Squad Playing For Future
Forest risk losing some key players by holding off on offering new deals until the end of the season - especially if the club fails to win promotion. But Paul Taylor thinks it is the right decision
Two years ago, as he made the transition from playing football into the world of management at Notts County, Ian Richardson had the kind of realisation that every would-be boss must experience.
'There are so many decisions to be made, all the time, there are questions to be answered,' he said, a few days into his tenure. 'There is no rest. You are just harassed.'
For a football manager, every little decision has ramifications. From team selection to training methods, every action has a reaction.
After completing his managerial apprenticeship at Northampton, it is lesson already learned by Colin Calderwood.
The Cobblers' promotion from League Two is proof that his decision-making skills have so far been none too shabby.
And, when he arrived at Nottingham Forest in the summer, he provided confirmation that he is not afraid to make tough choices.
Unlike many new managers, he resisted the temptation to bring his own men in, instead keeping faith with the squad he inherited from Ian McParland and Frank Barlow.
This in itself was a brave move. But there will be more such challenges on the horizon.
Because, between now and May, Calderwood is going to face more testing choices.
With 14 players set to see their contracts expire in the summer, Calderwood is again having to focus his mind on the shape of his squad.
Officially, the club say they will not begin talks with any players until the end of the season, when they know whether their promotion hopes are to be fulfilled.
That means many of these players could, in theory, agree deals with other clubs in January, as they take advantage of the Bosman ruling. Why take that risk?
But there is a logic to it. Kris Commons, the man whose name jumps out immediately when scanning the list of players who will see their contracts expire, will not be able to simply walk away in January.
As Commons - along with James Perch, John Thompson, Ross Gardner and Spencer Weir-Daley - is under 24-years-old, the Bosman ruling does not apply.
If they do opt to join another club, Forest will receive compensation.
But Commons, you suspect, will be one player who, at the very least, will be involved in talks over a new deal, long before the end of the season looms on the horizon.
What about those players who Forest may not want to keep?
Forest are said to be very aware of risking damaging the team spirit that Calderwood has built on the foundations laid by Barlow and McParland.
If contracts were offered before the end of the season, what message would it send to players not offered a deal?
Could they be relied upon to play a role in Forest's promotion push?
Fortunately, with the exception of Commons, most of the players who could be considered to be assets with value on the transfer market are under contract.
And those who are not are under-24 and are, effectively, still tied to the club.
Outside those boundaries are some key players who will be expected to play a part in achieving the club's goals this season while their long-term future is in question.
The likes of Neil Harris, Jack Lester, Nicky Southall, Gary Holt and John Curtis have already proved to be valuable figures in the team this season.
Indeed, since Gary Megson's departure, Holt has been one of Forest's most consistent performers, an influential figure in midfield.
Curtis' versatility and reliability have made him a useful commodity. Harris and Lester's different attributes have made them regular starters, as Calderwood has rotated four strikers in recent weeks.
And, while he is yet to find his form of last season, Southall's delivery, particularly from set-pieces, remains among the best in the division.
But, come the end of the season, Calderwood will have to ask himself one of two key questions.
If they do ultimately fail to win promotion, he will be forced to reflect on whether it was because the squad was not strong enough to complete the task.
And, if they do find themselves facing the welcome prospect of Championship football, he must assess whether he believes the squad will be sufficient to avoid an immediate return to League One.
The answer to both of those questions is likely to be decided on the individual performance levels of each player.
And, on this front, there can be no better motivation or encouragement than the desire to win a new contract.
At some point, these decisions will have to be made.
But, for once, perhaps Calderwood is right to put them off.
Nottingham Evening Post
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