“Aitor Karanka has asked to be released from his role as the manager of Nottingham Forest Football Club. The club have agreed to this request,” read the words on my phone on the Friday morning while on the way to school. First came a wave of incredulity, then a pang of anger and then a deep, deep despondency. My Friday was ruined.
Context is the bedrock of judgement yet we, as fans, have been given so little information. We can only unpick past events. Initially, the furious finger of Forest fans was aimed at Marinakis. The initial speculation was that he had pressured Karanka into leaving. We all know his track record of sacking managers at Olympiakos and after he set those ludicrous goals of “Promotion or nothing” at a training session in October feelings of discontent from the hierarchy hung heavy. Considering an abysmal last five years, a more realistic target would have been a top 8 finish with an aim to push for promotion the following season. If that season brings no success, then maybe it is time to start looking elsewhere for a manager. But Marinakis is one hell of an impatient man. He has invested a huge amount of money to be fair to him, but as fans we want to see consistency and stability at our club in the future- not a new manager every 6 months. Karanka had been at the helm for only a year and has overseen a rapid transformation at what was a neglected club this time last year. Relegation dogfights, empty seats and Jason Cummings leading the line quickly transformed into over 20,000 season ticket holders, Grabban top scorer in the league while we were even pipping The Rams.
Until 8th December. Our loss against Preston that day was the beginning of a wretched run of form which saw us go 5 matches without a win. We continued to back the manager though as although we were in 10th, a win against Leeds that weekend would take us back up to 7th and only 3 points of 5th place, still a drastic improvement on past seasons. A win it was and an emphatic one at that – which is why the timing of Karanka’s walkout was so bizarre- it was only 9 days after the victory against Leeds. The fact of the matter is that it is rather more complex than Karanka leaving because of pressure from the board.
Aitor is an authoritative manager, he likes to control multiple sectors of the club- an old-fashioned methodology really. That didn’t sit well with Marinakis, who himself doesn’t mind the spotlight. So, in reality the timing of his departure wasn’t such a surprise. After a triumphant victory with a very limited squad Karanka was expecting public support from the board- which he never got. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back after arguments over game time for Arvin Appiah ( Marinakis wanting to give the youngster more game time because he wants to sell him off), Karanka’s poor communication with the players ( he simply dropped Grabban a text to tell him he wasn’t going to play one weekend ) and the style of football (Marinakis upset that it was too reactive and defensive). On some occasions the Greek shipping merchant actually has a point. Karanka is a great manager, not world-class by any stretch of the imagination he is no Pep Guardiola, no Jurgen Klopp, no Marcelo Biesla. His substitutions can be poor, he hasn’t given Appiah enough minutes, some players have indeed struggled to connect with him on personal levels. Yet I will say it again, Forest’s huge improvement under the Spaniard can’t be dressed up or forgotten. He has given the club an identity back. And as for the complaints about negative football, I feel as though we have played some brilliant stuff this year at home against the smaller teams. Yes, we tighten up away from home and against the top teams but it has worked wonders for us. Had Kemar Roofe’s goal been disallowed our record against the top 6 would have been P8 W4 D3 L1. This is why Forest fans are so enamoured of Karanka- we were back competing again. And, similarly, this is why the 2-0 managerless defeat to Reading yesterday was so painful.