In the depths of the joyless labyrinth of despair that was Forest’s last championship campaign, I used my ‘Red Revolution’ platform to write a desperate list of reasons to remain positive despite our faltering form.
Amid the sea of unfounded optimism, I even listed Harry Potter defeating the evil Lord Voldemort, against all odds, as a potential reason why Forest might avoid relegation. In hindsight, I may have been clutching at straws … but it was a dark time to be a Red, back then.
Within my panicking pleas for positivity lay one genuine reason for Forest fans to remain hopeful – Sean O’ Driscoll had joined us, as assistant to our former manager Steve Cotterill. Little did I know just how big his role in the future of Nottingham Forest would be.
Long before he became involved with my beloved Forest, I had been following Sean’s career with keen interest, not least because he was born and raised in Wolverhampton, only a Greg Halford throw away from my own dwelling hole.
We Black Country folk are not the glam-rocking flare-wearing simpletons that the media depict us to be. In fact, more commonly you’ll find those from the Black Country to be a very down to earth and straightforward species. In the best possible sense, this is exactly how Sean O’Driscoll comes across.
In a recent interview he was asked what his ambitions for the season were. He answered simply, “to win the next game.”
He used to deflect the same thorny question with identical words during his time as Doncaster manager and it’s not the first time he’s bluntly conveyed such understated sentiments whilst here at the City Ground.
His words may not always capture the starry-eyed supporter’s imagination but they are always grounded firmly in reality. It would seem O’ Driscoll is defiant in his belief that the only route to success is through the tried and tested combination of hard work and time. The patient, meticulous approach is what will eventually get Forest back to the premiership. There aren’t any magic wands or secret passages. It’s boring but it’s the truth!
Personally I couldn’t be happier with how the season has gone so far, mainly because there are tangible signs of genuine progress. Are Nottingham Forest beginning to forge a new identity under the stewardship of their new manager?
It seems evident that Sean O’ Driscoll works to an unwavering set of core beliefs, which together form his ‘football philosophy’. This term is another that’s overused within the game – perhaps part of a growing ‘football rhetoric’ that O’ Driscoll himself so despises.
Many managers don’t have any underpinning philosophy; the decisions they make are mainly reactionary and their teams often develop organically, sometimes in spite of them. In the case of Sean O’ Driscoll, I believe the term ‘football philosophy’ has a real meaning.
He may be a football purist but at the heart of Sean O’ Driscoll sides are the values of discipline, organisation and togetherness. At the start of the 2012/13 season, these were the cornerstones from which O’ Driscoll began to build and subsequently there has been a core strength and solidity to the majority of Forest’s performances so far this season. We could play the prettiest football in the division but without organisation and unity we would, ultimately, be doomed.
Of course, O’ Driscoll is actively trying to implement the purposeful passing style of football that is central to his philosophy, but he’s doing so from a solid foundation. I believe we’re starting to see the fruits of our labour.
There have been times this season when our football has been breathtaking and there have been times when it has been patchy and uninspiring, but throughout our players have tried to play exciting, positive football. It will, however, take time for us to perfect our craft.
But the changes at the City Ground this season go beyond the decision to pass, rather than hoof, from the back. Forest have employed a more fluid attacking approach than that which we saw for the majority of last season. Although we have played a 4-4-2 for the majority of games, it hasn’t been at all rigid or predictable.
Whichever five players play in front of our colossal patrolling midfielder, Simon Gillett, they are encouraged to be adventurous and inventive. The side is full of exciting players, who are beginning to thrive on the opportunity to get in advanced positions and express themselves.
In the signings he’s made since taking over, O’ Driscoll has looked for certain types of players. Not only are the new players all good technical footballers, but they are also decision makers, brave enough to implement the aforementioned style of play.
Yet another football cliché tells us that there is very little a manager can do to influence the game once his players have crossed that white line. O’ Driscoll does not seem to allow this to be an excuse. You only need to listen to his interviews to know that he seeks to empower his players to make their own decisions during a game.
It helps that we now have strong leaders with calm heads carefully dispatched all over the pitch – players like Collins, Gillett and Reid are the glue that hold the team together. With a clear philosophy growing within the squad and players willing to impose it out on the field, it’s an exciting time to be a Forest fan.
I know talk of philosophy and identity are a little deep for a Saturday afternoon, so if I’m urging fans to do anything it’s to have a little faith in Sean.