a fun night seeing teams representing Norwich City and Ipswich Town battle it out in quiz form for bragging rights to the title, Pride of Anglia.
The Norwich City Fans Social Club are putting on the event at Carrow Road on Thursday night with former professionals Darren Eadie, Grant Holt and Terry Butcher primed for quiz duties – as well as a little question and answer session.
Even better, once again the event will be raising money for the excellent Community Sports Foundation.
If you’re free, get along. For more details visit: ncfsc.co.uk
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