Sean O’Driscoll’s appointment at Nottingham Forest was a ‘cultural fit’

Michael Holden
Sean ODriscoll 300x225 Sean ODriscolls appointment at Nottingham Forest was a cultural fit

Nottingham Forest manager Sean O'Driscoll

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.

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  • The Chump

    Nice to see some well considered football journalism for once, it’s worth noting that the new owners at Forest have apparently listened to the knowledgeable members of the existing management team they inherited at Forest. They brought in the manager the players wanted, a good slice of the fanbase, and the existing coaching staff too.

    They have also brought back the extremely popular Youth coach, John Pemberton, another “cultural fit” and they have invested wisely (as per O’Driscol and chief scout Burt) in “Forest style” players.

    Forest had the reputation as a good clean passing team even before Clough’s (near 2 decade) reign.

    If a graph were made of Forest’s success plotted against playing style (going back to at least the 1950’s) it would show an almost perfect correlation between passing cultured football style employed by the Manager of the day and measurable success on the field. (Carey, Clough, Clark, Hart, and now perhaps O’Driscol)

    Like many “neutral” football fans I am looking forward to seeing Forest back at the top level entertaining us with their trademark style – and from the way things seem to be panning out it hopefully wont be much more of a wait?

  • Gixerstu

    O’Driscoll overachieved at Bournemouth too for a long time although I wouldn’t expect any national sports reporter to acknowledge andything lower thant championship football.

    After all there’s only the premiership and the premiership feeder league isn’t there?

  • john payne

    Best article I have seen about #NFFC for ages

  • Beef

    Fantastic article compared to others in recent history, enjoyed the read!

  • Mjfjo

    Just a shame that his much vaunted emphasis on loyalty didnt run to himself and the club (Crawley) that he had joined only two months (and without a competitive match in charge and just before the start of the season) before, suggesting it was a “good fit” for him. Will he still be able to use the “loyalty” argument when in discussions with players wanting to leave? No axe to grind with Forest but O’Driscoll is no different to any other manager or player in the modern game, jumping at the first sign of more money and a “better” opportunity!

  • jinglebunny

    Crawley had only offered him a one-year deal, with no money for transfers. They realised the Forest opportunity was too good for O’Driscoll to turn down, so negotiated a decent compensation package including the takings from a game with Forest. Sounds like a good deal to me. That’s how the business works. Where’s the problem?

  • Mjfjo

    I am not saying it isnt how the business works, more how he had suggested he works with loyalty a big part of his ethic. He did lots of due diligence (as he himself confirmed), made offers for players (presumably money rather than shirt buttons?), but obviously the lure of a bigger club meant he was no different to any other money motivated football man. The “problem” was for the fans of Crawley, losing the manager who we had been promised so much from, just before the start of a new season, whether it was an understandable decision for him. Nice compensation packages make Chief Executives happy not supporters. Obviously the bigger clubs are so far removed from the problems and life at a lower level they just think we should gratefully give up and say “thank you ever so humbly sir”.

  • AC

    to use the loyalty card against O’ Driscoll is quite unfair in my opinion, and i’m sure in many other peoples too. you cannot possibly begrudge a manager who leaves Crawley Town after just two months and no games in charge, who takes up an offer to manage Nottingham Forest.

    come on, lets be realistic.
    great article by the way.

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