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Old 6th May 2014, 11:41   #1
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Default Big interview: Fawaz al-Hasawi: no government at Nottingham Forest, only me

Fawaz al-Hasawi: no government behind Nottingham Forest, only me

While the Championship club's owner cannot compete with Manchester City, he and Stuart Pearce have the same dream of success, he tells Daniel Taylor

Daniel Taylor
The Guardian, Monday 5 May 2014 15.00 BST

In the heart of Mayfair, a smiling man opens the large black door into a world of opulence. Golds and creams, elaborate floral displays, ornamental lights and enough rooms to get lost for a week. There are velvet drapes and tables polished so you can see your own reflection. A glass elevator runs through the spine of the house and, when we sit down, there is a good explanation why there are framed pictures of two alsatians on the walls. Fawaz al-Hasawi has 43 dogs. All pedigrees.

In the same London street, Hasawi has another luxuriously appointed Georgian townhouse, this one with 21 bedrooms. He has a place by the river in Nottingham. There are other pads in Cannes and the Middle East and a Through the Keyhole special at the family residence in Kuwait would offer plenty of clues.

An entire wall is given up to a picture of Bobby Moore leading England's players on the lap of honour in 1966. A replica of the European Cup, emblazoned in Nottingham Forest's ribbons, is in a glass cabinet. "When I bought the club I really liked that cup," he explains. "So they made one for me."

By his own admission, it has been a rocky ride. Hasawi has fired four managers and spent a small fortune since saving Forest from the threat of bankruptcy two summers ago and he did not expect they would finish his second season 11th in the Championship. He is genuinely upset. Hasawi had expected promotion and if that makes him sound like just another demanding owner it is worth pointing out and this is not always the case among football's super rich that he is willing to admit he has made a few mistakes along the way.

"In football, some people can't take it when negative things are said about them. Not me. I like it when people say negative things because sometimes it makes me wake up. The man who says something bad about you, maybe he is right and maybe you are wrong. Maybe you can learn from what he says. I am not a god. I am a human being. I make mistakes. Everybody does."

Today, he meets Stuart Pearce, Forest's manager-in-waiting, for a warts-and-all meeting to go over everything that has gone wrong and what needs to be done to put it right. "I am going to tell him everything," he says matter-of-factly. He wants to bring in an "honest chief executive" and five candidates have already been interviewed. A clear-out of players is planned and there will be large sums of money available for the new manager. Hasawi is absolutely committed to the idea of success. It is an obsession.

"It is just going to take time. Manchester City were mid-table when Sheikh Mansour bought the club. It's only about money. But who pushes Manchester City? An entire government. And who pushes Forest? Only Fawaz al-Hasawi, with nobody helping him. Nobody, even from Kuwait. No sponsorship. Nobody. Even the company we have [for shirt sponsorship], it's our company.

"So we are pushing with one hand. Manchester City have a government behind them and when you have a government behind you it is different to one man. It will happen with one man but it will take longer."

When he was running Qadsia, he established them as the top side in Kuwait. With Forest, everything has been more complicated. Nobody could doubt Hasawi's financial commitment.

Yet it has been a difficult process and the billionaire tycoon, who comes from one of Kuwait's wealthiest families, whose interests include property, hotels and air conditioning, has come under scrutiny since Neil Warnock, one of the candidates to replace Davies, said he had turned down the job because the owner was telling him who to play.

Hasawi wants to nip this in the bud. "If I wanted to interfere, why didn't I make myself manager from the beginning? I used to be a player. I have a licence to be a manager. I studied in Kuwait for the C, B and A [badges]. So I will be the manager! Why do I need Stuart Pearce? I will be bring in two or three assistants and I will save the club 1m for a new manager."

Point made. But he knows it is a serious issue. "Look," he continues. "I was speaking to different managers when we decided we didn't want Billy Davies any more. Unfortunately, one of them I don't even want to mention his name started it that Fawaz interferes. You know why? Because he wanted to take the job, we didn't give him the job and that hurt him.

"Stuart Pearce is a strong man and I don't think he would take the job if the owner interfered.

"Billy Davies, again, was a strong man. I didn't interfere with his work. I didn't interfere when Alex McLeish was manager. Or even Sean O'Driscoll. But I will say my opinion to the manager. I am the man who pays everyone. I run the club. Are you saying I don't have the right to tell him my opinion? I want to hear from him and that's perfectly normal."

The bottom line is that he has done an awful lot more good than bad. Forest supporters held a Fawaz Day earlier this season. A banner proclaiming "In Fawaz We Trust" hangs at the City Ground. They sing his name. It humbles him. "I hear the fans and it is almost too much. I go to games at Chelsea, at Manchester United and I never hear the fans clapping for the owner."

But Hasawi has deep pockets and he is eager to please. "I don't remember one time when a manager asked me for a player and I didn't try to get him. We did everything for Billy Davies we could. And it will be the same for Stuart Pearce. Whatever he wants, he will have. Next season I am going to bring everything for this manager."

Nothing can generate cynicism quite like the mix of football and money when a billionaire outsider pitches up proclaiming love for a team. But with Hasawi it would be a mistake to think that way. He cares. His eyes light up reminiscing about the time Brian Clough took his European Cup-winning team to Kuwait. His wife, Asma al-Sabah, describes Forest as "like a fourth child". But it is more than just the football that is important to him. It is the club's reputation.

"What happened before, I didn't like," Hasawi says, referring to the media blackout the Davies regime imposed. "He wanted it that way. I don't know why but I didn't realise until a month before he left. Shaun Harvey [chief executive of the Football League] came to see me and said: 'Why is your club being like this?' I was shocked. I don't want my club to have half the media in and half out. I want everyone in. All the television, all the newspapers, I want them all involved. Everybody's welcome. And if there is negative press, show them on the field."

He has no real appetite to scrutinise the fallout from the Davies saga but appreciates it has to be addressed. Davies did not arrive alone when he joined the club for a second time. His cousin and adviser, Jim Price, a solicitor currently suspended from the profession, had a prominent involvement working for Davies, despite the league saying he failed their fit-and-proper-person rules. Brian O'Neil, a former player turned agent, was also brought in by Davies to work as a consultant.

"It was a mistake," Hasawi admits. "They were running the club with an agent and a solicitor, which is wrong. I don't like [what happened] but it was my mistake, not their mistake. This was down to me. I trusted everybody in the club. I gave them everything. 'Do whatever you want to do.' And this was wrong.

"It's happened now. It's the past and I've said to Stuart Pearce: 'Listen, nothing against you but there are rules now.' He said: 'Fine.' He agrees and that's good because, first, I don't like a manager who interferes with the administration. Second, I don't like it when the administration interferes with the football. Everybody has his job. The manager we will give him everything."

Hasawi used to have a specially commissioned picture in his office of him, Clough and Davies. But Davies went after a 5-0 defeat at Derby in a rancorous part of a season that started encouragingly before, as Hasawi put it, "going down slowly, slowly, slowly because of the injuries, because of the way of the training And then bad and bad, down and down."

Now it is Pearce's turn, back at the club where he used to put the fear of God into opposition wingers. "When we decided we didn't want to continue with Billy Davies I wanted someone who belonged to the club," Hasawi explains. "I heard Stuart Pearce was honest. He said: 'Fawaz, if I take the job I have to be ready. I want to start from zero. I don't want to step in until I am 100% ready.' And I told him: 'I don't blame you because this is not your job right now, you are taking it from somebody else.' He said he would keep watching the team and in the summer take the club. That's why he didn't take the job straight away."

Pearce has plenty to prove but he is a snug fit after everything that happened with his predecessor. "We now have someone who cares about Nottingham Forest," Hasawi says.

"The other thing that will help is that now we work together as one team, not against each other. We are all in one boat. We live together or we die together. Sometimes some managers I'm not saying anyone's name here when they lose they throw it on the players. Always, they are right! The manager is always right! They don't realise it makes you the bigger person if you admit you made a mistake.

"If I make a mistake I say: 'Yes I made a mistake.' I don't blame the players, the manager, the chief executive. You cannot have an excuse every game. One day you throw it on the referee, one day you throw it on the injuries, one day you throw it on the players. So there is nothing against you? You are the perfect man? Come on."

Fawaz, in Arabic, means successful. In Kuwait, it fits perfectly. Now he wants to show the same in English football.

"This is my dream, and I am trying so hard for it. You should see me during games. I act like one of the crazy fans. This is me. I can't change."
Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. Martin Luther King
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