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Joao Carvalho. The ultimate Nottingham Forest conundrum of the 2019/20 season is constantly dividing opinions among the fanbase.

When the Reds record signing went off injured after a robust challenge in a pre-season friendly last June against Alfreton Town, the disappointment with many Forest fans was clear to see.

A signing that had started reasonably well under the former boss, Aitor Karanka, had faded due to a contrast in styles with the next Forest manager, Martin O’Neill.

In Karanka’s team, Carvalho was a regular starter and a creative spark providing goals and assists.

(Photo; Jon Hobley/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The link-up between Carvalho and main goalscorer, Lewis Grabban was there to see for most fans and he provided some real moments of magic; not least his goal against Sheffield Wednesday, impressing a Championship creative stalwart in Barry Bannan in the process.

His fee, a record 13 million for Forest and more than double what the previous holder in Britt Assombalonga cost, saw some want more. For me, however, to say it was his first season in England he was coming along nicely.

Magic

I saw him as a real prospect for the club to build a team around and be a focal point in addressing Forest’s 20 years away from the top flight, far too long for a club that had once been part of the European elite.

There were games that didn’t suit his style of play for sure, the Championship can definitely be more of a physical league than a tika-taka style of football at times but that is the nature of English football, each team have their own styles what suits them the best.

 

Karanka left Forest by mutual consent in January due to what seemed a falling out at the club. The progress Forest had made with stability and adding some real quality to the side for once, after the years of below-par signings under Fawaz, had taken a hit.

Karanka had done a decent job, he had laid the foundations for sure. All it needed was for the next appointment to carry that on, improve in a few areas and Forest still looked pretty solid for a top-six spot.

Forest appointed Simon Ireland for a game away at Reading whilst behind the scenes, the search for a new manager was underway.

Carvalho was surprisingly dropped by Ireland for the game. It sparked somewhat of an uproar on social media and even more so when Forest lost 2-0 and ended up with nine men, as the Reds completely lost there heads.

Most fans back then would have seen it as nothing more than a selection choice but it started the cycle of the beginning of a possible end for Carvalho at Forest.

Miracle Man

Forest a few days later appointed club legend, Martin O’Neill.

A name that had been on the lips of the older generation of fans for year after year. O’Neill had done a great job at both Leicester and Celtic in the late ’90s/’00s.

(Photo; Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)

He also led the Republic of Ireland to EURO 2016 but was sacked after a poor Nations League campaign in 2018. Many ROI fans had not been a fan of O’Neill’s negative approach and as I sat in a bar in Reykjavik on holiday to read Twitter to see O’Neill was about to be appointed, I was slightly underwhelmed I must say but always feel people deserve a chance to show what they can do.

Many felt that O’Neill was past his sell-by date (me included) and although I love Roy Keane as an honest, entertaining pundit, I’m the opposite in regards to that attitude to coaching. Football has changed, players nowadays prefer the Klopp/Pep style of an arm around the shoulder rather than the kicking down of the tactics board as Keane seemed to love doing as said by himself in his autobiography (a great & funny read I must say). I’m not on commission for Roy Keane as well I must add.

Carvalho was straight away not an O’Neill type of player. O’Neill wanted a more physical side, a type of side to kick you off the park it seemed, Carvalho definitely wasn’t that and struggled to break into the first team.

He inspired a win off the bench against Hull with a brilliant solo strike, earning himself a start in a crucial game against Aston Villa but as Forest crumbled to a 3-1 defeat, he was dropped again.

Forest then won once in seven outings, including 4 defeats on the bounce, therefore, ending any hopes of the play-offs as Carvalho sat on the sidelines.

Uncertainty

By this time, the conundrum had gone into overdrive. O’Neill fans were firmly behind O’Neill due to, in my opinion, only a sentimental aspect whilst others weren’t happy with a style of play that excluded technically gifted players like Carvalho.

Forest played the bottom two and took a single point from a possible six. During that period of seven games people’s patience wore thin on a campaign that had promised so much, but in the end had the usual, modern Forest ending of failure and what might have been.

(Photo; Jon Hobley/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

O’Neill seemed on the verge of losing his job before bringing back Carvalho for the last three games of the season. Forest won all 3 including one of the best individual performances at the City Ground in recent times from Carvalho who was sublime, showing all his qualities including putting Aden Flint on his backside a highlight, as the Reds comfortably dispatched play-offs hopefuls, Middlesbrough by three goals to nil. A result that ironically paved the way for the Reds rivals, Derby County to get in the play-offs (we all know how that ended though).

It had seemed the reintroduction of Carvalho had kind of kept O’Neill in a job until pre-season got underway and Forest lost Roy Keane as assistant manager before the Reds board decided they didn’t believe enough in O’Neill to do the job on his own and he was sacked.

Setback

Minutes later he was replaced by the relatively unknown, Sabri Lamouchi. Lamouchi’s first act as Forest manager was to see Carvalho’s injury at Alfreton in his shades at the Impact Arena, which led to the Portuguese midfielder missing most of pre-season and the start of the 2019/20 season, setting him back yet again. It also put the long rumours of a move to sister club, Olympiakos on the rocks, which had surfaced under O’Neill due to his lack of playtime.

Carvalho returned towards the end of August and scored in his first game back against local rivals, Derby in the Carabao Cup with a huge stroke of luck.

He then came off the bench in the next game, a league game against Preston, to set up the equaliser for Albert Adomah in a game that Forest struggled to break Preston down in.

(Photo; Jon Hobley/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

He started the next 3 in which Forest won all 3 against Swansea, Barnsley & Stoke leading Forest to be top of the league at the end of September.

Defeats at home to Hull, Cardiff and a heavy defeat to Sheffield Wednesday saw Carvalho start and fail to make an impact. It’s fair to say things have been pretty bleak for him ever since.

Return to form

He provided a piece of individual brilliance resulting in a goal for himself in a 4-0 win over QPR in November but in large his Forest career has spiralled.

Since the new year, he has only made one start in 19 games against Millwall at home. He had come on the game before against Boro and provided Forest with a real spark, as they managed to get a point from the game from 2–1 down but a start in a 3-0 home defeat to Millwall, seemed to set him back again in the eyes of Lamouchi.

The boss’ system of two holding midfielders including an anchor in Ben Watson and a more mobile outlet in Samba Sow has seen Carvalho’s chances vastly limited.

Tiago Silva usually plays slightly further forward than the two defensive midfielders in a number eight role, therefore seeing a player such as Carvalho become obsolete with him being a natural number 10, which Sabri’s Forest don’t play with.

Waiting game

It’s a system that overall has had big success for Forest. They sit fifth in the Championship and are almost guaranteed to make the play-offs at the end of the season.

(Photo; Paul Harding/Getty Images)

That alone is a good enough reason to see why he wasn’t appearing often in all fairness but the Carvalho conundrum exploded into life again after the Reds lost to Fulham at home last week by a goal to nil.

A game crying out for a bit of a spark, as Forest huffed and puffed like the Wolf in the Three Little Pigs but Carvalho still remained on the bench not to be seen. Instead Alfa Semedo, again a more defensive-minded midfielder was introduced.

The Twitter debate went to overdrive with many venting frustrations towards how he doesn’t get a chance to show what he can do and has again started a trend of fans wanting Carvalho to play as the Reds struggle to create chances.

A solid draw at the weekend against Preston was overshadowed somewhat as the Reds only had one shot on target, which was a penalty in the fifth minute. It was another cry on the stats for the introduction of Carvalho; but for me a game where for once, I was content to not see Carvalho at Preston and take a point.

Mass debate

Joao has become another on a long list of players who divides opinion at Forest, probably taking that title from Ben Osborn but we aren’t going to get into that topic.

Some don’t feel he does enough consistently whilst others feel he is the best technically gifted player in the squad and is often underutilised (myself agreeing with the latter).

(Photo; Alex Davidson/Getty Images)

One thing that everyone can agree on though is that if he wasn’t going to be part of the plans as it seems then a deal should have been done in January in hindsight to move him on and see the Reds invest in the squad to further enhance their promotion ambitions.

Instead, it saw an underwhelming January and has still seen Carvalho sidelined. I can see why Joao doesn’t start at times, Forest play with a solid, defensive system in which Lamouchi expects to defend from the front, which isn’t Carvalho’s game but when the Reds need a creative spark, he has to be the go-to guy.

I’d love Forest to be slightly more attacking at home more so than away and include Carvalho but I really can’t see that happening and with the league position, you can understand it.

Forest’s style is sometimes a tedious watch but if shows fruit like it has done overall then it’s hard to grumble.

Future

Football fans like to be entertained and get results at the same time but that can be tough so it’s nice to have a balance between both.

At the moment, the only move I think anyone can see is a summer move to Greece with Olympiakos. Carvalho this season has started nine games in the Championship; Forest have won 5 & lost 4, so take from that what you will.

(Photo; Jon Hobley/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Hopefully, he will be given a chance in the run-in, although that does remain to be seen

It does seem certain that speculation over a summer move could be the topic of discussion once again, however.

Carvalho does look settled in Nottingham, with him and his partner opening up a shop in the city so his exclusion does bring up more questions than answers of what seems to be the issue.

It would be a crying shame to see a player with such talent, promise and expectation leave the football club. It will certainly be a case of what might have been but it could be best all-round for Forest in terms of finances and Carvalho in terms of playing time.

End of the line?

What’s the point in having a £13 million player in the Championship on the bench, if he isn’t going to play and all whilst having to comply with FFP? The answer is there is no point at all.

My hope is that he plays a part in Forest’s end of season run-in. With us having the opportunity to gain a play-off spot with two games to spare, Lamouchi could rotate the players and hand Carvalho a reprieve.

Whatever happens, let’s hope it’s for the best for everyone concerned but also let’s hope the Portuguese magician doesn’t prove to be one that got away for Forest.

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