It's not much to go on it's true - only a casual game with Oldham and a more competitive run out against Bournemouth so far as evidence - but it's not only the names on the team sheet that has changed completely. Nottingham Forest of last season has been consigned to history and we have a whole new proposition on our hands. A new vibe, new style and new players capable to doing what they are asked and also conjure up things you won't ever have seen before. Whatever the eventual points tally, the dice have been cast and this time we have decided to compete at least although some will see it as a gamble. I already see a completely different dynamic amongst the team, they all want to be here and they all share the same philosophy and buy into the manager's vision. There's also a far more progressive transfer policy being pursued and mirrored by lots of hard work off the pitch too. I'll cover these areas in other articles in the coming weeks. Hopefully with more evidence to support my belief available by then. In the meantime, seeing is believing and there's already been a lot to admire.
The three new Portuguese signings are obviously the 'marquee' signings we have never had since we made Trevor Francis the first million pound footballer and will no doubt, rightly, get most of the limelight. There's no doubt they all have the skills to play the bills and are capable of fulfilling slightly different roles within the team. Joao Carvalho seems to be the playmaker, a magician who can open up a team with the deftest of touches and finesse on the ball. He looks one hell of a player. Diego Goncalves hasn't caught the headlines in his brief appearances just yet but appears to be equally skilful and fleet of foot and all three noticeably 'light up' when they are given the ball. They all seem to be willing runners in both directions and prepared to close defenders down and are eager to learn. Gil Dias has already shown real evidence of being something literally from a different league by what he has already done in his new shirt. There was a superb solo goal on video, a brief run out at Oldham and before he was finished with his Bournemouth pre-match shooting practice I was calling him as being a massive hit for us. He was putting the ball into the net with such style it was obvious he has the same ability as the very best talents I have ever seen in the Garibaldi shirt. He is as fast as lightning too. Who knows how each of these will do when the winter sets in, you couldn't have three more hopeful candidates though. Their potential is huge and we can look forward with anticipation to them all doing special things for the team in the coming months. One would be wonderful, having all three in the team is beyond anything the most crazy Forest fan could have dreamed of.
This is only the start though. The defence has been stiffened up too. The imposing figure of Costel Pantilimon is now a permanent structure between the sticks. We have another proper left back in Jack Robinson who can clearly play a bit. Ten-day Darwikwa is like a new signing having been given the boss' backing. He's worked hard all summer and has much more confidence in his approach that I hope he will carry through the whole season. Last year he seemed weighed down by doubt and expectation, hopefully belief will make him better than ever this year. Whilst the second central defender's shirt will be hard fought over by several outstanding contenders it appears that Michael Dawson has fist dibs on the other one. What a pleasure it is to see him back home. It's as if he never left but you quickly recall just how special he is and how much he has learned whilst being away. His powers might wane but he seems as strong as ever so far. Whilst you don't want to tinker with your centre halves I hope we manage our resources and allow all four of them their chance as they all are far too good to be sitting on the bench. Daws is going to a hard player to leave out though. Jack Colback returns to add security, quality and cover for the defence and allow the ball players the freedom to play.
Hillal Soudani has caught my eye too. His arrival wasn't heralded too much and was a drawn out saga that simmered along but I have a feeling he might be the most important signing of the lot. Lewis Grabban is no doubt the guy signed to put the ball into the net and should fit the bill perfectly, but if he has a day off it's likely to be Soudani who steps up with goals too. His touch is sublime, he seems to create something with his first touch whatever the quality of the ball he receives - something happens as soon as he touches the ball. Expect the unexpected. You'll see things you've never seen before from him. He looks like he'll share the Number 10 role with Carvalho probably. If Grabban doesn't deliver his 20+ goals then he might step into the breach and at least get very close. Either way the attacking combinations are mouthwatering without even factoring in the existing talents of Cash and Lolley amongst others including the young starlets coming through from the academy like Gomis, Preston and Appiah. Few of the old school who were shipped out will be remembered let alone missed as it is and there might well be one or more signings still to come.
In addition to the new signings there's been a distinct reinvigoration of the players still around from last season. Adlene Guedioura has been back to his very best form and his MOTM performance against Bournemouth makes him virtually undroppable. Osborn seems more comfortable and has more freedom with more quality around him - both full backs looking more like part of the attack as much as defence now. Watson is reliable as ever and Yates has shown he also has the ability to step in and do a very decent job too. He's made a strong case to being too good to loan. I'd let him go until Xmas myself, or maybe resolve to keep him until then if that's more likely to benefit his development. He has to play games and is obviously seem as a long term asset to the team. Maybe this year his elders should still hold the fort until he is ready, unless he forces them out before they are really ready. Either way, however all the cards fall, there is intense competition for places in all positions meaning no one can relax - there should be an intensity and understanding that the squad depth will be used to help manage the whole team in the interests of the whole and individuals. We should not be predictable this season like we have so often been.
It's hard to tell what the message is behind the scenes but it looks like there's a lot more clarity of purpose. We look much more capable of managing the game and retain possession but now seem to have much more purpose, move the ball much quicker and put it risk in order to create openings. We look like we have the ability to spar with better teams and pick them off and equally run weaker teams ragged. It looks like a robust system that will not easily buckle and will hopefully mean the squeaky bum times we are so used to will become a thing of the past. The fact is that it's a team built to do a job. Karanka has gone out and got the players he thinks he needs to to the tasks required. The evidence is he's been a savvy shopper. It all makes sense from the evidence so far and he has left little to chance. If the promise can be transformed into results and some momentum built up we will be hard to stop. Confidence is a valuable asset and the belief in the team must be uppermost when individuals have their own issues with form. We once again offer a huge threat on the break and I see this as being our greatest asset. That and the creative use of the bench to utilise the great strength in depth we now enjoy. Things might look different in the cold light of day rather than the soft focus of these preseason games but there are huge grounds for optimism so far.
Karanka seems to have built a very solid foundation and garnished that with a huge amount of attacking flair. Both parts are equally important inter-reliant. An iron fist in a silk glove. I cannot wait to watch how this season unfolds. My first one as a season ticket holder. It holds more promise than any other for decades.