Having fallen to Real Madrid in their Champions League last-16 tie this week Manchester United will have to wait six months before they can embark on another mission aimed at taking a fourth European crown to Old Trafford.
Juventus, by seeing off Celtic at the same stage, continued their pursuit of a third triumph in the continent’s premier tournament, a feat which would draw the Italian giants level with their compatriots at Inter Milan, and just one short of illustrious names such as Barcelona, Ajax and Bayern Munich in terms of the number of times they have achieved ultimate success in the European club game.
Standing level with the ‘Old Lady of Turin’ as being able to boast of two occasions on which they have lifted what Jose Mourinho terms ‘The Big Cup’ are Portuguese outfits Benfica and Porto, as well as Nottingham Forest.
This provincial club from the East Midlands strung together three of the more astonishing seasons witnessed in English football, when after winning their sole league title in 1978 they made full capital on their achievement by lifting the European Cup on successive occasions over the following two years.
To make Forest’s championship season even more remarkable, Brian Clough’s team finished at the head of the domestic game 12 months on from being promoted after five years spent in the second tier. The remarkable Clough positioned the City Ground club at the forefront of football, both at home and abroad, for an extensive period.
Forest featured in six Wembley cup finals between 1989 and 1992, winning two of them. During fourteen heady years subsequent to their 1978 apogee the now Championship side finished outside the top-half of the table only once.
That remarkable era came to the saddest possible end. By the time of the 1992/1993 campaign Clough was a pale imitation of his former vibrant, sharp, and uniquely at once charming and confrontational self, and powerless to prevent Forest enduring a miserable term which they spent rooted to the bottom of the Premier League right through to its conclusion.
Forest’s demotion and the summer sale of their exceptional 22 year-old Irish midfielder Roy Keane for a then British transfer record fee of £3.75m heralded a period of yo-yoing between the top two divisions.
When they were last relegated from the top league in 1999, 12-months on from securing the second-tier title, there was little to indicate that recent history wouldn’t repeat.
As it has transpired, thirteen turbulent years have passed without a return to the elite. Indeed, three years were spent on English football’s third-rung – a scenario that was unthinkable not only during the halcyon days of Clough, but also when Forest were taking on Bayern Munich in the UEFA Cup quarter finals of 1996.
Latter day headlines about the club have centred on managerial and boardroom upheaval. The Kuwaiti Al Hasawi family took control at the City Ground in July 2012. The ownership change followed a season in which former England manager Steve McClaren’s return to these shores with Forest ended swiftly – Sir Alex Ferguson’s one time protégé having accumulated a paltry 8 points from ten matches in charge. The departed man’s successor Steve Cotterill guided the team to an underwhelming 19th place finish.
McClaren resigned declaring that the board ‘didn’t share the ambitions I came for’. The ex-Manchester United coach was reportedly prevented from recruiting two Premier League loanees immediately prior to his exit. That suggested incidence of outside interference drew comparison with the frustration Billy Davies openly expressed concerning the ‘Transfer Acquisition Committee’ that was in place during the Scot’s first two-and-a-half year spell at the City Ground helm which ended in 2011.
The Al Hasawi’s arrived with a publicly declared ‘three-to-five year plan’ and a thirst for success. Upon completion of the family’s purchase co-owner Abdulaziz Al Hasawi was forthright in expressing lofty ambitions;
‘The ambition is to develop and bring the club back to where it should be.
‘Football is in our blood. We are in a different league but we have hopes that someday we will be playing Manchester City and Manchester United’.
The promise to appoint an ‘iconic’ manager led to links with names of the repute of Harry Redknapp and Glenn Hoddle. It was in fact the former Bournemouth and Doncaster Rovers boss, Sean O’Driscoll, who was handed the task of returning elevated status to a club and support increasingly hungry – almost desperate – to be back amongst the elite.
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