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Chris Hughton is the latest victim of Nottingham Forest's curse – what happened to his predecessors?

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Nottingham Forest’s dismissal of manager Chris Hughton means the East Midlands’ club has now burned through 14 bosses in the last decade.

What should be one of the finest jobs in football, the hot seat at the City Ground, has become synonymous with failure and disappointment for coaches, owners and fans, alike.

Since 2011, the two-time European champions have sacked a manager every calendar year and required the services of a caretaker boss to keep the show on the road on seven occasions.

Chris Hughton has been sacked by Nottingham Forest who have parted company with a manager every year since 2011 in an extraordinary merry-go-round at the City Ground

Chris Hughton has been sacked by Nottingham Forest who have parted company with a manager every year since 2011 in an extraordinary merry-go-round at the City Ground

As the Reds succumbed to a 2-1 home defeat by Cardiff City on Sunday, one fan, anticipating the inevitable end of Hughton’s reign, reflected: ‘But they can’t all have been bad. It must be the club.’

Forest’s 2-0 loss to Middlesbrough on Wednesday was their sixth defeat of the season and they are rock-bottom of the Championship with just one point from seven games.

Hughton had to go, but the exasperated supporter overheard beneath the Brian Clough Stand on the banks of the River Trent had articulated an undeniable truth.

It is a theme others have picked up on social media in the aftermath of Hughton’s departure.

Hughton's fate was sealed after a 2-0 home defeat to Middlesbrough on Wednesday

Hughton’s fate was sealed after a 2-0 home defeat to Middlesbrough on Wednesday

NOTTINGHAM FOREST MANAGERIAL MERRY-GO-ROUND 
Manager   Left Tenure Matches  %Win
Billy Davies  June 2011  29 months  126  42.1% 
Steve McLaren October 2011 4 months  13  23.1% 
Rob Kelly  October 2011  Caretaker     
Steve Cotterill  July 2012  9 months  37  32.4% 
Sean O’Driscoll December 2012  5 months  26  38.5% 
Alex McLeish  February 2013  2 months  14.3% 
Rob Kelly  February 2013  Caretaker     
Billy Davies  March 2014  13 months  59  42.3% 
Gary Brazil  July 2014  Caretaker     
Stuart Pearce  February 2015  7 months  32  31.3% 
Dougie Freedman  March 2016  13 months  57  33.3% 
Paul Williams  June 2016  Caretaker     
Philippe Montanier  January 2017  7 months  30  30 
Gary Brazil  March 2017  Caretaker     
Mark Warburton  December 2017  9 months  37  40.5% 
Gary Brazil  January 2018  Caretaker     
Aitor Karanka  January 2019  12 months  51  31.4% 
Simon Ireland  January 2019  Caretaker     
Martin O’Neill  June 2019  6 months  19  42.1% 
Sabri Lamouchi  October 2020  15 months  55  36.4% 
Chris Hughton  September 2021  11 months  52  26.9% 
     

‘I do wonder if there’s something rotten at the core of the club,’ mused a supporter who calls himself Red Dog in Sussex.

‘Who in their right minds would take on the #nffc job with this board of illumaries [sic] behind them?’ tweeted Peter Walker.

‘Almost guaranteed to be out of a job, with only a healthy pay off as your reward, within a year. Sick to death of this endless cycle of clowns ruining our club.’

Forest’s managerial appointments have ranged from ambitious to hopeful to sentimental, but always short term. Many of those managers had been successful elsewhere and some went on to succeed in subsequent jobs, although it has to be said, a lot did not.

One way or another, there does appear to be a curse on managers at Nottingham Forest.

The current period of underperformance can be traced back to the appointment of former England boss Steve McClaren in June 2011.

He came in following two seasons in which Forest missed out in the play-offs under cantankerous Scot Billy Davies. They crashed out to Blackpool in 2010 and Swansea in 2011. At the time, it felt that all this sleeping giant needed was the right leader to take the next step and return them to the Promised Land of the Premier League.

Forest have struggled to find stability since Brian Clough and Peter Taylor brought incredible success to Nottingham four decades ago, winning two European Cups

Forest have struggled to find stability since Brian Clough and Peter Taylor brought incredible success to Nottingham four decades ago, winning two European Cups

But in truth, and in hindsight, Forest never came to terms with life after Brian Clough and have rarely challenged at the top of the table since Davies.

In 2011, McClaren could have been described as an ambitious appointment. Despite embarrassment with the national team, he had taken Dutch side Twente to the Eredivise title only a year before.

However, at Forest, he could muster just eight points from ten league games and promptly resigned after four months. A false dawn.

Next up was Steve Cotterill, who had developed a good reputation after three years in charge at Burnley and had done a short stint at Notts County, across the river.

Steve McClaren was the big hope in 2011, but he resigned after only four months in the job

Steve McClaren was the big hope in 2011, but he resigned after only four months in the job

WHAT HAPPENED TO CHRIS HUGHTON’S PREDECESSORS?

Sabri Lamouchi

Appointed manager of Qatari side, Al-Duhail in October 2020 but stepped down within a year

Martin O’Neill

Has not returned to management

Aitor Karanka

After an 18-month break took over at Birmingham City before stepping down in March this year, after three wins in 19 matches following eight months in charge.

Mark Warburton

Joined Queen’s Park Rangers in May 2019, where he remains. QPR are seventh in the Championship.

Philippe Montanier

Currently manager of Toulouse, who sit top of French Ligue 2 with five wins and two draws in seven matches. After Forest, he managed France U20, Lens and Standard Liege.

Dougie Freedman

Did not return to management. Since 2017 Freedman has been the sporting director at Crystal Palace

Stuart Pearce

Currently enjoying a successful spell as assistant to David Moyes at West Ham, where he previously assisted the Scotsman in 2017/18.

Billy Davies (sacked in 2011 and 2013)

Not returned to football management. Davies was interviewed for a job at Hearts in 2017 but was not successful.

Alex McLeish

Following his departure from Forest, McLeish steered Belgian side Genk to the Europa League play offs in 2014/15. The following season he was sacked after two months in charge of the Egyptian Premier League side, Zamalek, before returning for a second spell in charge of Scotland. The Scots won their 2018–19 UEFA Nations League group under his leadership, but he was sacked in April 2019.

Sean O’Driscoll

Currently head of coaching at the Portsmouth academy, O’Driscoll had a disappointing spell in charge of Bristol City, in which they were relegated to League One, after he left Forest. He had a spell in charge of England U19 before becoming assistant manager to Brendan Rogers at Liverpool.

Steve Cotterill

Cotterill had a successful two-year spell at Bristol City returning the club to the Championship before losing his job as the side struggled with the step up. He was sacked after five months at Birmingham City, amid boardroom upheaval, and he is now manager at Shrewsbury Town, who sit one place above the relegation zone in League One.

Steve McClaren

Returned to Derby County as technical director in November last year. Since leaving Forest, McClaren had an unsuccessful return to Twente, he had some success at Derby County taking them to a Championship play-off final in 2014, before disappointing spells at Newcastle United and Derby, again. He subsequently spent 11 months at QPR in 2018/19 but was sacked after one win in 15 games.

He found Forest in a perilous situation. The side were hovering just above the relegation zone and the club was put up for sale by then owner Nigel Doughty, when he stepped down as chairman.

The situation deteriorated further when Doughty died tragically, four months later.

However, Cotterill proved to be the perfect man for the job. He won praise for steering Forest to safety and finishing the season strongly, despite being unable to make new signings in the transfer market

But in a move characteristic of the managerial merry-go-round at the City Ground, Forest’s new owners the Kuwaiti Al-Hasawi family promptly sacked him in order ‘to deliver their long-term vision’.

Steve Cotterill left in 2011, after nine months, and then quickly became LMA League One Manager of the Year, guiding Bristol City to promotion to the Championship.

Steve Cotterill did a good job at Forest but it was not enough to save him from the sack

Steve Cotterill did a good job at Forest but it was not enough to save him from the sack

Cotterill was followed by the former Republic of Ireland international, Sean O’Driscoll, but he was gone too, five months later, with Forest in eighth place in the Championship.

O’Driscoll was relieved of his duties after engineering a 4-2 win over Leeds United.

‘He can count himself unlucky to have lost his job with the team just one point away from the top six,’ Forest’s chairman Fawaz Al Hasawi said somewhat inexplicably. What the Reds would take for an eighth place finish this season.

Sean O'Driscoll lasted only five months

Sean O’Driscoll lasted only five months

During his reign in Nottingham, Al Hasawi developed a reputation for pandering to popular opinion in his managerial appointments and would often call journalists to test the water.

After O’Driscoll’s demise, Al Hasawi added on his Twitter account: ‘Made contact with PL manager tonight. Meeting Thursday.’

That turned out to be Alex McLeish. The former defender was capped 77 times for Scotland in an excellent playing career, but he arrived at the City Ground following a miserable 11-month spell in the hot seat at Aston Villa.

‘I believe he’s the man who can help us fulfil our ambition of making it to the Premier League,’ gushed Al Hasawi.

Or not. McLeish left by mutual consent 40 days after his appointment highlighting a difference in ‘understanding of the development strategy’. It was claimed investment had not been forthcoming.

It became increasingly difficult to decipher exactly what Al Hasawi’s ‘development strategy’ comprised of.

Forest have achieved just one draw in seven matches and sit bottom of the Championship

Forest have achieved just one draw in seven matches and sit bottom of the Championship

Managers continued to come and go and not even club legends could cut through.

Stuart Pearce, whose thunderous tackles in front of ‘A-Block’, the spiritual home of Forest’s most vocal support in the main stand, is still the stuff of legend down by the River Trent, arrived in 2014.

Alex McLeish stayed for 40 days

Alex McLeish stayed for 40 days

But three wins in 21 Championship matches in 2014/15 meant the man who played 196 times for the club was soon out the door.

Pearce was succeeded by another former player, ex striker Dougie Freedman who made 70 league appearances for the Reds from 1998 to 2000 scoring 18 goals – half of them in the top flight.

He initially impressed and was rewarded with a two-year contract, however, labouring under a transfer embargo and a squad racked by injury the team’s form was up and down and Freedman joined the list of casualties having survived a comparatively impressive 13 months.

Later, in 2019, one of the golden generation who lifted the European Cup with Forest, Martin O’Neill, was installed. Some fans felt this was at the sentimental end of the appointment spectrum, but he came as a package with another ex-Red Roy Keane, which made it all the more spicy and exciting.

Keane did not stay long and O’Neill didn’t last six months despite an impressive CV and was sacked amid reports of dressing room discontent and a lack of respect.

Martin O'Neill won the European Cup with Nottingham Forest but was an unsuccessful boss

Martin O’Neill won the European Cup with Nottingham Forest but was an unsuccessful boss

Inevitably, the backdrop to Forest’s woes has been the boardroom.

The Al Hasawi era came and went without success. Greek Evangelos Marinakis, a wealthy ship owner and media mogul, took over as Forest owner in May 2017. He already owned Olympiacos.

Marinakis has invested heavily and once said he wanted to see Forest back in Europe within five years of his arrival.

The fact is Forest are nowhere near and their poor form in managerial selection, as well as issues on the pitch, has continued to undermine the owner’s ambitions.

Aitor Karanka looked a promising appointment in January 2018. The Spaniard had taken Middlesbrough to the Premier League before he left the Riverside by mutual consent during a tough first season in the top flight.

Forest's amazing success in the 1970s and 80s has hung over the club in recent years

Forest’s amazing success in the 1970s and 80s has hung over the club in recent years

At Forest he was gone in a year and three days.

Karanka brought in a lot of players and made a decent start to the 2018/19 season. But when that faltered in December a play-off push was seen as unworthy by the board, who wanted to be competing for automatic promotion.

Evidently, ditching Karanka has not brought the Forest hierarchy the success they craved. O’Neill followed before Sabri Lamouchi arrived in June 2019.

Lamouchi had previously managed Ivory Coast and Rennes and while an unusual appointment it looked at first like it might just work.

Forest showed an improvement on the pitch adopting a counter-attacking style and retaining a play-off position for the almost all of the 2019/20 season before finishing seventh on the final day after being beaten at home 4-1 by Stoke City

It was a bitter blow, but Forest’s best finish in nine seasons. Even so, the owner’s patience was wearing thin. Lamouchi survived the summer but his contract was terminated in October 2020, after Marinakis had told the team in a video call that results had been a ‘humiliation’ to the club.

Forest did not offer a word of thanks to the departing Frenchman, which fans described as ‘cruel, classless,’ and ‘callous’

Within minutes they announced the appointment of former Newcastle and Brighton boss, Hughton, highlighting his success at taking those clubs to the Premier League. 

That goal now appears further away than ever. Whoever comes next must focus on Championship survival rather than a return to the top flight – and not look too far ahead.

Chris Hughton was brought in to take the club back to the Premier League, but he has cut an increasingly forlorn and  isolated figure on the touch line at the City Ground

Chris Hughton was brought in to take the club back to the Premier League, but he has cut an increasingly forlorn and  isolated figure on the touch line at the City Ground



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