Fawaz and Reds are on the ropes
BILLY CONN is a name that reverberates through boxing folklore. Not for what he achieved, but for what he wasted. A tough kid from an Irish workingclass district of Pittsburgh, Conn had won titles in several divisions before challenging Joe Louis for the World Heavyweight title in May 1941.
Widely tipped for annihilation, he recovered from a first-round knockdown to batter the Brown Bomber from pillar to post and, by the end of Round 12, was ahead on every scorecard.
But Conn wasn’t satisfied. Determined to finish with a flourish, he went head hunting, hell bent on the knockout. Louis promptly laid him flat on his back.The fight was over, Conn’s big moment up in smoke.
Still bleary eyed and reeling, Conn was asked what happened. “What happened?” he told reporters. “I lost my head and a million bucks. That’s what happened.”
Seven decades on, Fawaz Al-Hasawi must know exactly how he feels. It is 18 months since the Forest chairman had his Conn moment, throwing everything at one spectacular bid for promotion.
The Kuwaiti had been steadily jabbing away for a season or so; a £2.5m deal for Kelvin Wilson, another £1.5m on Djamel Abdoun. Then, last summer, he opened up, chucking £1.5m the way of Sheffield Wednesday for Michail Antonio before swinging his own version of Suzie Q– a club record £5.5m on striker Britt Assombalonga.
Fawaz knew the club didn’t have a cat in hell’s chance of complying with Financial Fair Play. Like QPR in 2014, it was win or bust; the Premier League’s riches or the Football League’s wrath.
Sadly, the Championship proved a durable opponent.The blows bounced off. Stuart Pearce was sacked.The club slumped into mediocrity and, surprise, a transfer embargo was imposed.
A failsafe existed, at least in theory. Despite falling short, Forest’s players remained under contract and a transfer embargo would be no more wounding than a gnat’s nibble.
Which was great – until people started hurting themselves. Long-term injuries to Assombalonga, skipper Chris Cohen and Andy Reid have ripped the heart out of Forest. Star man Antonio was whisked away by West Ham.
And while his £7m fee should ensure sanctions are lifted in May, the question now is: does the side have the quality to make it that far?
Even assuming the loan of Benfica’s Nelson Oliveira is approved, Forest have looked blunt and toothless. So far, the only side they have beaten are rock-bottom Rotherham.
A relegation battle is unlikely, but not impossible. Which is a shame, because Fawaz is no ruthless chancer.
Nothing about his decisions – however misguided – suggest he has anything but the club at heart. Just this week, he announced that a stand would be named in honour of Peter Taylor, sidekick to Brian Clough.
Call me naive, but I genuinely believe Kuwait’s finest fridge peddler desires a place in Forest fans’ hearts more than he craves the riches of the Premier League.
Like Conn, he wanted to entertain, to give the crowd what it wanted... but lost his head and a hell of a lot more than a million bucks.
Now Forest, too, lie sparked on the canvas, the Premier League as distant as ever. All Dougie Freedman can do is hang tight and try to beat the count.