Having worked with British Prime Ministers, and on one of Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns, walking into Fawaz Al-Hasawi’s house and telling him he had to sell Nottingham Forest wasn’t as daunting for Greg Nugent as it would have been for you or I.
The white-walled townhouse was beautifully and tastefully decorated, and the former ‘Trent Ender’ was made tea by the then-Forest owner and shown into the TV room, where Al-Hasawi and around eight advisors were seated.
Before he could give advice, “Mr Olympic” – as Nugent had been named by Fawaz’s entourage – had to hear where Fawaz was at this point – what exactly he needed advice on.
The ever-polite Kuwaiti talked for quite a while, but seemed a beaten man.
He admitted some of the mistakes he’d made, he knew that fans were unhappy, and realised he’d wasted a lot of money going backwards.
The exact figures are difficult to ascertain, but it would certainly be north of £100 million.
Al-Hasawi realised that something had to change, and had come up with a plan where he could stay close to the club that he genuinely had a lot of affection for.
That plan was for Al-Hasawi to relinquish financial control, to attract an investor, but for him to stay in charge.
He wanted to sell 80% of his stake, but remain as chairman and take a salary.
For him, it seemed perfect.
But, how would you possibly attract a buyer who would agree to Fawaz remaining as chairman – it would put off any potential new owner.
Greg Nugent asked the advisors what they thought, hoping that one of them would say that it wouldn’t work, and his time at The City Ground was at an end.
Greg was then asked what he thought. And he had to deliver a pretty stark message to the amiable Al-Hasawi, in front of his advisors, in his own house.
“With respect, you’re just not very good at running a football club,” the Kuwaiti was told.
Nugent went on to say that Al-Hasawi’s plan to retain some control wouldn’t work, and that the fans wanted change.
It had passed a tipping point with the majority of supporters, and there was no way back. His legacy would have to be that he sold the club on to good people.
The blunt message continued: the best thing for the football club would be if there was a clean break, he was told. And that retaining a stake wouldn’t be a clean break, that he’d have to sell it all.
The room went silent.
Al-Hasawi then thanked Nugent for his honest words, and discussed what had been said for around ten minutes.
The Kuwaiti was putting forward counter-arguments, and trying to argue that he could retain an interest in the club, while also helping it going forward.
There were a few more discussions around the table, advisors chipping in, Al-Hasawi talking, Nugent deliberating. And then suddenly, Fawaz said “Ok, sell the lot…”
And that was it, done. Al-Hasawi had agreed to sell Nottingham Forest. All of it.
Nugent drafted a statement for Fawaz over WhatsApp as he returned to his North London house in a taxi – that statement was due to go live on the Forest website at 10am the following morning.
But by 10.02, there was nothing. So Nugent called Al-Hasawi to make certain it was still going to happen.
Had the owner had a change of heart having slept on it?
By 11am, the statement appeared – “Firstly, I have no intention of remaining as Chairman of the club once a deal has been concluded. I believe it is right and in the best interests of Nottingham Forest for there to be a completely fresh start.
“Secondly, if the right owner comes forward and wants to purchase the whole club then I would not hesitate to sell 100% of my stake. I am only committed to securing the best-possible future for Nottingham Forest.”
By May, a deal had been completed. And Fawaz Al-Hasawi’s time at Forest was at an end.
Photo: Dan Westwell