From the cold shoulder in Ireland to the warm embrace of Nottingham, Martin O’Neill is surfing a wave of enthusiasm, expectation and, of course, nostalgia on his return to the City Ground.
“Very much so, there’s a real feeling of optimism and a real feeling of emotion around the place,” says Andy Reid, the former Forest star and Ireland international who still makes his home in the city. “A lot of people in Ireland seemed to get a little bit sick of all Martin’s talk about Brian Clough but that’s definitely not the case in this part of the world.
“Nobody here ever gets sick of Brian Clough stories. And rightly so because what he did for the club was phenomenal. And to have one of his disciples, so to speak, back as manager has generated a lot of emotion and a lot of goodwill. Most of the people I speak to are delighted he’s back.”
But, according to Reid, while hope and history rhyme anew by the Trent, there is also an underlying recognition – after 11 managers in 10 years and twice that length of time outside the Premier League - that the club urgently needs stability as a platform for sustainable success.
“There’s been a real clamour for someone to be given time to manage the football club,” he says. “People thought that was going to be Aitor Karanka but that didn’t work out and now I get the feeling that Martin will be given a little bit more grace. Don’t get me wrong: the owners are aiming for promotion and they’re prepared to spend so there will be backing for him in this transfer window and in the summer.
While Reid is well aware that O’Neill departed the Ireland job under a cloud, he notes that the assessment of the Derryman’s overall time in international football would be much more upbeat in Nottingham.
“People in Ireland will say that people over here didn’t have to watch the football over the last year,” he observes, “but people here see that he got Ireland to the Euros and got them to a World Play-off in his two qualifying campaigns. And they think, well, that’s not bad! Listen, yeah, of course, the last year was poor but if you take his time as Ireland manager as a whole then you have to say that there were real achievements in terms of big results.”
An immediate measure of the excitement generated in Nottingham by the return of a club legend is that a surge in ticket sales means Saturday’s game against Bristol City is a guaranteed sell-out and, with tickets also selling fast for their next three games, a club spokesman yesterday described the reaction to O’Neill’s appointment as “like Beatlemania”.
Andy Reid and his six-year-old son Oscar – “he’s even more of a Forest fan than me” – will be among those in the City Ground on Saturday hoping to see O’Neill hit the ground running.
“The place is going to be packed and I’d imagine there’ll be a great atmosphere - at the start of the game anyway,” says the Dubliner.
“A must win? Well, because of who he is and his place in the history of the club, I think, as I said, that he’ll be allowed a bit more grace. But there’s only so long that that goes on for. I had the same thing when I was playing and Stuart Pearce came in as manager. When things were going great, it was fine. When they weren’t he was given a bit of grace because of what he achieved as a player at the club. But once the results started to go wrong, the pressure just built.
“But Martin is an intelligent man, he understands all that. It’s a results-driven business. That’s the be-all and end-all of football. There’s room for sentiment at the start but once the games get going he’ll be judged on points.”
That was a bottom-line reinforced, with some exasperation, by Brian Clough’s son Nigel yesterday. The Burton Albion manager and former Forest star told the ‘Burton Mail’: “If things don’t work out for Martin, there will be people shouting for him to go within three or four months. I find it very disillusioning at times, that people don’t get a fair crack at it. But I hope he does.”
Meanwhile, there was still no confirmation last night that protracted moves to bring Roy Keane back to Forest as assistant had come to fruition.