Dean Smith and Neil Warnock – the ones that got away for Forest

I don’t think there are too many Nottingham Forest fans who would disagree with the notion that their club have had too many managers since they were last in the Premier League in 1999.

It’s recently been seen as something of an achievement that Sabri Lamouchi has completed a calendar year in charge of Forest – and he’ll become the first manager (surely!) to see the Reds through a whole season since Billy Davies’ first spell in charge of the club, which ended nearly a decade ago.

Usually after the sacking of a manager, there would be a week of “fun” for the media as we chased various contenders to become the next man in charge, to see if he would say anything about the vacancy.

Most of the time, they wouldn’t and sometimes the club took all the fun away by appointing a replacement very quickly, which meant the ‘game’ wouldn’t even get off the ground.

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This happened with Lamouchi’s appointment, as well as Dougie Freedman’s replacement of Stuart Pearce.

But there are two other well-known names who could have been Forest managers, had circumstances gone another way.

They’d have had different styles and philosophies on football, but both could have been successful, I believe.

Neil Warnock was very, very close to the Forest job after the dismissal of Billy Davies, while the current Aston Villa boss Dean Smith might also have taken over at The City Ground in different circumstances.

Smith was being noticed in the game for the job he was doing at Walsall in League One, playing some very good football and getting the best out of the fairly limited resources he had at his disposal. But he was, at the time, hardly high-profile.

One very well respected figure at Forest had Smith on his radar and was noticing the job that he was doing across the Midlands – so much so that he spoke to then-Reds winger Jamie Paterson about his former boss.

Paterson had played under Smith at the Bescot Stadium, before being sold to Forest in the summer of 2013. 

I’m told that Paterson only had good things to say about his former boss, as they were very close to each other at Walsall. 

That well respected figure was somewhat surprised when then-owner Fawaz Al-Hasawi rejected the suggestion, because he’d never heard of him!!

You probably don’t need me to tell you about the success that Smith has had at Brentford and Aston Villa since.

Even a little research, and a few phone calls, by Al-Hasawi might have led to a very good appointment, and a different future for Nottingham Forest.

It certainly feels to me as though it was an opportunity missed, and what’s the point of having experienced people around you recommending things if you don’t listen to them? 

It may have been an opportunity missed with Warnock too.

He may not have been everybody’s cup of tea, but he’d have surely mounted a promotion challenge, given his record in the game.

But it was another shambolic time at the club, I’m afraid, and the appointment never happened despite lengthy discussions.

The appointment of Warnock at Forest felt like an itch that needed to be scratched and the former Notts County boss had two meetings with the Forest owner and also visited the training ground. 

In Warnock’s own words, “the problems began when we (Warnock and Al-Hasawi) began discussing what team I would pick. I said I would play three in attack: Darius Henderson supported from the flanks by Jamie Paterson, who I tried to sign when he was at Walsall, and Jamie Mackie, who played for me at QPR and who I knew I could get more out of.

“I notice the chairman said on Tuesday night that he never interferes in team selection, but just offers an opinion from time to time.

“What he believes is interference, and what I believe is interference, may not be the same.

“When I mentioned the wide players, the chairman, without interfering, told me that in his opinion Djamel Abdoun, an Algerian international, was the best player in that position, but had not had the opportunity under Billy Davies,” Warnock added in his column in The Independent. 

Warnock was close to taking the job though, and actually made a loan signing in Leeds defender Lee Peltier. 

That whole Peltier saga showed up everything that was wrong with Forest at the time.

Firstly, the club announced via their official channels the signing of Peltier – only for Fawaz Al-Hasawi to announce on Twitter a short time later that they hadn’t done a deal for him! 

I remember being in the BBC Nottingham newsroom trying to make sense of this, and failing.

Spare a thought for Peltier amidst all of this, by the way. 

But Warnock was still in the frame to take over at this point, and had to ring someone he knew at Leicester City for clarification on the rules because, in his words, ‘nobody at Forest seemed to know.’ 

Unsurprisingly, sometime afterwards, Warnock felt he might be better off out of this particular situation, and didn’t become the new Forest manager. 

It was an absolute mess.

Almost inevitably, Forest’s Red Adair – Gary Brazil – took charge for the rest of the season. 

Photo: Dan Westwell

6 thoughts on “Dean Smith and Neil Warnock – the ones that got away for Forest

  1. Problem is, if either of them had been appointed, how long would they have been given to do a job before being sacked?

  2. You say, ‘might have led to a very good appointment, and a different future for Nottingham Forest.’ but the future it probably would have led to, if successful, would have been more Fawaz. Things tend to work out in the end.

  3. Shame about Smith. Well shot of Warnock. One of the few managerial (non?)decisions A-H made that I agree with.

  4. I’ve often felt dissapointed and saddened watching Forest, I’ve never felt ashamed.

    I’d be ashamed to see a Forest team moulded the way Warnock’s sides approach the game. He isn’t even that good a manager. 30 years hanging around the Championship, very occasional promotions, and he’s never once managed to keep a side in the top flight once he cheats and kicks and elbows his way there.

    Fawaz and Warnock in combination? That makes me shudder.

  5. Warnock would have been an interesting hire and would probably have accelerated the level of improvement to the team we see now but eventually the fans would have turned on him

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