Nottingham Forest’s new manager has his work cut out, but Mark Warburton’s footballing philosophy could be a good match for the club short- and long-term
Having left Brentford nearly two years ago, as the club finished fifth in the Championship, Mark Warburton has come a long way since ‘philosophical differences’ saw him fall out with owner Matthew Benham.
A play-off semi-final in 2014-15 saw the West London club roundly beaten 5-1 by Middlesbrough, with Norwich City going on to win promotion in the final. Brentford’s ninth-placed finish in 2015-16 ensured stability at the club, but perhaps proof that Benham’s mathematical approach is no more successful?
Warburton favours attacking football. However, his one season with Brentford in the Championship saw a certain amount of gung-ho as they scored 78 goals, the fourth highest in the division, but conceded 59 — only Birmingham, who finished 10th, saw more goals against in the top 10.
He told BBC Sport in April 2015: “You look at our goals scored and it is an important column to look at. People are very quick to criticise the fact we have been exposed to a long ball.
“We expose our centre-halves very often to two-on-twos, three-on-threes and one-on-ones because we are committing bodies forward to get goals… We can be more defensive and lose out on our attacking ploys or we can recognise the fact that sometimes it is the price you have to pay. That is the nature of the beast.”
At both Brentford and Rangers he implemented his favoured 4-3-3 formation with full-backs pushing up and creating overloads and overlap opportunities. A high defensive line and aggressive pressing can be a high-risk strategy and demands extra levels of fitness from the players.
Warburton experienced more attention and criticism at Rangers, given the high-profile nature of the job, but having implemented his philosophy at all levels of the club he’s very much one for sticking to his guns.
Losing 5-1 to arch-rivals Celtic last September saw serious criticism of his recruitment and tactics but he remained insistent that the flexibility within 4-3-3 meant it was a formation not worth abandoning.
While it’s unlikely there will be too many changes in the immediate future at Forest — survival being the first priority — working across the club like this echoes what Sean O’Driscoll was trying to implement here. And importantly it’s a philosophy not too far removed from the club’s values.
Working with young players was the bedrock of his early coaching career with Watford, and then as sporting director of Brentford, so it makes perfect sense with the growing importance of Forest’s Academy. And his commitment to passing, possession-based football with fluidity in formation is, in theory, what Forest fans expect.
In an interview with Brentford’s matchday programme he explained, “We want to play creative, attacking football, in a good manner, which is mirrored throughout the club. We want to develop a style and pattern of play that is both attractive to watch and successful. As with anything in life, it is about getting the balance right.”
What will be clear is that while there might be important results, there might also be crushing defeats — losses which will be essential for the squad’s learning curve, but losses that fans and crucially Fawaz will need to bear. The signs were there in the Derby game, and with a two-week international break it could be that Warburton makes a quicker impact than might be expected. But there’s a big job ahead and points need to be taken from upcoming games against the likes of Preston, Wolves and Blackburn.