Craig North’s Nottingham Forest blog: Balance the key to promotion push

SINCE the Summer transfer window slammed shut at the end of August, there has been much talk of ‘Stellar’ signings being made by the Nottingham Forest this January.

However, although it would be nice to add some real quality to the team, many of the names have left me worried we’d be lumbered with a squad full of over-the-hill Premiership rejects and a crippling wage bill.

Thankfully, the appointment and subsequent intervention of Alex McLeish seems to have reigned in Fawaz Al-Hasawi’s pandering for star names.

I’m not for one minute suggesting that Sean O’Driscoll wanted these type of players, but you always got the feeling that Fawaz was controlling the transfer policy during O’Driscoll’s time at the club, and it would be the Owners telling the Manager who would be arriving Trentside this window, rather than the Manager dictating things.

However, now the Chairman has the “Iconic” Manager he originally wanted, McLeish has been wise enough and strong enough to make clear what is wrong with the squad and how he sees it can be improved.

Further evidence of McLeish’s influence over Al-Hasawi is also highlighted by the removal of Director of Recruitment, Keith Burt. One of the first actions ‘Big Eck’ undertook at St Andrews was a complete overhaul of the scouting set up, and it seems he is keen to surround himself with colleagues who he can trust and rely on during his tenure at the City Ground.

Alex McLeish’s Promotion winning team at Birmingham was a squad built upon balance and solidity.

In the January Transfer Window of 2009, McLeish recognised the team had an imbalance to it. Despite sitting in the top two for much of the season, the team was compiled of talented but sometimes lazy players; James McFadden and Cameron Jerome to name two. This was addressed with the signing of the hard working (and technically gifted) but unknown, Keith Fahey.

At a time when fans were crying out for a ‘sexy’ signing, McLeish was pragmatic and sorted out the balance of the team to make it more solid. This is what must be done at Forest, and is the key to success this season.

It hasn’t taken long for the boo-boys to come out in force to moan about the signing of Darius Henderson, yet he is exactly the sort of signing that Forest need now if a late push for the Play-Offs is to be mounted. He is a player who compliments the existing squad whilst offering something completely different.

I think it is fair to say that most fans would have preferred a move for the more glamorous signing of Luciano Becchio, but give it some thought, and the signing of Henderson makes much more sense. Becchio, whilst seemingly better on paper than the recruit from Millwall, offers nothing that Cox, Sharp or Blackstock can’t do better. Henderson offers a different dimension that can not only give Forest a different type of threat, but is also the sort of striker that will cause havoc and create space for his strike partners.

McLeish has also recognised the need to sign wide players to give the squad more balance. Irish winger Stephen McLaughlin has already joined, with bids being turned down recently for Chris Burke and George Boyd. These names may seem a bit of a comedown from those linked in the media pre-January such as Shaun Wright-Phillips, however getting these types of players on relatively modest wages will not only improve the quality and balance, but also ensure the solidity of the squad harmony remains intact.

The disharmony in the squad was severely damaged with the contracts handed out in the disastrous summer of 2011. Steve McClaren bringing in the likes of Matt Derbyshire and Ishmael Miller on ridiculous wages alienated existing players who had not been rewarded for achieving successive top six finishes. The method adopted so far by the Al-Hasawi family in player recruitment appears to have maintained a positive dressing room atmosphere.

The next week is going to be an interesting one, and I’m sure many rumours will surface between now and February 1st, but if Alex McLeish retains ownership of transfers at the City Ground and all goes to plan, we may still get our trip to Wembley in May.