Philippe Montanier was in office, but not in power at Nottingham Forest

I always felt he was keeping the seat warm for the next manager to come in and take over.

Make no mistake, Philippe Montanier was an absolute charmer – one of the loveliest men in football I’ve met.

But it never felt like his appointment at The City Ground was a match made in heaven, or that he’d walk out of the club years later with people reflecting on the “Montanier era”.

I got criticised by some of the faceless keyboard warriors on Twitter for going too easy on the Frenchman.

The gist of their argument was that, because he’d fed us cheese and given us wine, he’d “bought” our loyalty. Not true.

The truth was that I actually felt a bit sorry for him; he’d been parachuted into this farcically-run football club to try and make a difference.

I don’t think he stood a chance. 

If you’ve not heard the story about the cheese and wine, it was one of those things that happened very organically after one of the regular Thursday press conferences. 

I can’t quite remember how the subject veered wildly enough off course for Montanier to claim he was a “specialist of the cheese”. But it did. And yes, I realise that this article is beginning to descend into a Partridge-esque story.

He went on to explain that his family were expert cheese makers – his parents owned a fromagerie in his home country.

So, he promised that he would get some of his family’s cheese sent over, and we could enjoy it with some red wine in the coming weeks.

I’m not sure any of the assembled journalists thought it would happen, but it did.

A couple of weeks later, a box arrived at the club’s offices at the ground.

An official rang Montanier – who was at the Nigel Doughty Academy on Wilford Lane – to tell him his cheese had made it safely to Nottingham.

Within minutes, Montanier was at the offices, perusing his arrival admiringly.

We never got French cheese in Billy Davies’ second spell at the club!!

All of the dairy drama came only a couple of weeks after the sale of Oliver Burke, and that was the weekend when I thought Montanier was holed beneath the waterline.

I felt his authority was weakened from that point. 

He’d said after Burke had scored, and Forest had beaten Leeds 3-1, that the young winger would not be sold.

That was on the Saturday evening. He was sold to RB Leipzig on the Sunday.

If Montanier had any idea that Burke was going, he wouldn’t have been so definite.

He would have fudged the answer a little bit.

What it revealed was that Montanier didn’t know Burke would be going, let alone have any idea of who might come in to replace the winger.

To use the words of Norman Lamont – the former Chancellor of the Exchequer – about his own Tory government of the 1990s, Montanier was “in office, but not in power”.

My own feeling about Montanier was – and I should point out that he never suggested or hinted this to me – that he felt he had to get through the period when Fawaz Al-Hasawi was trying to sell the club (to John Jay Moores) and that he’d be able to define himself and establish himself more properly in a new era. 

From before the takeover officially collapsed on Friday 13th (yes, it really was) January 2017, I think Montanier realised he was toast. French toast, perhaps.

I don’t think he ever felt he could achieve much and that it was a question of when he was sacked, and not if. 

For me, his lowest moment came the week before. An FA Cup tie at Wigan, as two out-of-form sides met.

When the misty-eyed pundits talk about the glamour and romance of the oldest cup competition in the world, they were clearly not at the DW Stadium that day. And, to be fair, not many were! 

Forest were abject. Absolutely, embarrassingly abject.

Montanier (perhaps ahead of his time!) picked Matty Cash to play at right-back, but unfortunately for Cash he also picked Nicolao Dumitru to play on the right hand side of midfield to offer protection.

It was not an experiment that worked and it obviously wasn’t working right from the beginning – Yanic Wildschut, the Wigan winger, was being allowed to tear Forest apart.

It should have been changed ten minutes into the game.

I remember Colin Fray and Brian Laws in the commentary making the point time and time again in the first half.

Somehow, Forest got to half-time losing only 1-0 (that goal coming on the stroke of the break).

The change that was needed was so obvious too – Eric Lichaj was playing at left-back, his experience would have given Wildschut at least a challenge to his authority down the Forest right.

Willing to give the head coach the benefit of the doubt, Colin and Brian suggested that maybe (being very generous) it wasn’t something that could be easily changed during a game and that he would undoubtedly change it at the interval. He didn’t.

I now understand that many, if not all, of the coaches wanted to make the change at half-time and several of the senior players also suggested it.

I’m told the dressing room was shell-shocked at the interval, unable to comprehend how bad the first half had been.

But Montanier wouldn’t change. One person within that dressing room told me that Montanier had “run out of ideas by that time”.

His coaches and some of the players could see it, but Montanier couldn’t. His authority was severely weakened by it.

In the end, to completely end his credibility, Lichaj appeared to unilaterally make the change in the second-half.

The American moved himself to right-back, just after Wildschut had made it 2-0, to effectively win the tie for Wigan.

Montanier was sacked after the next game – a goalless draw at Birmingham City. 

That was an awful game too, made worse by the fact that everyone knew it would be Montanier’s last.

It was an open secret before the game kicked off; we talked about who might succeed him on the radio before 3pm.

There were protests from Forest fans against owner Fawaz Al-Hasawi after the collapse of the takeover, midfielder Henri Lansbury was left out as he was linked with a move away from the club, and the Reds had just been allowed to exit a transfer embargo.

It was a pretty grim time to be a supporter.

Yet, Montanier was a cheerful and polite after the game as ever.

“The role of the head coach or manager is always in danger,” he told me afterwards.

“We now have to plan quickly to strengthen the squad. Decisions have to be taken now, instead of two or three days before the deadline.

“It is difficult because we do not have any money… I have targets but I do not know my budget.

“I need to have a meeting with the chairman for some advice on what we can do together.”

In office, but not in power.

That meeting came the following day.

Montanier, armed with a file of potential targets as he planned for the future, went to Al-Hasawi’s Nottingham residence. 

As the amiable Frenchman arrived at the owner’s place, he was met by a club official, who was surprised to see Montanier with such a detailed plan for the future, when, to be frank, he didn’t have one.

“You do know why you’re here, don’t you”, said the official. Everyone seemed to know, except Montanier. He was sacked. 

That official later described the act to me as being “like putting down Bambi”.

The collapse of a takeover, protests against the owner, manager sacked, star player about to be sold – sadly, it was almost a routine week at Nottingham Forest back then. 

Photo: Dan Westwell

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