“I have no status – what I know is that I have only one desire: to put all my energy in to do it. I am so proud to be in this family.”
Those were the first words of Sabri Lamouchi back in July 2019, and for large parts of the Frenchman’s tenure of Nottingham Forest, there was a somewhat family feel to life on Trentside.
It had been a hectic couple of weeks for Forest. They had just parted company with a club legend in Martin O’Neill, whose reputation had been tarnished somewhat after a disappointing spell at the helm of the club.
O’Neill failed to deliver a top-six finish after taking over from Aitor Karanka. Their bid for promotion dwindled, and the Irishman was soon on his way out of the City Ground, leaving scope for a new permanent manager to come in for the 12th time in only eight years.
In came a certain Sabri Lamouchi, whose appointment was announced only a matter of minutes after the announcement of O’Neill’s dismissal.
You could have forgiven Forest fans for the way a vast majority of them reacted to the news of Lamouchi’s arrival. He was an unknown quantity, very much like Philippe Montanier, who left Forest battling relegation after a brief six-month tenure in 2016/17.
Lamouchi, though, who had managed the Ivory Coast national side as well as in Qatar and France with El Jaish and Rennes respectively, hit the ground running at the City Ground.
The Reds went winless in their first two games of the season, losing to West Brom at the City Ground and drawing with eventual title winners Leeds United at Elland Road. After that, they embarked on an unbeaten run which lasted for over two months.
Forest were well in contention of a top-six finish heading into the New Year. They occupied fourth spot in the Championship standings following a New Year’s Day victory over Blackburn, shortly after recovering from a run of five games without a win in December.
But the turn of the year is when things started to steer downhill for the Reds and for Lamouchi.
One minute, they had defeated Leeds United in front of a vociferous City Ground crowd, moving to within four points of the automatic promotion places with a game in hand in the early stages of February.
The next minute, they were producing lacklustre, toothless performances at home to the likes of Charlton and Millwall, and their hopes of automatic promotion had suddenly diminished.
Towards the final stages of a long, grueling Championship campaign, Forest were looking weary. Following the resumption of the EFL campaign, they managed to pick up only two wins from eight games, heading into the final game of the season.
Forest fans need no reminder of what occurred on that hazy, summer night in July, almost a year on from Lamouchi’s appointment.
Needing only a point against Stoke City to secure a play-off position, the Reds crumbled. A 4-1 defeat signalled the end of a long, tiring season for the club, culminating in failure, and resigning them to yet another season of Championship football. Sheer capitulation.
That defeat to Stoke will haunt Forest fans for a long time. They will have to take the flak from rival fans, and if they ever found themselves in that position again, nerves and tensions would go through the roof.
The club stuck with Lamouchi despite a heartbreaking end to the season, but in some ways, the writing was already on the wall for the Frenchman.
He will have known that his side had to make a strong start to the 2020/21 season – after seeing Leeds United end a grueling 16-year exile, the desire for Forest to do so themselves after 21 years was greater than ever heading into this campaign.
Despite fulfilling fans’ wishes of bringing in proven Championship players, it has subsequently taken time for the new-look squad to gel and forge an understanding with one another.
With 13 new players arriving at the club, players do need time to get to grips with each other and build cohesion. Unfortunately for Forest, and unfortunately for Lamouchi, this is football, and this is the Championship.
It’s a results-based business, you’ll hear managers say, and the desire to win promotion, especially after investing so much in the squad, is greater than ever before from the famous Garibaldi’s perspective.
A 2-1 defeat to Bristol City at the weekend marked the end of Sabri Lamouchi’s time at Nottingham Forest, and the 48-year-old will have gained a plethora of knowledge during his time on Trentside.
Forest now look forward to a new chapter under Chris Hughton, who will look to pick the club up from the floor and guide them up the league table, with experience of being successful in the Championship twice before under his belt.
For Lamouchi, a move back to Qatar with Al Duhail seems to be in the pipeline – but the Frenchman should not wince at the thought of jumping back into management by any means.
It’s still hard for Forest fans to look back on last season and reflect on any positives. The defeat to Stoke, and their ultimate failure to cement a place in the top-six puts a blanket of negativity over the progress that was actually made both on and off the pitch.
That unknown quantity with zero experience of English football had just guided Forest towards their highest league position in a decade, achieving more than what the likes of Aitor Karanka and Mark Warburton could manage during their stints at the City Ground.
Mistakes were made along the way, and of course, promotion should have been wrapped up rather than thrown away. But Lamouchi injected passion, fight and desire into the dressing room, which saw them beat the likes of Leeds United, Fulham and Brentford, and produce battling displays at the likes of West Brom.
Lamouchi undoubtedly had a lot more to learn about the Championship, and the tactical decisions that fans often scrutinised may play on his mind and change his way of thinking in whatever his next venture may be.
On the whole, the Frenchman was a breath of fresh air at the City Ground for most parts of his tenure. He appreciated how privileged he was to manage such a historic football club, and built an instant rapport with supporters.
Fans hounded Montanier out. Fans hounded Alex McLeish out. Fans hounded Steve Cotterill out. There would be jubilant celebrations when the trio were to be handed their P45s by the club.
The contrast to when Lamouchi was relieved of his duties was huge. Fans have been respectful and have chosen to reflect on more positive times rather than the obvious negatives that there were towards the end of 2019/20.
The infamous “Until Sabri, I was never happy” banner will never be seen in the Bridgford Stand again. But Lamouchi can look back at his tenure of Nottingham Forest with his held high, having been a key figurehead of the family he was initially ecstatic to be a part of.