There have been huge changes at The City Ground in the last year. I always hoped that the shambles that marked The Fawaz Circus were somewhat exaggerated and things really weren't that bad. Only visiting the ground from time to time it was hard to know how many of the rumours were true or groundless. The stories I've heard first hand since moving to Nottingham have exceeded the worst of those rumours. Most of these have come from people you bump into in everyday life who have had a connection with the club during those dark days. It was bad, really bad. This has to be emphasised as change is a painful process and never perfect. Massive change was needed and massive changes have been made. Not all of them will have been right or always liked but the motives behind them seem to be genuine and with the best of intentions to revive the club and put it on the road to success again as soon as possible.
Fans will have genuine concerns that maybe the barely hidden haste to bring success and (say it quietly) win promotion might be unwise and perhaps a slower evolution would be more prudent. Time is money though and I always approach every game and every season the same way, you try and win every game and the league one step at a time. Take care of the battles and the war will be won. I back this approach as long as the supporters can retain a sense of perspective and be patient. Easier said than done of course as illustrated by the grumbles you could hear literally five minutes into the new season after Bristol City found the back of our net.
The first team undoubtedly sets the tone for the whole club. Things come easily when you're winning games and seem equally impossible when you are not. There's a huge buzz around the club at the moment sparked by the first serious investment into the playing staff for years and confidence that Aitor Karanka is a man with a plan, a plan that most of the fans can understand and put their faith in. I have to agree that I think we do have the best man for the job after way too many in recent times who might have been nice blokes but beyond that were not fit for the job they were given. To be fair, it might not made any difference in the circumstances but Karanka is a completely different kettle of fish. He's dedicated, having worked all through the summer with hardly any break. He's ruthless too. He made difficult decisions that he felt needed to be made without any sentimentality. There's no doubt Lichaj at least didn't deserve to be shipped out so brutally but he felt it had to be done. Although I always valued Eric's qualities and will never know the reasons behind Karanka's decision I can already start to see his thinking and find it harder to think it was an error. Only he knows the bigger picture, what team he is aiming to build and what players he thinks can do the jobs he needs done. Whilst you couldn't knock Lichaj I think Tendayi Darwikwa is equally committed and capable. Similarly, although I have the utmost regard for the defensive skills of Michael Mancienne there was no way he was going to get a chance again after being crucified on the altar of Warburton's obsession with a fatally flawed system and unwillingness to adapt. Timing is everything. Whilst Mance was left holding a very sick baby,, Danny Fox was able to reinvent himself as a beardy Beckenbauer. Few centre halves can have strung together such a brilliant string of performances as he has managed. Transforming him from the first in line for the chop to the first on the team sheet. You have to step up when the chips are down and he has as much as any player ever could have. Eric, McKay, Dowell, Mance and Co had the opposite journey and wilted when they were auditioning for a role in the 'new Forest' and there was, unlike in the past, no coming back this time. I am sure there will be a lot of regrets amongst the players who have missed the boat they now see ready to set sail. I don't blame them, in many cases they can say 'it should have been me' with some justification as Foxy has shown though it was possible. They can only blame themselves at the end of the day and put it down to experience in the final analysis. When they had the their chance to grasp the nettle they failed to do so. We have the right boss and a whole new raft of players ready to prove themselves.
Behind the scenes there's no doubt a bit more smoke and mirrors as you'd expect from any corporate environment. Marinakis' agents are working hard to build a club to achieve the success he wants to be associated with, when their work starts to reap rewards he will engage more but for now his minions have their clear orders and a play book to follow. Karanka also has far more influence than any manager in living memory on club at large too. Maybe since you know who. He believes every part of the club should mirror the values he expects and demands from the first team. Whether you're buying a ticket, ordering a pasty or trying to put the ball on the centre forward's head Karanka wants the best from all the servants of the club. It's a laudable aim and shows again his total commitment to 'the project' - let's drop that term though, it's really the club. Not every face will fit, not every employee really feels it the same as they might - they may be at The City Ground for their career rather than pure love. In reality you can't always get that bit extra that made Pearce into Psycho when he went onto the pitch. It's not always critical either, but the club does have people that definitely fall into that category and they seem to have got 'the spine' right so any tweaks that need to be made will work their way through. Off the pitch as on it, action not words was what was needed and changes had to be made fast. In time 'the Forest way' will start to be what Karanka, Marinakis, Randall and co want it to be rather than code for well-intentioned amateurism as it has been for a long time now.
So ultimately there have been huge changes, lots of hard work and new ideas thrown at the club. It was needed and the club has no doubt gone from the ER, through rehab and are now in a position to start work again. Time will tell how effective the changes to the first team prove to be, although the early signs are good. Regardless of that the 'team behind the team' need to take massive credit for the work they have done this summer. There have been lots of initiatives, a serious and large scale attempt to transform and upgrade the ground to enhance the match day experience for the fans and a far more coherent business model and transfer strategy. Can you ever recall a time when Forest have so clearly targeted players and signed them relentlessly. No deals hijacked, no stupid deals, just sensible pursuit and professional negotiations bearing fruit time and time again. I have no idea who has the magic deal making sauce we now seem to be able to serve up but it would appear that the rightfully smirking QC sitting alongside each and every signing might have chipped in a few gems to get these deals over the line. Whilst Notts CCC haven't been able to manage many games at all this summer just across the Radcliffe Road, wily fox Nick Randall has shepherded the tail or blasted the ball over the ropes to close deal after deal in as much style as a rampant Jos Buttler might. Forest are no joke off the pitch now and seem to be doing business very effectively for the first time in their history, finally catching up with the massive changes throughout all aspects of the modern game. The surprise bargain capture of Michael Hefele and the relaxed closing of the long-running Sam Byram one completed an immaculate transfer campaign that would serve as a case study to any club. Coming from Forest just makes it as remarkable as it was unlikely.
The efforts have been outstanding and whatever the results on the pitch turn out to be the groundwork has been put down over the summer. The fans have shown their appreciation and flocked back in huge numbers with record season cards sales that are still growing. Everything is in place for the success that the club is secretly now absolutely targeting as their reason for existence. Whatever happens they have played an absolute blinder over the summer and will no doubt continue to work hard to try and allow the success the club deserves and is so hungry for, once again, return to the banks of The Trent.