Prophet without honour in his own land

HE SAYS he doesn't care. But it must rankle. Injustice always does. A man recently described by Alex McLeish as something of a shop steward, he is the kind of guy who doesn't necessarily start a fight, regardless of what the rumour-mongers would have people believe, but he won't back down from one either if he thinks there is a cause worth fighting for.

Still only 45, Billy Davies is a manager who has achieved plenty. Twice he guided Preston North End into the promotion play-offs, he then took just 11 months to make his mark at Derby Country. He put in place a three-year plan to gain promotion but did it in a third of the time. And aspects of history are repeating themselves. A year into the job at Nottingham Forest, and having saved the club from relegation last season, he has now guided his young squad to second place in the Championship. Another shot at the Premier League beckons and there should be no doubting his credentials. Yet in his homeland he senses people have yet to buy into that.

North of the Border, big jobs have come and gone and although he was considered for the Scotland job when George Burley was appointed, his desire to have the kind of influence on the coaching structure which has this time around been granted Craig Levein proved a stumbling block back then. Since then he has rarely been mentioned in dispatches.

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"I just work away and if other people recognise what I have done, fine. But, unfortunately for me, credit where credit's due doesn't happen for me in Scotland. I don't get the recognition I deserve, for whatever reason. But at the end of the day I know what I'm doing and a lot of good football people know the job that is being done and the job that has been done in the past so whether I get the recognition in Scotland or not, I couldn't care."

There is a doggedness, a spirit and a sense of self-belief which has sometimes been portrayed as a fiery cussedness and an arrogance by people he describes as having their own agenda. In a world where politicians are groomed and spin seems to matter more than policies, Davies seems like a character from another era. He describes himself as a simple manager. Get to know him and he also has simple, honest principals. He also has a sense of humour. He is open and uncomplicated but he does not suffer fools or liars gladly. His conviction is a force to be reckoned with.

Which is possibly why some people have felt the need to besmirch him. Sacked by Derby County after just 12 games in the Premier League, he still bristles at the memory of how it all ended.

"We all know that changes happen and things move along and I've not got an issue with that, it's the way they go about it. I knew that it would be tough going up after just 11 months but then there were new owners and a new chairman and I knew he wanted to bring his pal Paul Jewell in but they didn't do it properly.

"All I want is for people to stick to the terms of the contract. I was described as this fiery Scotsman, this raging man who is always falling out with people and upsetting people. But I only jump up and down when people decide that my contract is a moveable object just because it suits them. The contract I or any other manager signs should not be a moveable feast.

"If people want to remove the manager they should do it properly, tap them on the shoulder, say 'the club wants to move in another direction' and then part company adhering to the termination clause agreed in the contract. Then they could send the manager out with a bit of dignity, but they don't do that, instead they use propaganda, and hang you out to dry for months. But I'm not the person certain people have tried to make me out to be."

Nottingham Forest chief executive Mark Arthur has verified that in the past week, claiming the monster others created as they tried to push Davies out the door is a myth. But Davies knows that when so much mud is hurled some will always stick.

However, if his image could be tarnished, bold statistics make it tough to undermine the achievements of his teams on the pitch. Even at Derby there were extenuating circumstances and those who matter know it.

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"I went to Juventus after I had left Derby to watch a week's training, and Claudio Ranieri was the manager. I asked for a meeting with him after one of the training sessions and as he walked towards me, before he shook my hand, he wagged his finger and said 'Not your fault'. I said 'Sorry?', and he said 'Not your fault, Billy. What happened to you in the Premier League was disgraceful, it was not your fault. The money you had to spend, the length of time in the job, it was not your fault'. Those have been some of the most pleasing words I have heard."

Arsene Wenger also offered him backing. He praised him in a match-day programme then afterwards expressed sympathy. He had been successful too soon, he said, making a rod for his own back.

Davies' confidence has not been bludgeoned though. He is back defying expectations and hungering for another tilt at top-tier football. He would be more than willing to wait another year but his young squad, with an average age of 23, are showing the same trademark impatience of other Davies teams. A year ago, relegation was a very real fear, the pressure was on them to safeguard jobs and maintain their Championship status. Davies considers delivering that his biggest achievement to date.

Now, with only a handful of new faces (five of the nine summer signings were actually only loan players being brought in permanently), Davies has transformed the fortunes and the targets.

Pre-season, the board had simply asked for progression. The manager hoped for a decent mid-table finish which would provide the foundation for a big push for the Premier League next term.

Instead, after victory away to rivals West Bromwich Albion on Friday night, they are sitting second and, although he says it is not a priority, they have another opportunity to oust Premier League Birmingham City from the FA Cup in midweek. Davies should have little to concern him but experience tells him to be fearful of their own success. Just as he did at Derby, he feels promotion would be too much too soon and could prove detrimental to the club. But he won't stop striving for wins in every game from now until the end of the season. Already they are on their best unbeaten away run since the days of the legendary Brian Clough. They are approaching 20 games unbeaten in total and until Friday had gone six games without conceding a goal. And ominously, Davies' teams historically get stronger the longer the season progresses.

"I still think it is too early. It's better to get there at the right time, when the infrastructure is in place to allow you to sustain a competitive edge at that level."

He knows that if they do get promoted he will get more support, financially and personally, from Forest than he ever got at Derby because he believes owner Nick Doughety would be serious about staying there and really reawakening his sleeping giant, but he knows it will still be tough. Which is why he would prefer to wait another year. "I did a radio interview recently and the person interviewing me said the fans don't want to hear that kind of thing. I said 'yeah, but the fans don't get sacked after 12 games. I do'."

Knowing what he is getting into is not the issue for Davies, it's an inability to slow the juggernaut he has fuelled, that is his only problem. Oh, and sometimes getting the recognition he deserves.