Was O’Neill’s dismissal the right decision?

It is very easy to look at Martin O’Neill’s dismissal as Nottingham Forest manager with cynicism.

Since Brian Clough left in 1993, the club’s longest-serving manager has been Old Big ‘Ead’s successor – Frank Clark – who lasted three years in charge, a total equalled only by Paul Hart, while Billy Davies and Stuart Pearce had two stints apiece.

However, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that despite O’Neill’s association with the club, he was not the right man.

 

The former Republic of Ireland boss appeared to fall out with senior members of the squad, he instigated training sessions with extreme emphasis on running and reportedly worked without a laptop.

Aspects of his methods, of course, brought him success with Leicester, Celtic and Aston Villa across the 1990s and noughties.

However, three of the first six new Championship managers this summer are younger than 40; clubs are increasingly looking at coaches who not only embrace modern methods, but also know how to motivate millennials.

The players should not be exempt from scrutiny, yet O’Neill struggled adapt and his frequent omission of last summer’s £13.2M signing Joao Carvalho from the starting XI was a big problem.

Although the timing of the change is not ideal, the Forest board were right to make it before internal relations unravelled.

 

Who is Lamouchi?

The man to replace O’Neill, announced 18 minutes after the initial news, is Sabri Lamouchi, who did a good job at Stade Rennais.

He inherited an unfavourable situation in November 2017, when some fans wanted another contender, transforming them from a possible relegation battle to Europa League qualification.

The following season, he was hamstrung by a power struggle with president Olivier Letang and was dismissed after a poor run of results, but fans still credit him for laying the groundwork for the eventual Coupe de France victory.

The 47-year-old, who favours a 4-2-3-1, wants his teams to be balanced, flexible and at times pragmatic; a blueprint Forest’s current squad has the capacity to carry out.

 

A mixed squad

A new appointment normally signals a lot of new players coming in – but the Tricky Trees only released Stephen Henderson and Jamie Ward earlier this summer.

Sammy Ameobi’s arrival a day before O’Neill’s exit means they have 31 contracted professionals, not including highly-rated academy products such as Danny Preston, Brennan Johnson and Tyrese Fornah.

This means Lamouchi will not be short of depth, but it also means there will be little room in the budget.

Imposing centre-back Alexander Milosevic made an impact after joining in January; he, plus skilful wide forward Joe Lolley, creative maestro Joao Carvalho and powerful goalscorer Lewis Grabban are the obvious guaranteed performers in the current squad.

Beyond that though, it will be a case, for now at least, of Lamouchi improvising somewhat.

He must develop the likes of Matty Cash, Ryan Yates, Tyler Walker and Arvin Appiah, help Ben Osborn improve his work at left-back and coax the form out of Adlene Guedioura or Claudio Yacob that once made them Premier League material.

Not all the players are of the required calibre and Lamouchi must streamline the squad; this may mean dismissing seven or eight players who are slightly below the standard, then bringing in three or four who would improve the first XI.

That process, though, may need to be done next summer and so, within reason, immediate expectations should be slightly tempered; it will be important to have the same man in charge for two pre-seasons running – something Forest have not done for nine years.

If Forest want to build a coherent identity in the modern era, patience will be key.

Odds are correct at the time of posting

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