This is a fictional piece written by guest author @footyanchor and is the fourth installment in the series.
In our last installment, Pierre van Hooijdonk managed to add more silverware to Forest’s growing trophy cabinet, enjoyed his first ever champions league experience in football management, and increased his hatred considerably for one particular Portuguese manager over in London. How will the Dutch manager fare in his second try in Europe’s elite competition? And what will Mourinho do to irritate him further?
The Diary of Pierre van Hooijdonk – Part Four
He was going to be our midfield anchor for the next ten years. In his first year with the club, he made the position his own and showed tremendous authority despite his tender age. All was looking rosy until Mourinho came in with a bid. I told the player he wasn’t going to get much football at Chelsea but he refused to listen and wanted his dream move. I couldn’t risk entering the season with an unsettled player in the side. Reluctantly, I sent him off to Chelsea for 17.5 million pounds and made a profit of 7.5 million pounds after just one season at the club. Riechedly Bazoer was gone. I hate Mourinho more than ever now.
It was a tough summer for us. The board announced plans for a new stadium at the end of last season and as a result, we would not have any transfer funds to strengthen in the summer. I had to put together my very own transfer war chest from the departures and a total of 9 players were offloaded for 64 million pounds. It was an emotional summer as we saw three players who were with me right from the start move on to pastures new. We no longer have a ‘Rory Delap’ in our squad after Michail Antonio moved to Everton for 9.75 million pounds. In addition, club captain Jack Hobbs and converted right-back Michael Mancienne joined Newcastle and West Ham respectively. Wissam Ben Yedder, Mads Fenger, Florian Thauvin, Matthew Cash and Gael Kakuta were the other departures in a busy summer.
With some cash in the bag, we brought in transfer-listed Spanish right-back Mario from Real Madrid for just 3.5 million pounds. A quality ball-winner was spotted in Italy and Atalanta allowed Lorenzo Crisetig to join us for 9 million pounds. In the biggest deal of our transfer businesses so far, an absolute monster of a center-back, Niklas Sule, agreed to relocate to Nottinghamshire after we struck a deal with Hoffenheim. 19 million pounds was enough to lure the solid German defender to The City Ground.
Barcelona had been a happy hunting ground in my management career so far and we were able to bring in another talented young winger from the Spanish giants. Gerard Deulofeu returns to England on a free transfer and he impressed me so much in training that I wondered why Barcelona chose to let him go. Yannick Ferreira Carrasco joins from Monaco to complete our collection of speedy wingers after we agreed to fork out 11 million pounds for his services. Our scouts had been monitoring a right-footed Matic in Palermo for a few seasons now but he was not granted the required work permit to play in England. Thankfully, the work permit application was successful this time round and he comes in as a perfect replacement for the departed Bazoer for a mere 6 million pounds. Former striker Britt Assombalonga rejoins the club on loan after failing to score a single league goal at Roma. He was our final piece of business and will be our third choice false nine this season.
Having won our last few opening league fixtures, I was confident of doing the same against Everton this time round. Pione Sisto sent us on our way after just twenty minutes but Danny Welbeck sneaked past our center-backs to knock home the equalizer in a disappointing 1-1 draw. We bounced back in terrific style by winning four consecutive leagues games, netting 17 and conceding just one. Newcastle had been our bogey team at The City Ground in the last few campaigns and I wasn’t surprised to see them halt our winning run in an eventful 2-2 draw. Calum Butcher was sent off after being booked twice and we struggled from then on. Man United were our next opponents and the lads showed their bouncebackability once again by dismissing the Red Devils 3-0. Gabriel Barbosa scored a stunning hat-trick. To my dismay, the Brazilian striker suffered a torn hamstring in our next league fixture and was ruled out for three months. We still managed to bag all three points in that game with the help of goals from new midfield anchor Milan Milanovic and new club captain Simone Zaza at Villa Park.
Barbosa’s injury came a very wrong time as we faced Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea in our next three fixtures. With a clear lack of firepower upfront, we only managed two points from those games. The international break came at the right time for once as we returned to winning ways after a good rest with a 3-0 home victory against Southampton. Three consecutive victories followed as we managed to avoid upsets against Burnley, Wigan and Bournemouth. We travelled to Manchester in high spirits but left in disappointment after some horrific defending at set-pieces. Simone Zaza’s goal was the only positive in the game as we fell to a 1-3 away defeat.
Defeats always seem to spur the boys on to good run of results and this time round, we managed to remain unbeaten in the next nine fixtures, winning all but two of those games. The run was ended yet again in Manchester as the resurgent Red Devils beat us in another 1-3 defeat. Similar to the Man City defeat, our captain’s goal was the solitary positive. Back at home, we improved and bagged six points out of six against Aston Villa and Liverpool in our next two games. The return of Gabriel Barbosa was crucial as he bagged a goal each in those victories. Two tough away trips to London followed and we came away with only one point after a goal-less draw at Arsenal. The increasingly irritating Chelsea side had been relentless throughout the season and a Matic goal from a corner sealed the win for the Blues. With most of the tough fixtures out-of-the-way, we won all but two of the remaining eight games to finish second again behind the unstoppable Chelsea. Just like last campaign, we finished on 84 points but Mourinho’s side improved even further this time round with an impressive 95 points. I hate to say this but we are still a long way behind the champions.
We were bad in the domestic cup competitions this campaign but weren’t helped much by the tough draws. Man United were our Third Round opponents in the Capital One Cup and despite holding them to a creditable 1-1 draw at Old Trafford, the lads failed to keep their nerves in the shootout as we lost 3-4 on penalties. After dismissing Sunderland in the FA Cup Third Round tie, we drew Arsenal at home in the next round and despite having more shots, their forwards were sharper and we ended up losing 1-2. We used to be the cup specialists, but not anymore after a campaign of early exits.
For some unknown reasons, the boys enjoy their football more in Europe. Having been drawn into Group C with German giants Dortmund, Dutch outfit FC Twente and Portuguese side Benfica, the lads did fantastic to top the group with 13 points. Dynamo Kyiv were our opponents in the First Knockout Round and we managed victories in both legs to qualify for the quarter finals for a second consecutive season. The boys faced their toughest hurdle of our Champions League run so far in Bayern Munich but they were unfazed by their richer counterparts. Big game player Barbosa scored three goals in both legs as we won 2-1 twice against all odds. AC Milan stood between us and the final and the lads were determined not to fall at the final hurdle. In arguably our best display of the season at The City Ground, we demolished the Italians 6-0 and marched on to the final with mighty Barcelona waiting in Lisbon.
We suffered a huge blow when first choice midfield raider, Tonny Trindade de Vilhena, broke down with an injury in training just days before the final. Henri Lansbury, the attacking midfielder who had been with me since the start of my tenure, came in and did his job so well that we hardly missed Tonny. My proudest loan signing, Adama Traore (he has been on loan at the club for four consecutive seasons), returned to haunt his parent club by scoring a brilliant solo goal after just nine minutes.
Things got even better when Gabriel Barbosa slotted away a controversial penalty on the 18th minute mark to put us 2-0 up. Barcelona came roaring back but our keeper was in terrific form and managed to keep them out until the 75th minute, when Messi escaped his marker to head home a near post corner. It set up a nervy finish and the lads showed terrific resilience by throwing themselves into last-minute tackles and blocks. After what seemed like an eternity, Jonas Eriksson blew the final whistle to send the fans in red into raptures. NOTTINGHAM FOREST ARE THE EUROPEAN CHAMPIONS… AGAIN!!
We certainly came a long way since our days in the Championship. The squad was completely revamped with the exception of one player (Henri Lansbury) and he had been tremendous for me throughout my four seasons at the club. Last summer was tough after we lost our transfer war chest to the impending new stadium but to my pleasant surprise, the board released more funds in the January transfer window due to an improvement in our financial situation. Meeting the homegrown quotas was becoming increasingly hard and thus, Englishmen Michael Keane and Saido Berahino were brought in to bolster our English contingent. Spanish left-back Jonny and French midfield hard man Geoffrey Kondogbia came in to replace the outgoing Massadio Haidara and Calum Butcher respectively. All four January signings played little parts in the second half of the season as I wanted them to bed in before we throw them out into the war field. In this campaign, our top scorers were Pione Sisto (20), Gabriel Barbosa (19), Simone Zaza (19) and Adama Traore (18) as we continued to spread our goals throughout the squad. Pione was by far our player of the season after creating a further 25 goals for his team-mates. The Danish winger was a 4.9 million pounds signing in the summer of 2015. Bargain.
It could all be very different if we had lost that Champions League Final. That would have left us empty-handed in a single season for the first time in my tenure. With that win against Barcelona, the lads went away happy. Some were even heading to the World Cup. Bazoer though, spent most of his season slogging away in Chelsea’s reserves. I went away very happy indeed.