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Martin O’Neill Boards the Nottingham Forest Train and Wants Express Start

Martin O’Neill Boards the Nottingham Forest Train and Wants Express Start

Monday, 21 January, 2019 - 08:15
Nottingham Forest manager Martin O'Neill. (AFP)
London - Daniel Taylor
As Martin O’Neill reflected on what it was like to be the new manager of Nottingham Forest, back at the club where he won two European Cups and once spoke of it being “like getting on a train and never getting off”, he made it clear why the idea of following in Brian Clough’s footsteps – albeit 20 managerial changes further down the line – had been so attractive.

“Firstly, just the name: Nottingham Forest,” he said. “It’s an extraordinarily brilliant name for a football club. Really, it’s not like you can attach a ‘United’ or a ‘City’ to it and, for me to be part of it, especially in successful times, was great.

“Even if the club had been in the doldrums during my 10 years here, it still would have been some kind of honor, primarily because of the name. But when you go abroad and talk to ex-players – Juventus players, Inter Milan players, Bayern Munich players – even now they all go: ‘Ah, Nottingham Forest …’ Obviously there is the connection to Robin Hood and the manager, Clough, made this place pretty famous really. There’s a certain ring about it, but unfortunately that doesn’t guarantee success now – and success right now is being in the Premier League.”

O’Neill, who is waiting to hear whether Roy Keane will join him as assistant manager, made that point more than once during his introductory press conference at a club where he needs no introduction. It was time, he said, for Forest to create new history, primarily by returning to the top division after a 20-year hiatus when they have been through more managers than the 110 years BC – or, as it is known in these parts, Before Clough.

“I was a bit surprised to hear this club had been out of the top flight for 20 years,” he said. “It’s a long time for a club with this sort of history. If someone comes down here from Mars in 300 years, that [history] will be there and that is great. But you cannot go on forever and the generations move on. It is two generations now since the team was in the Premier League.

“For the younger players now, they have to forge on. I have a lot of very fond memories here and the last five years [1976 to 1981] were absolutely exceptional. To go from promotion to the league title, to League Cups, to European Cups, to Super Cups and Club World Cups. But what we have to do now is … don’t live in the past. I’m trying to carve some niche here for the current players.”

O’Neill, 66, has signed an 18-month contract as Aitor Karanka’s successor, which might seem quite short but is perhaps an accurate reflection of the modern-day industry. His brief, he said, was simple: promotion. “I’m here for 18 months and if we can’t get up then I’ll hand it over to somebody else to see if they can. It would be great to get this club back up, it would be fantastic and that’s why I’ve taken it on. I want to really give it everything I’ve got. At some stage or another Nottingham Forest are going to get up. I would love to do it but if I am unable to do it then that’s for someone else.”

Would he and the club’s owner, Evangelos Marinakis, want him to stay longer if Forest did go up? “Surely that is something to be looked at if we are promoted,” O’Neill said. “If I make it to 18 months, that will mean that we might have had a chance.”

First things first, he has to reinvigorate a team that have won one of their past eight fixtures and are ninth in the Championship, four points off the play-offs. His first game ended Saturday with a 0-1 defeat at home to Bristol City. Facing a defensive crisis because of injuries and suspensions, he has brought in the Tunisian international center-half Yohan Benalouane from Leicester who has signed an 18-month deal.

As for the chances of Keane, another former Forest favorite, resuming their working relationship from their Republic of Ireland days, O’Neill made it clear he regarded it as a priority.

“I would dearly like him to join us,” he said. “Since this has happened very quickly he has a number of things to sort out himself.

“Overall, he was great for me, and great for the [Ireland] players, and the genuine truth is that I don’t think that we would have qualified for the Euros without his presence. I have been unflinching in that support.”

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