Sean O’Driscoll’s appointment at Nottingham Forest was a ‘cultural fit’
Nottingham Forest broke with convention when they appointed Sean O’Driscoll in the summer. Seldom nowadays does a club call upon a manager when his stock has fallen following a dismissal at a smaller club, but fate conspired to make it a feasible option at the City Ground.
With no better offers forthcoming, O’Driscoll spent the final four months of last season taking on coaching responsibilities for Steve Cotterill. The fact that Cotterill didn’t see O’Driscoll as a threat to his own position when he made that call tells its own story. But the former Doncaster boss made a difference and the fans immediately put two and two together.
Under Cotterill, the tactics were negative and, as the emphasis on keeping clean sheets became all-consuming, the players became inhibited. When O’Driscoll arrived, some semblance of creativity soon returned and results improved. To those who had already made their mind up about Cotterill, the contrast in the ‘before’ and ‘after’ with O’Driscoll was as stark as a couple of Chris Moyles cardboard cut-outs.
So when Cotterill was jettisoned in the summer, O’Driscoll went with him and put his rehabilitation to good use by accepting the job as Crawley manager. Yet it wasn’t long before the search for Cotterill’s replacement turned back to O’Driscoll as his name circulated the Forest messageboards as one that would make them happy.
To understand why O’Driscoll was being revered is to understand the issue of ‘cultural fit’, a factor too often under-valued by owners and chairmen when going through the managerial appointment process. Treated to over a decade with Brian Clough at the helm, the City Ground faithful like to see the game played a certain way, a philosophy best illustrated by Clough’s immortal ‘grass in the sky’ quote.
Opposing fans usually scoff at such leanings, labelling them as delusional, but for those who make the decisions over managerial appointments, it can be gift that buys you some leverage. So long as you recruit a manager that fits the preferred template, you are guaranteed a higher degree of patience from the fans and a sense of long-term stability is much easier to achieve.
It’s a bonus most chairmen and chief executives overlook but Forest had brand new owners who were newcomers to the English game (and thereby only mildly familiar with English football agents) and they weren’t fixated with demonstrating their own expertise.
The top priority for the Al-Hasawi family, it seems, was to show willing and make a decision that would be popular with the fans. For them, the fact that O’Driscoll would come relatively cheap, preaching a philosophy steeped in hard work on the training ground rather than needlessly splashing cash was, presumably, a bonus, making the decision itself a bit of a no-brainer.
Now the rewards of cultural fit are there for all to see. It’s too early to make any bold judgements about timescales on promotion to the Premier League, but Forest fans and players are both relaxed and excited by the situation they now find themselves. Once again, this is a club at ease with its own identity and that can be a powerful cocktail when the pressure sets in later in the season.
O’Driscoll worked wonders at Doncaster, overachieving for four successive seasons before his miniscule budget eventually caught up with him and the gig turned sour. Yet the ‘recency effect’ left him as an outcast. It was only an unusual sequence of events that catapulted him into a top job at Championship level – a job that, on balance, he deserves.
There’s no doubt O’Driscoll made mistakes during his demise at the Keepmoat but you only learn from experience and a good dose of misfortune can be reassuring when you study a manager’s CV. With Forest fans enraptured and the team looking set to mount a genuine promotion assault, it’s a case study that more clubs would be well-advised to pay attention to.championship, football, Nottingham Forest, Sean O'Driscoll
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