Good read this Dec 5, 2020 6:43:46 GMT via mobile
Post by bearder2006 on Dec 5, 2020 6:43:46 GMT
When the players of Nottingham Forest came off the pitch after their latest defeat, it was difficult not to be left with the impression that another season was threatening to pass them by.
They had just lost their third game in a row and, though the Championship can change quickly, the 1-0 home defeat by Swansea City leaves them 21st in the league. They have lost eight out of 14 games, scoring nine goals, and two of their three wins have been against teams who came up from League One this season. Add in Forest’s traumas towards the end of last season and it is easy to understand why one of their players, Joe Worrall, has neatly summed it up as an “absolute crap year”.
Except, of course, this is not just an annus horribilis. It has been 21 years since Forest dropped out of the top flight and Chris Hughton is the fifth manager at the City Ground since the Greek oligarch Evangelos Marinakis completed his takeover in the summer of 2017.
Hughton is trying to win promotion for the third time in his managerial career and, on the face of it, he is exactly the kind of manager — experienced, dignified, respected — Forest need for the Greek regime.
Yet it is not always that straightforward at Forest when, as Aitor Karanka, Martin O’Neill and Sabri Lamouchi will be able to testify, this is not an easy club to manage. The ambition is there. It is in other areas where Forest fall short.
So far, 69 players have been signed on permanent or loan deals in the seven transfer windows since Marinakis, the owner of Olympiacos, added Forest to his portfolio. No other club in England have been so active in the market. Nowhere else has stockpiled so many players, wanted and unwanted. Few clubs are so baffling.
Hughton knows what it takes to win promotion. But if he is going to turn it around, perhaps other things need to change. Perhaps it is time for the club to reflect what might have to be done differently.
It is nearly two years since Karanka left his position as Forest’s manager and, even now, the supporters know very little about the sequence of events that led to him deciding he could not face working for the club any longer.
Karanka has never talked about what happened and probably never will, preferring instead to take a dignified approach and keep his integrity rather than throwing mud at a club where he made many friends and developed a strong relationship with the fans.
The Spaniard was popular enough with supporters for a #dontsackaitor campaign to circulate on Twitter once it became apparent he was on the brink of losing his job.
Many supporters could not work out why his job was even in question when the team were competing for the play-offs, or even higher, and he had a proven record at Middlesbrough of knowing what was needed to win promotion.
Those supporters were even more perplexed by the idea that he would decide to walk away, especially when Forest had beaten Leeds United, then the Championship leaders, in their previous league match. Forest won 4-2 and a sold-out City Ground made it clear they wanted Karanka to stay. The team were one place outside the play-offs and the transfer window had just opened. So why would any manager in that position just walk away?
The answer is that, by that stage, Karanka was so worn down by the politics and unpleasantness behind the scenes that he did not have the stomach to carry on any longer.
Karanka was emotionally drained. He had been unhappy for some time. His wife, Ana, had stopped going to games because she did not want to see the people he blamed for making him so miserable. One person in particular: chief executive Ioannis Vrentzos.
That was the season Forest had allied with the “super-agent” Jorge Mendes. The Greeks wanted Mendes to have the same kind of positive influence for Forest that he did for Wolves in their 2017-18 promotion season. But Karanka started to feel under pressure from Vrentzos to pick certain players.
Key figures have told The Athletic that Karanka felt there was interference from above on team selection and that he worked for months in the belief that, if he did not do as they wanted, his job was increasingly in danger. It is understood Forest say the allegations of interference are incorrect and unfair.
One issue related to Arvin Appiah, one of the players to come through the club’s academy.
Forest’s hierarchy wanted Appiah to be involved with the first-team squad because the club intended to sell the player and thought it would bump up his valuation. Mendes had links to potential buyers and the club’s information was that Manchester United might be keen. Forest thought they could raise the kind of transfer fee that would help the club keep within the financial fair play regulations.
Karanka saw it differently. Appiah was talented but raw and Karanka had considerable doubts about whether a boy of 17 was ready for the Championship.
Insiders say Karanka’s relationship with Vrentzos had soured within a few months of taking the job and that he resented the way the chief executive behaved towards him. The issue with Appiah made it considerably worse. Nor did it help that Vrentzos had a habit of turning up to watch training after bad results, creating more pressure simply because of his presence.
One colleague recalls seeing Karanka’s shoulders sag and his entire body language change for the worse when he came off the training pitch, with a game the next day, to be told Vrentzos wanted to speak to him.
As everything came to a head, Karanka’s mentality was: you are going to sack me at some point, so I would rather be sacked picking the team I want.
On Boxing Day, 2018, Forest went to Norwich City and took a 3-0 lead after 74 minutes. Norwich then scored three of their own to salvage an almost implausible draw. The equaliser came in the eighth minute of stoppage time and journalists were told directly after the game that Karanka was close to being sacked. The story was out. Everyone knew Karanka was a dead man walking from that point onwards and for the next three weeks, the headlines created a whirl of pressure and uncertainty around him.
It was even leaked at one point that O’Neill had been identified as the choice of replacement.
Forest lost their next match at Millwall and, in the build-up to the game, the players noticed how detached Karanka was on the training ground. What they did not realise was that he had been close to resigning two months earlier. Karanka had accepted his relationship with Vrentzos was broken and blamed him for what had gone wrong.
Towards the end of Karanka’s reign, Vrentzos was turning up at the training ground on a near-daily basis. Not all the players were happy to see him and, noting the subdued atmosphere, it did not go down well when he told a member of medical staff to “get them all some laughing gas”. Vrentzos didn’t seem to realise that one of the reasons why the mood was so sombre was because of him.
Karanka was used to club politics and dealing with difficult bosses. He had been a player at Real Madrid and was part of the coaching staff at the Bernabeu when Jose Mourinho was manager. Yet he was shocked by his alleged treatment at Forest when, in his mind, it could have been the start of something special.
When Forest won one game against Ipswich Town, six weeks before his resignation, he looked so downbeat during the post-match press conference the BBC Radio Nottingham interviewer asked him, “You seem a bit flat, are you OK?”
“I’m very flat,” Karanka replied.
That went down badly with the club. The club are believed to feel that Karanka was putting on an act, hamming up his alleged unhappiness, and to claim that he had been celebrating the result in his office a few minutes earlier.
Marinakis flew in at one point to see if there was any way of fixing the relationship between Karanka and Vrentzos. But Karanka, regarded by colleagues as an intense yet honourable man, could not take any more. He had decided it was impossible to work with Vrentzos any more and concluded that Forest’s FA Cup tie at Chelsea would be his final match.
Karanka asked to be released from his contract and, as well as arranging a farewell meal for his closest staff at a nearby Gusto restaurant, he went to the stadium to say goodbye to everyone in the offices. Once that was done, he returned to the training ground to collect his belongings and say goodbye to all the relevant people there, too.
At the top of the club, they were annoyed that he was, in their eyes, still hanging around.
The club said they would not pay for some plastic boxes that had been bought by another member of staff, out of his own pocket, to help Karanka’s coaches pack up their belongings with a bit more dignity than having to use bin bags.
Appiah, now 19, was sold for £8 million eight months later. Yet it was not Manchester United who came in for him. It was Almeria — one of the clubs where Mendes has his strongest influence — in Spain’s second division. And by that stage, Forest had already moved out another manager.
In June 2017, a small group of people, including members of Nottingham Forest’s newly formed supporters’ trust, were invited into the boardroom to hear about the club’s plans.
What they were told was exciting, to say the least, after the various ordeals of the Fawaz Al Hasawi era and the unmistakable feeling under the previous regime that the club were going nowhere.
The previous month, Forest had avoided relegation to League One only by goal difference. Marinakis’ takeover had gone through and, to begin with, the newly appointed chairman Nicholas Randall had been put in day-to-day charge.
Randall, a QC who had previously represented Roy Keane, Wayne Rooney and Kevin Keegan, moved from London to start his new life. He gave Forest, and Marinakis, added front-of-house respectability and introduced himself in the form of an open letter that made a series of wide-ranging statements about involving supporters in the running of the club.
That 3,786-word letter, published on Forest’s website, stated that the club were committed to establishing a fans’ advisory board to help shape the club’s decision-making.
More than that, they would allow observers into the club’s board meetings on the basis that “fans and young people will play a crucial part in our project”. Some people, Randall said, did not think it was possible to run a club with that level of fan involvement. Forest would put in place the structures to show it could be done. Every sentence sounded positive. The PR for Marinakis was hugely effective.
Vrentzos arrived to take over the running of the club and, as it has turned out, it hasn’t gone quite as stated. A source close to the club says that is because the EFL requires consultation with fans’ groups to take place with official bodies, namely supporters’ trusts, which they have done instead.
But there is no advisory board. There are no observers allowed into Forest’s board meetings and, as a result, it has largely gone unnoticed that there have been important changes at the top of the club.
Apart from Vrentzos and Randall, the only other board member is Jonny Owen, the head of media. Unannounced, Randall’s role changed before the start of the current season. His role as chairman is now in a non-executive capacity, meaning he is no longer as involved as the previous three seasons. The decision was amicable and Randall still attends every match. But it seems remarkable that Forest have not let their supporters know.
What is left is very much the Vrentzos show and, if you are unfamiliar with his name, it is probably because he has deliberately kept a low media profile. Randall was always the one who took part in public appearances and photo opportunities. Whenever the club used Randall’s name, the in-house rule was always to add the “QC”. Forest very much wanted it to be known they had a respected legal figure in a senior position.
Vrentzos, in stark contrast, has avoided publicity and many Forest supporters will know virtually nothing about him. Yet it is fair to say he comes from a culture in Athens, as the former chief executive of Olympiacos, in which he is used to getting what he wants.
One story, never reported until now, involves a meal being arranged for the Forest hierarchy to meet high-ranking officials from Rushcliffe Borough Council to discuss the club’s proposals for a new stand.
Forest had submitted plans for a high-rise block of 250 apartments as part of the same development. It was 19 storeys high and the council had reservations about putting up such a large structure at a picturesque riverside location. A table was booked at the Cote Brasserie in West Bridgford, half a mile from the ground, and everything was cordial until the council leader Simon Robinson explained why the plans might have to be tweaked.
Vrentzos is said to have taken it badly, lost his temper and started remonstrating with Robinson in front of the entire restaurant. It was a remarkable scene. At one point, a member of the restaurant staff was said to have come over to check everything was OK.
High-ranking sources have said that what happened was a matter of embarrassment for the club. It is understood that Forest would not accept this description of the dinner.
In Randall’s open letter, he also talked about Forest having “a skeleton staff” under the previous owner. The club, he said, had been “in intensive care” and he wanted to reassure staff they would all be treated fairly under the new ownership.
Again, that early PR blitz for Marinakis was exactly what Forest’s supporters wanted to hear. Yet The Athletic has spoken to numerous staff over a long period of time and been told that, behind the scenes, the reality of working for Vrentzos is not quite so appealing. They speak about a culture in which some staff are said to worry about their job security.
Forest say that, apart from their playing department, their staff turnover is what would be expected as the norm at a football club. Yet The Athletic has been told staff have resorted to gallows humour at times because of the number of sackings and resignations. One room has been nicknamed the “Departure Lounge” because of the number of people who leave after going in.
When Randall arrived in Nottingham he talked about the principles with which the club were going to operate. The new-look Forest, he said, were going to take their lead from old-school Arsenal. The club would have values, on and off the pitch, and do everything with class and honour.
At one point, early last season, Vrentzos arranged for a coach trip to take staff to Forest’s game at Stoke City. Still, though, there appears to be considerable evidence, as Karanka, O’Neill (below with Roy Keane) and Lamouchi found out, that perhaps there is a cultural problem at the club.
At one stage, the club are said to have discussed John Thompson’s position as a match-day host because their former player had put out a tweet wishing Notts County good luck. Forest had fallen out with their neighbours and did not seem to realise that Thompson might not have been aware, or cared, about these politics. Thompson had played for both Forest and Notts and was a popular figure with both sets of supporters. Forest have chosen not to comment.
Forest were particularly livid when the film-makers at Copa90 released a 23-minute documentary, The Greatest Story in Football, about the club’s glory years and other notable parts of their history. The film was hugely popular with fans but the club were incensed that it did not focus on the Greek ownership. They were especially angry because there was a positive section on Nigel Doughty, the club’s former owner.
Doughty died suddenly in 2012, aged 54, and the academy is named after him to recognise his dedication to developing young players. The idea that could ever change seems inconceivable and Forest say that remains the case. But there are conflicting accounts.
One senior figure has independently told The Athletic there were conversations at one stage about whether the club should explore the possibilities of removing Doughty’s name. The relevant people, it was said, were persuaded that it would be a PR disaster and the matter was dropped.
Sources close to Forest say this version of events is false and they have good relations with the Doughty family.
Users of Twitter last week, amid growing criticism of the Greek regime, might have been forgiven for questioning those relations. When one Forest supporter tweeted about the “toxic regime” of the Greeks and a hashtag of #VrentzosOut, it was noted that Doughty’s daughter, Helena, was among the Forest fans whose account “liked” it.
When O’Neill was appointed as manager in January 2019 the club were still facing a backlash from fans who were upset about Karanka’s departure.
The club had to make O’Neill sound like an upgrade and desperately wanted to persuade fans that it was the right appointment. The crowds for O’Neill’s first three matches went down every time. Forest, however, had to project a mood of positivity. “It has been like Beatlemania,” the club said.
Behind the scenes, the club spread the message that Karanka had been unpopular with the players. Ben Osborn, it was said, had been unhappy about being a substitute and did not celebrate scoring Forest’s fourth goal against Leeds. Joe Lolley was upset about being substituted in the defeat to QPR. Every dressing room has a few tensions and Forest’s was no different. Overall, however, there was no great evidence of Karanka being unpopular.
In reality, the players were nonplussed by O’Neill’s appointment and the decision polarised opinion among fans, many of whom suspected the Irishman, approaching his 67th birthday, was out of touch with modern football.
Some of the players were not even alive when O’Neill had his peak years at Leicester City in the mid-1990s. They had to look on Google to find out who he was. The players were more intrigued about Roy Keane taking the role as assistant manager and, however much spin was applied, it quickly became apparent O’Neill’s appointment was not going to work.
O’Neill fell out with numerous players. Forest dropped away from the play-offs. The style of play was not like Randall, in his open letter, had stated would be a requirement for all Forest managers. Some of the players came to think that O’Neill preferred the English and Irish players over the foreign ones. At one point, a delegation of senior players talked about challenging him over his belief that pre-season training should begin with long, punishing runs up and down the hills of Nottingham’s Wollaton Park.
For Vrentzos and his colleagues, it was disconcerting after all the issues related to Karanka’s departure.
At one point, the club found out a first-team player had been talking to a Forest fan on holiday. The fan had used his Facebook account to mention what had been said about O’Neill. It didn’t read well. O’Neill was never made aware but one senior Forest official contacted the player to point out it had got back to the club.
O’Neill had been in charge for only 19 games before he was called in by Vrentzos, five days into pre-season, to be sacked. O’Neill had no idea it was coming and hugely upset. One of his grievances was said to be leaving out goalkeeper Costel Pantilimon to suit the club.
Pantilimon, it is understood, had a clause in his contract that would have meant Forest owing money to his previous club, Watford, after a certain number of appearances.
Pantilimon, who was not keen on a switch to Olympiacos, did not play for Forest again and was subsequently frozen into the “bomb squad” until signing for Omonia Nicosia in Cyprus seven months later.
Being in the bomb squad means training and eating away from the other players and not being allowed into the first-team building unless injured. It means, in many cases, professional humiliation. Zach Clough has been in Forest’s version for much of the last two years and throughout the Marinakis era as a whole, it would be possible to put together a full Bomb Squad XI, plus substitutes. It has cost millions of pounds in dead wages.
The bomb squad is also an insight into how the Greek regime operates.
In a typical case, the process involves Kyriakos Dourekas, a former Olympiacos administrator who is now based at Forest’s training ground, sending a message to the relevant players to let them know they are no longer part of the first-team squad’s training. The players then have to empty their lockers and move into the academy building. It is particularly degrading for senior players who have been in the game for 10 to 15 years. The players are often marginalised to the point that they are desperate to get away and, as such, easier to sell or be paid off.
In some cases, however, the players are so angry about their treatment they deliberately play hardball when it comes to the club’s attempts to pay up their contracts. Forest have been known to open negotiations at 20 per cent.
On one occasion, while the players were training at St George’s Park, one member of the bomb squad went into the first-team building and asked the chef if he could have an omelette. The chef told him they were under instructions that everyone in the bomb squad had to eat with the under-23s in another building.
One player secretly taped his conversations with Vrentzos. Another was so aggrieved about the conditions in the bomb squad he complained to the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA). Officials from the PFA visited the training ground to speak to the relevant players and club executives. As the players were involved with the under-23s, it still counted as professional football (unlike, say, if they were with the under-18s) and the PFA left it to Forest to decide how this part of the club should operate.
In September 2019, Vincent Kompany had a testimonial match for Manchester City and Pantilimon, his former team-mate, was invited to be part of it. First, though, Pantilimon needed permission from Forest. Vrentzos’ response was unequivocal: no chance.
O’Neill had gone by that stage. His sacking was confirmed in a 37-word statement at 1.21pm on June 28 and Lamouchi, who had flown in from France the previous day, was confirmed as the new manager at 1.39pm. Forest had decided in that 18-minute gap there was no point going through the pretence that they did not already have O’Neill’s replacement lined up.
It was a questionable way to treat O’Neill, one of Forest’s European Cup winners, when he was supposed to be a club legend. Keane had quit Forest the previous week but was so incensed he rang Randall to tell him exactly what he thought about the way the club was run.
When Lamouchi took charge of his final game, a home defeat to Bristol City on October 3, he did not realise that Forest had been speaking to Hughton a few days earlier to make sure their next manager was in place before sacking the one they already had.
This time Forest’s statement was 18 words: “Nottingham Forest can confirm that the contract of head coach Sabri Lamouchi has been terminated with immediate effect.” Again, Forest did not try to disguise the fact they had his replacement lined up. Hughton’s appointment was announced 30 minutes later.
Forest had won only three out of their previous 20 games and, unfortunately for Lamouchi, that was always going to make him vulnerable, particularly after the meltdown against Stoke City that had seen his team crash out of the play-off positions in their final game last season.
As Marinakis subsequently made clear in a Zoom call with the first-team squad, what happened that night was a humiliation. Forest lost 4-1 and Stoke’s officials were bemused to see Vrentzos make his way to the front of the stand in the final minutes to shout at the home dugout that they needed to score. During one recent game, the BBC commentator had to explain to listeners that the person they could hear in the background was Vrentzos, watching from the directors’ box.
Lamouchi, now coaching Al Duhail in Qatar, had grown fond of Nottingham but was saddened by what he regarded as a lack of class from the people above him. The Frenchman was hurt not to receive the common courtesy of a public thank you or good luck message. Lamouchi came away with the distinct impression that Forest’s hierarchy needed to treat people with more respect.
At times of Lamouchi’s tenure, the players had started to suspect he was often following orders, rather than having the power to do everything his own way. Throughout his time at the club, signings had been made without them necessarily being his targets. The club’s transfer-market dealings in the January window were particularly disappointing and, in fairness to Lamouchi, those decisions appear to have been led by other people.
When Lamouchi was summoned to Athens for showdown talks with Marinakis in August, one of the Frenchman’s requests was more influence in the club’s transfer business. The club were keen for it to be known that Lamouchi had come out of those talks with greater power and the right to refuse any player he did not want. Lyle Taylor and Luke Freeman were Lamouchi’s top targets. Marinakis was happy to back his manager, as he often does, and Vrentzos set to work to close off the deals. Others quickly followed.
Yet other stories confuse matters again.
One relates to Miguel Guerrero’s transfer. Guerrero was unwanted at Olympiacos after spending the previous seven months on loan with Leganes, one of the teams to be relegated from La Liga. When Marinakis initially suggested the player moved to Nottingham, Lamouchi was apparently not keen on the idea. When Marinakis suggested it a second time, Lamouchi politely made the same point again. Marinakis recommended Guerrero for a third occasion and Lamouchi said yes. Lamouchi had apparently taken the view that, if Marinakis was going to offer it three times, it was probably better to accept the player.
Three days into the new season, Marinakis then arranged the Zoom call in which he laid into the players for their end-of-season slump, their habit of losing to Barnsley (Forest have subsequently been beaten at Oakwell again, making it three defeats in four months) and for letting him down as the owner.
Those players had been expecting more of a good-luck message and some felt that Lamouchi was badly undermined by the club’s owner. They were unimpressed by what they heard and it was directly after that call that record-signing Joao Carvalho and Albert Adomah were called in by Vrentzos and put in the bomb squad. Carvalho had played in the previous game, as well as featuring prominently in pre-season, only to be completely removed from Lamouchi’s first-team plans.
Although Forest say it is always the manager who decides which players go into the bomb squad, some of Lamouchi’s colleagues had the clear impression the Frenchman was uneasy about this part of the club.
“There are some players, I’ve never seen them,” Lamouchi said in one interview last season. “I don’t know these players. I asked the club but these players never make one session with me.”
So, what does all this mean for Hughton?
Six weeks in, he will hope that it will be different on his watch and that what has happened in the past will not necessarily happen with him.
The encouraging part for Hughton, perhaps, is that he has taken the title of manager whereas Lamouchi was “head coach”. There is an important difference and, if Hughton is given space to do the job as he can, there is considerable evidence that it will be to the club’s benefit. That, in short, is the moral of this story. Several people who have spoken to The Athletic have said they want Forest to learn from what has happened and understand they might have to change their approach.
It is also clear that, even after two decades out of the Premier League, Forest are still an attractive proposition. The club’s information was that Sam Allardyce, Eddie Howe and Nigel Pearson were interested in the vacancy, as well as the manager of another Championship club.
The attractions are obvious when Forest have their history, their fanbase and — despite that unfortunate scene in the Cote Brasserie — a stadium ripe for development.
Forest have also made it clear they are still committed to building a new stand, 22 months since announcing their plans to take the ground’s capacity to 38,000. Originally, the stand was meant to go up at the end of last season. Yet the club never received planning permission and announced in March that it was being delayed because of COVID-19. The club say they are pressing on with the plans but, almost nine months on, a planning decision has still not been made. The council says no date has been finalised for it, despite reports recently that it might be January.
What the Greeks have done superbly is recognise that Nottingham, as a football city, had become a place of low self-esteem and the club’s supporters needed to feel optimistic again.
This, undoubtedly, has been their greatest victory. The club slashed ticket prices to bring back the crowds. That was one of Marinakis’ first moves and immediately brought him a wave of goodwill. The proposed ground redevelopment did the same.
Randall had described Forest as being “not fit for purpose” under Al Hasawi’s regime and that, plainly, is no longer the case.
Before every home game, Randall prepares a speech to welcome the opposition club’s directors into the boardroom. Marinakis is not usually there, despite having a specially adapted seat, throne-like, in the directors’ box and arranging for his own suite to be put in at the training ground (staff know when he is coming because they are told to avoid wearing purple, his least favourite colour). Randall is a fine host who has embraced life in Nottingham, made a lot of friends and been particularly keen to involve younger fans and some of the club’s more celebrated former players. On that front, there is a lot to like.
As for Vrentzos, perhaps an argument could be made that Forest needed a shake-up after the torpor that existed before. Vrentzos, who divides his time between Nottingham and Athens, has had success at Olympiacos. He is a respected figure in Greek football because of his involvement in the Marinakis empire and, though Al Hasawi still likes to chip away at his former club on Twitter, Forest’s wider reputation is a lot better now than it was during the previous era. Nor can anyone doubt Vrentzos’ determination to get it right.
What the Greeks have not been able to do, however, is demonstrate any real kind of plan or vision when it comes to building a successful team. In the worst moments, they have created an atmosphere that multiple sources, at both the training ground and stadium, have described as unpleasant and toxic — a complete absence, you could say, of the old Arsenal values — and perhaps it is because they are so impatient for success that it has been that way. Forest’s league position has gone up every year, from 17th to ninth and seventh. Yet the Greeks are dissatisfied with their progress and, with that, frustration comes in.
Gary Weaver, the Sky Sports commentator, summed it up during Forest’s 2-0 defeat at Bournemouth last week: “He (Marinakis) is a man who wants the club in the Premier League yesterday.”
The same applies to Vrentzos but perhaps they underestimated how difficult it would be to navigate a route out of the Championship. Marinakis’ five-year plan was to have won promotion, established the club in the Premier League and qualified for Europe. But that is easier said than done and the Greeks, trying to run Olympiacos and Forest at the same time, have discovered they are wholly different clubs.
The Athletic understands Vrentzos has made a conscious effort to change his approach recently, smiling more often and deliberately staying away from the training ground, and that appears to be a step in the right direction when this has been an issue for some of Hughton’s predecessors.
At most clubs, the manager will be afforded a bit of space after matches, particularly if there has been a bad result. At Forest, Vrentzos has been known to stand in the tunnel or pace up and down the corridor “like a caged tiger” outside the dressing room.
After one defeat during the Karanka era, Vrentzos ordered staff out of the kit room and brought in one of the senior players, Ben Watson, to speak to him directly. Watson’s contract expired at the end of last season and many fans were surprised that Forest never announced the departure of their club captain or thanked him publicly.
Players’ families have often commented that Forest, at the highest level, did the least to look after them out of all of the clubs they had known.
Club medics have been unimpressed by requests to see Marinakis’ Nottingham-based son, Miltiadis, for treatment and massages when there are so many players who need their attention.
At times, there has been an us-and-them attitude involving the players and the people at the top of the club. One of Hughton’s jobs is to stop any bad vibes filtering back to the dressing room.
Dourekas moved to Nottingham at the height of the Karanka-Vrentzos fallout and goes by the title of director of football. For the most part, however, he is regarded more as an operations manager at the training ground, where he is seen as the eyes and ears for Marinakis. Dourekas is even said to have put on a tracksuit to watch one of his first home games, on Karanka’s watch, from beside the dugout.
Vrentzos, meanwhile, oversees recruitment during what has been the most chaotic period of transfer activity in the club’s history.
That transfer record is moderate: 31 of Forest’s 55 signings before this season had started fewer than a dozen games for the manager who signed them. Another 14 players arrived from 11 August to 16 October, averaging a new signing every five days. In one defeat at Huddersfield Town, Forest fielded an entire defence made up of four debutants.
Forest remain confident they have a top-two manager and a top-six squad and, on paper, they certainly look capable of moving away from their current position just a single place above the relegation zone.
Yet it has been a remarkable overhaul for a club that, lest it be forgotten, were in the play-offs from Boxing Day until stoppage time on the final day of last season. It has been a reminder that Marinakis and Vrentzos come from a football culture where change and short-termism is the norm. And with the high turnover of staff, including five different managers, perhaps it is no surprise that there has been no obvious plan when it comes to building a discernible philosophy.
As Gregor Robertson, the former Forest player, wrote recently in his column for The Times: “If Hughton turns out to be the man who returns Forest to the Premier League, he will be a hero. But it will owe more to chance than design.”
Frank McParland was the first director of football after the Marinakis takeover. Only for six months, though. Luke Dowling, who came in next, lasted seven months. Simon Hunt’s position as chief scout was even more short-lived and then, under O’Neill, it was Tommy Johnson’s turn, including one moment of tragicomedy that probably sums up the revolving-door culture.
On Johnson’s first day, he had introduced himself inside the main office building when he was asked if he knew the person standing a few feet away. Clue: his name was Simon. Forest were letting Hunt go and Johnson was taking his place. They just hadn’t coordinated it so the two men would not have to go through an awkward handshake.
Marinakis also brought in Francois Modesto as technical director and another Frenchman, Jose Anigo, as head of international recruitment. Modesto is also involved in the transfer business of Olympiacos and the link-up between the two clubs means a direct line of communication, in theory, to trade players.
Olympiacos used it to their advantage last month by signing Tiago Silva, a regular in Lamouchi’s first-choice XI. They were also widely reported in Greece to be exploring the possibility of signing Yuri Ribeiro, Forest’s popular left-back. Ribeiro, whose potential availability attracted attention from other clubs, stayed in Nottingham but was said to have a removals company at his house on the final day of the transfer window.
Six players have joined Forest after being at Olympiacos, along with several under-23s who have since returned to Greece. Guerrero, to give him his due, has started three of the last four games. None of his predecessors, though, has managed more than four 90-minute appearances in the Championship. Panagiotis Tachtsidis, who did not make a single appearance, was so upset about leaving Athens he was said to have cried on the journey from Heathrow airport to Nottingham.
As for Anigo, he was arrested by French police in October as part of an ongoing investigation, unrelated to Forest, into the transfer of Marseille winger Isaac Lihadji to Lille. Anigo has denied any wrongdoing but the headlines were awkward for Forest when the backdrop of Marinakis’ ownership was, first, match-fixing allegations in Greece and then a case being opened against him for alleged drugs trafficking. Marinakis has always strenuously denied any wrongdoing and alleges he is the victim of a government conspiracy.
Anigo, according to Forest themselves, had been part of Lamouchi’s summit talks in August and, to begin with, the club let it be known they were considering suspending him, pending the outcome of the police investigation. A few days later, their position had changed dramatically. “The club can confirm that the agreement with Mr Anigo expired in June 2020,” a statement read.