Dougie Freedman’s sleepless nights as Nottingham Forest manager

Dougie Freedman looks dejected at a Nottingham Forest game.

There was a spell when Dougie Freedman was the Nottingham Forest manager when some of the journalists covering the club were a bit worried about his health.

I know that managing a football club is a stressful job, and managing Forest, particularly at that time, would have been immensely frustrating.

If you want to know how stressful the job is, I’d suggest comparing the pictures of a manager at the press conference when he’s appointed to some shots of him close to the end of his tenure.

The smile will have gone, the eyes will look reddened and tired, and the skin may have deteriorated.

Basically, they are in need of a damned long holiday!

I always warmed to Freedman – fundamentally, I thought he was a good person, trying his absolute utmost to make the club a success, in times when it was incredibly difficult to do the job. 

I note recently in his interview with The Athletic that Freedman suggested that “he was close to getting it right at Forest,” and that “one more summer – without an embargo – would have made a massive difference.” 

I think that’s right. I can’t remember too many cases when Fawaz Al-Hasawi sacked a manager and things improved.

Having worked his way through the hard times of being under an embargo, I always felt that the Scotsman deserved a crack when the shackles were loosened.

He’d have known exactly what was needed to take the club up a level, because, make no bones about it, I think most managers were content at that time just to keep the club in the Championship.

Operating under such difficult conditions meant that anything else was ludicrously ambitious.

For a club of the stature of Nottingham Forest, there is no more damning indictment than that. 

Freedman, to my way of thinking, had also worked pretty effectively in the transfer market.

Yes, there were some duds, but there were also good, solid players that helped keep Forest in the Championship – with a little to spare.

But when we used to turn up at the pre-match press conferences, which at that time were at the Nigel Doughty Academy, we’d often be told that Freedman wasn’t feeling the best.

He wasn’t in the best frame of mind and we would have to excuse how shattered he looked – the redness around his eyes was caused by “allergies”.

On a couple of occasions, he did look absolutely dreadful.

Gone was the vigour and smile of his first few weeks – replaced by the look of a man who had the world on his shoulders, who looked drawn and almost bedraggled.

Only a couple of years later did we learn why.

Fawaz Al-Hasawi loved his football, and loved talking about football, and loved talking about football with his managers.

But Fawaz wasn’t an early riser – we at least have that in common!

The Forest owner tended to wake later in the day, and work later in the day.

But that wasn’t always good for managers, whom he’d invite to his beautiful house in London’s Mayfair.

He’d then turn up to the press conference after training looking like he hadn’t slept the night before – which was unsurprising, given that he’d not slept the night before!

To be fair to Freedman, he never whinged or complained about it – in fact, he never even talked about it.

We just had to believe he had allergies!

When you see him now, he looks about ten years younger than he did five years ago!

But inevitably, results started to go downhill, meaning more tension between Al-Hasawi and a manager.

My own feeling was that most managers weren’t given enough time to turn it around.

If I was a Forest player, and I was out of the picture, there was no point leaving the City Ground ‘in search of first-team football,’ because it would be most likely that the boss who’d left you out would go five or six games without a win and be on their way.

Then the new manager would bring you in from the cold.

And people wonder how Forest ended up with squads of 30 or 40 players!

The end came for Freedman in March 2016, after an abject home defeat to Sheffield Wednesday.

Nevertheless, Forest were 14th in the Championship at that point and nine points clear of the relegation zone.

Given everything that was going on, I’d argue that was a pretty good job done by the Scot.

After his dismissal, Forest took three points from the next seven matches as they limped towards the end of the campaign.

In the boardroom after the Sheffield Wednesday game, Al-Hasawi turned to his manager and told him “your team is s***”, to which Freedman replied “it’s your team too, Mr Chairman.”

Freedman was sacked the following day. 

Photos: Dan Westwell

5 thoughts on “Dougie Freedman’s sleepless nights as Nottingham Forest manager

  1. I remember seeing him in Yo Sushi just before he was sacked. He was on the phone, trying to shield his mouth so no one could hear the conversation which went on and on and we wondered if it was Fawaz by his body language. He looked absolutely dreadful. He was/is a good manager and went too soon. The more I read your blogs, the more anger I feel towards Fawaz.

  2. I really rated Freedman as he faced financial restrictions (for reasons beyond his control) and an erratic chairman but remained articulate and dignified. Sacking him was one of Fawaz’ worst decisions along with the sackings of Cotterill (saved them from relegation), O’Driscoll (building an attractive team) and the re-appointment of Davies.

  3. I hear lots of Forest fans talk Freedman down and always refer to the ‘dour’ style of football. Given the circumstances we were in at the time I think he did a very good job – it wasn’t about playing free-flowing football and fighting our way up the table – it was purely about keeping us in the division and preventing us from going down under the massive weight of Fawaz’s incompetency. He deserves great credit for the job he did at Forest, and always conducted himself very well.

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