WHEN Dougie Freedman aimed a swipe at big-spending Nottingham Forest earlier this season we may have got a first glimpse of the frustrating financial realities being faced within the club.
Back in August Wanderers were undefeated as they travelled to the City Ground to face a team who had spent more than £5million in the summer on the likes of Kelvin Wilson, Jamie Mackie and Djamel Abdoun.
Financial Fair Play was still a fairly new concept but for Freedman it left a bitter taste in his mouth to see what were then regarded as promotion rivals in Forest, QPR and Wigan Athletic splashing the cash in the previous window.
Forest had seemingly side-stepped the incoming restrictions on spending by signing a lucrative one-year sponsorship and TV deal with Fawaz International Refrigeration Company – a business owned by the Al Hasawi family, who also run the club.
That investment helped Forest make an impressive start, which they continued following the addition of Jack Hobbs and Nathaniel Chalobah on loan. They go into Saturday’s game with just four defeats all season, handily placed in fifth.
The set of financial figures released at the Reebok just a few weeks ago show why the shackles had been put on Freedman’s own recruitment plans, then in full swing with a couple of weeks remaining in the summer window.
The vista is very different now for Wanderers and their manager. A promotion push is seen more as a distant hope than a realistic target and with record £50.7m losses the financial focus has been switched very much to what is happening inside, rather than outside the Reebok.
Since the accounts were announced all and sundry have moved to highlight the mistakes they believe have been made.
From the vast sums spent, but not recouped, on Johan Elmander, Marcos Alonso, Gretar Steinsson, Danny Shittu and Marvin Sordell to inflated salaries, some of which are still hanging around the club’s neck like a millstone; none of it makes pleasant reading.
Freedman’s job, now more than ever, is to juggle financial reality with expectation.
And a part of him – perhaps the part that piped up prior to the last Forest game – still sides with fans who are desperate for some fresh blood in the current window to help lighten the mood.
“I hear what the fans are saying,” the Scot said, “and I’m agreeing with them – yes, I’d love to go out there and sign a Nicolas Anelka. I’d love to. But it’s unrealistic to where we are. I have to make sure this club is still standing.
“One day this place has to pay for itself. And I think I’m on the right track because since I have been here I haven’t spent a lot of money.”
Just as off-the-field the onus has now been placed on “alternative revenue streams” to help ease the debts, on it, the emphasis is clearly on youth development.
It is a thorny issue with fans, who have become frustrated at the lack of opportunities given to the youngsters in Freedman’s tenure so far.
But for the manager it remains a key issue yet to be resolved. And he makes no bones about the fact that young players he has signed so far have been brought in with the intention of making money for the football club.
“Working at Crystal Palace and bringing through players – you don’t owe anything on them,” he said. “There isn’t a 25 per cent sell-on clause or bonuses, whatever. They are yours.
“As a football club we have got to start bringing players through or buying them for that lower price and polishing them up and moving them on.
“That is the way we are having to do it, along with pretty much everyone else, and I have got to be a businessman. I’ve said it for two or three months, I have to be responsible for the football club on and off the field.
“I think Jay Spearing was a fantastic buy, for example. He’s the captain of the football club and every day he’s brilliant. It’s great that Eddie Davies gave me that money but he knows he’s going to be around for four or five years and get us up to that next level. He’s an asset.
“There’s the other side where you have to get frees and loans in – be proactive in the market. I can’t just go and spend, spend, spend Eddie’s money.
“You need the Neil Danns to come in and show the younger players what’s required, the professionalism and then bit by bit you build up to where you want to be.
“It’s a boring story for you guys but that’s where we are at.”