For 25 years my summers have been spent thinking ahead to the new football season, with only the distraction of a World Cup or European Championship every other year to keep me occupied. But for the last twenty years, I’ve been wondering whether Forest will ever get back into the Premiership, with that thought even further away during those three years we spent trying to get out of League One (I still shudder if someone mentions Yeovil to me).
After two decades away, could it really be time for Forest to get back amongst the elite of English football? The signs are certainly positive, especially if you look back into the not too distant past. Only a year ago we were rejoicing as new owner Evangelos Marinakis took over the club, bringing to an end five years of decline under the Al-Hasawi's.
Marinakis’ first six months were fairly uneventful, keeping the purse strings tight and seemingly happy to keep his nose out of the day-to-day business of running a football club; employing people who knew what they were doing and leaving them to do it (unlike the previous regime). Then, without warning, manager Mark Warburton was given his P45 on New Year’s Eve (Merry Christmas). Had Forest got another trigger happy owner who would hire and fire every five minutes?
Only time will tell on that front, but in Spaniard Aitor Karanka, Forest have a boss who has been there and done it. During a five year spell as a defender at Real Madrid, he helped the club to three Champions League successes, including a starting place in the 2000 final. He also assisted José Mourinho during his tenure in the Bernabéu hot seat, before taking on his first club management role getting Middlesbrough promoted out of the Championship in his second full season at the club.
Karanka’s initial arrival at Forest came barely a week after Warburton’s departure in January, leaving him only three weeks of the transfer window to shape the squad. But that he did, with more then a dozen players either coming or going and guiding the club to a 17th place finish, the first season on season improvement in five years.
Moving onto this season, Karanka’s been busy again, but this time he’s had cold hard cash to back himself with. The €15m (£13.2m) signing of Portuguese youngster João Carvalho is a massive signal of intent from Forest, breaking the club’s previous transfer record by more then double. Furthermore, the arrival of two more of Carvalho’s countrymen on loan, with deals in place to sign them permanently should Forest be promoted, seems to suggest the club are not just looking at short term goals, but planning for the future too.
Another £6m has been spent on Lewis Grabban, a proven goal scorer at this level, who was almost relegated and promoted out of the Championship after loan spells with Sunderland and Aston Villa last season. Add to this the return of club legend Michael Dawson and the re-signings of players like Colback and Pantilimon, who came in last season and did so well, and it all suggests that Forest are serious about promotion; plus with 20,000 season tickets sold for the new campaign, confidence among the fans is definitely there too.
Forest are so far unbeaten, with back-to-back draws and a 1-0 win over Reading; a solid, if un-spectacular start, but a lot to be positive about. The Bookies had us as 4th favorites for promotion at the beginning of the season, so maybe it will be 5th time lucky in the play-offs!