Can Aitor Karanka point Nottingham Forest towards its former glory?
Nottingham Forrest has suffered in the new millennium. The former European Champions endured financial problems, its first descent below the second English tier in more than a half-century, then a return to the Championship. Yet, it has not been able to climb any further. With an eye for promotion, the club has recently appointed former Middlesbrough boss and Jose Mourinho disciple Aitor Karanka to the helm. Will he be able to at long last restore its top flight status?
Karanka is the 10th manager to take charge since Billy Davies ended his first spell as Forest manager in June 2011. That is a devastating number for such a short period. It can be difficult to know when you are showing faith in a manager or stubbornly trying to make a bad situation work. This is over the line, however. Impatience and inconsistency are two reasons Forest has struggled so mightily to take the last step back to the top of the English pyramid.
When previous boss Mark Warburton arrived at the City Ground, he brought change. Kieran Dowell was taken on loan from Everton. Joe Worrall and the Bens Brereton and Osborn performed so effectively they have been mentioned as possible transfer targets. However, the club's instability came into play again. Despite the side being mid-table with an optimistic outlook, new management showed Warburton the door after just seven months.
The squad demonstrated how rash the decision was by knocking Arsenal out of the FA Cup before a successor could be named.
Aitor Karanka turned out to be that successor. The Basque has played for one of the biggest clubs in the world, Real Madrid, and been tutored by one of the most successful managers, Jose Mourinho.
Yet it is not just where he has played and with whom he has worked; it is also what he has been able to learn from those experiences. Beyond that, Karanka also has significant experience in the Championship. In his first season at Riverside, Boro was reduced to nothing in the playoff final. Karanka brought the side back stronger, leading it to a second-place finish the following campaign. The Teessiders had earned a place in the top division after a seven-year absence.
However, his Basque temper is sometimes evident. In March 2016, he unexpectedly left the training ground after a disagreement over his future. Responsibilities for the subsequent match against Charlton Athletic were handed over to his assistant. In the Premier League, he refused to amend his philosophy of attack when his side was starving for goals. That led to a parting of the ways.
Now he is boss at Nottingham Forest. Reds fans may remember having a similarly willful boss in Brian Clough. Karanka fanned the fires of that comparison when his team defeated league leaders Wolverhampton Wanderers 0-2 at the Molineux in his debut. Dowell showed his flair, scoring from a deflected shot that sent John Ruddy in the wrong direction. Osborn fired in shortly afterward. Then Karanka's patented defending took over. Wolves huffed and puffed but could not break down the Forest back four. It was a deserved win.
Despite the surprise victory, the boss has given his approval for any player to leave who wishes. He has self-belief but no use for those who don't agree. Having delivered the goods in the past, Forest would be well advised to stick with their new man. Aitor Karanka can blaze a trail home to the Premier League.