As has been reported for several weeks, outcast Nottingham Forest playmaker Joao Carvalho is expected to complete a move to Olympiakos for an undisclosed fee in the next 48 hours.
The clubs record signing will be bringing an end to a three-and-a-half year stay in the Midlands, which saw him score eight goals and set up nine across 75 appearances for the club, working under five different permanent managers in his time there.
For £13million, it is very fair to say we did not get to see anywhere near as much as we were hoping from Carvalho, but those several beautiful glimpses of quality he showed in the team, particularly under Aitor Karanka, will always leave Forest fans wishing he fulfilled his potential. In this article, I will be recapping Carvalho’s time in the Garibaldi, highlighting some of his more intricate stats and trying to maybe, just maybe, find an answer to the question “where did it all go wrong?”
Joao Carvalho joined the club for a club-record fee of £13.2 million on the 14th of June 2018, working under Aitor Karanka following a break-out year in Portugal at Benfica, where he impressed across his seven appearances for the club he had been a part of since he was just eight years old. Nearly two months later he made his debut as part of the starting eleven on the opening day of the 18/19 season, in a 1-1 draw at Bristol City. The midfielder played the whole 90 minutes, completing 4/4 dribbles and registering a pass accuracy of 81%, as well as laying on two key passes for his team-mates. But, more importantly, he showed just a fraction of what he could do to the travelling support, and something special started to brew.
Where Carvalho really caught the eye, however, was against Sheffield Wednesday.
The chemistry that the little magician showed with Ben Osborn that night was fantastic from the first kick. After an Osborn free-kick was nestled into the back of the net by a certain Lewis Grabban, Osborn and Carvalho combined to see Osborn latch onto a gorgeous through-ball from the latter, which was beaten away by the Wednesday ‘keeper. But they weren’t to be denied for long.
We’ve all seen the goal. Carvalho picked up possession on the left and slipped it through to Osborn, who returned it with a beautiful back-heel to allow Carvalho to skip away from a challenge and curl it into the back of the net for his first goal in red. And as the net rippled and the City Ground roared, a long-lasting love affair was born.
Goals against Millwall and Aston Villa, as well as six assists, followed for Carvalho as Nottingham Forest saw out the year just a hair outside of the play-offs. A position which ultimately cost Karanka his job, as well as Carvalho’s position as a star man in the Forest team.
The dismissal of Karanka saw the re-introduction of Forest legend Martin O’Neil as manager, with his trusty sidekick and fellow former red Roy Keane alongside him. Fresh off the back of a famous 4-2 win at home against Leeds, where Carvalho impressed yet again with six successful dribbles, O’Neil’s first squad as Forest manager had a notable omission: Joao Carvalho.
Despite starting all but two of Forest’s games under Karanka, Carvalho was benched for 15 out of the Northern Irishman’s 19 matches at the helm of the club, making his first appearance under the new manager in a 2-0 away loss to Birmingham, where Carvalho came on for 18 minutes and completed more successful dribbles and created more chances than anyone in red had on the pitch so far.
Despite a promising showing, under a manager who was clearly not interested in giving in to the supporters demands to play the Portuguese prince, Carvalho failed to break into the side until the final three games of the season, when promotion was already out of the window. Forest won their last three games of the season with Carvalho starting all three games, including THAT performance against Middlesbrough, from which I am sure Paddy McNair and Aden Flint still get wobbly at the knees about, when they think of Carvalho carelessly rolling it through their legs as they tumble helplessly to the ground.
Even with the amazing showings towards the end of the year, the writing was on the wall for Carvalho as new manager Sabri Lamouchi came into the side, as well as picking up a nasty injury in pre-season which ruled him out of the first five games of the 19/20 season. He made his return to the side as he assisted Albert Adomah’s equaliser in a 1-1 draw with Preston but struggled to shine as bright as he once did as Forest impressed at the top end of the table.
He started just eight times under Lamouchi and was loaned out the following season to Almeria, where he again struggled to find fitness and form in the second division of Spain, returning home with three assists and no goals to his name after a year away.
He returned to the club under Chris Hughton, starting three more games before the ex-Irish International was sacked in favour of Steve Cooper. Carvalho failed to get on the pitch in Cooper’s first 17 games in charge, but has made three more substitute showings since then, showing some glimpses of the man that was adored by the City Ground faithful just three years prior, but not enough to break back into Coopers high-flying team, with his exit to Olympiakos now set to be confirmed imminently.
A player that oozed class on his day and had us all wanting more, Joao Carvalho’s time at Forest will forever be remembered as one of simply longing for more. Longing for O’Neil to play him. Longing for him to play to the level we all knew he could. But sadly, it was not meant to be.
The important thing now, in Carvalho’s case, is for him to breathe life back into his career in Greece. A new league, a new climate but the same owners who brought him to England, the 24-year-old is set to start a new adventure, but this time with a point to prove.
Soon to be gone from the club, but what he should’ve achieved will forever remain a painful part of our hearts.
*Article provided by Louis Wheeldon (Football Correspondent).
*Main image @NFFC Carvalho’s double against Bradford this season had some fans clambering for him back in the team.