Ola Aina Ambushed in the Forest

Following the expiration of his contract with Italian side, Torino, Super Eagles defender, Ola Aina, joined Nottingham Forest on a one-year deal with the Premier League club having an option of another one-year extension. After an impressive season with  the Tricky Trees, the club on Tuesday announced the decision to exercise the one-year extension option in the 2023 AFCON silver  medalist’s contract, thereby ensuring he will remain at the club for another season and the full-back have expressed his delight at the decision

Nottingham Forest on Tuesday annouced the extension of Super Eagles defender, Ola Aina’s contract by one year, meaning the Chelsea academy product will be staying at the club till June 2025 to the delight of the Nigerian.

The 2023 Africa Cup of Nations silver medalist joined the English Premier League club on a free transfer from Torino last summer, and his first season at the club is nothing but encouraging.

“Nottingham Forest is pleased to confirm that it has activated a one-year extension in Ola Aina’s contract,” the club announced on their official website on Tuesday.

“The 27-year-old has enjoyed a positive first season on Trentside having joined the club on a free transfer last summer.”

“Aina, who can play as right-back or left-back, made 22 appearances for Forest this season, establishing himself as a popular amongst supporters for his all-action displays on either side,” the Forest said.

Forest’s Chief Football Officer, Ross Wilson added, “Since Ola joined the club last summer, he has impressed all of us with his performances both on the pitch and also with the positive personality that he brings to the group every day. We are delighted that he will move forward with us.”

In his reaction, Aina said, “I’ve been really happy with my time spent here at Forest and the fans have been great. I’m really looking forward to seeing what the future holds.”

Since joining the club on a free transfer last summer, the Nigerian international has made 22 appearances for the two-time European champions, showcasing his versatility on either side of the defense.

One of the highlights of Aina’s first season at the City Ground was when he outpaced one of the fastest player in the Premier League, Kyle Walker,in their defeat to Manchester  City and it was one of the talking points of the game.

Recalling the moment when he took on and beat Walker in a foot race, a feat not many players, including Kylian Mbappé, can claim to have matched in recent times and Aina says his phone was “frantic” since a tweet from the Premier League that amassed 22,000 likes went viral.

“I remember when it happened I saw him and thought: ‘I might as well just try it’ – and I put everything into it,” says the 27-year-old Nigeria defender. “Afterwards he said something like: ‘You’re pretty quick’ and ‘You caught me flat-footed.’ But he was very chilled about it. He’s done the same thing to other players so many times.”

“Even though that clip shows I got past him, it wasn’t as easy as it may have looked,” says Aina.

Aina was clocked as the fastest player in Serie A during his first season in Italy after leaving Chelsea. Although he claims he can’t remember being timed over 100 metres since competing for his school in Romford in year 7.

“Football has always been the No 1 thing for me but I’ve always loved playing different sports,” says Aina. “I used to play rugby at school, mainly on the wing but I also tried inside-centre. I also used to do long jump at school and represented Essex in the English schools. I think I won a few times.”

The records show that Aina jumped 6.54m in 2011 – the sixth-best mark in English schools’ history at the time. However, he says he would prefer not to take part in a Premier League long jump competition. “I don’t think my knees can do it any more!”

Aina’s eyes light up when his time at Chelsea’s academy was mentioned and he remains close friends with several players with whom he came through the system, including Milan’s Fikayo Tomori and Reuben Loftus-Cheek, Tammy Abraham and Crewe’s Charlie Colkett.

“We were going into games knowing that we were going to win. Every game, whether it be a friendly, or FA Cup or youth Champions League. We were really close across the age groups too.  Everyone chilled together off the pitch. I felt almost everyone was like a brother.”

But he has no regrets about the decision to go on loan to Torino at 21 after being restricted to three Premier League appearances for Chelsea. “I don’t look at it like that. Things change in football all the time and I think I just missed that era of young players being given more of a chance and breaking through as frequently as we’ve seen in the last few years. But I feel things are meant to be and if I was meant to break through as a superstar youngster then I would have done it. I don’t look back on it with any regret or animosity.”

Aina made his move to Torino permanent in 2019 and is justifiably proud of what turned out to be a trendsetting role in young English players heading to Serie A. “Initially I was a bit nervous about going out there. But my loan went better than I expected – I loved the manager, Walter Mazzarri, the city and the team I was in. It was a bold move but it felt like a move that made sense for me. To see some of my close friends like Fikayo and Tammy come out to Italy after me is something I’m proud of.

Having captained England at under-19 level, Aina switched allegiances to his parents’ homeland, Nigeria, in 2017 and remembers attending his first training session with Crystal Palace’s Eberechi Eze, who has since been capped by England. Aina has 40 caps and was part of the squad beaten in January’s Africa Cup of Nations final by Ivory Coast after the hosts had almost been eliminated in the group stages before staging a remarkable recovery.

“It felt like we were fighting against destiny,” Aina says. “You could feel the weight of Ivory Coast against us. There were some decisions that could have gone our way but I’m not that kind of player – ultimately they did enough to beat us and fair play to them. We’ve been building this team since the 2019 Afcon when we came third with a really young team. Getting to the final was a progression that showed we are nearly there.”

Having been relegated while on loan at Fulham for a season in 2020‑21, Aina could not resist the lure of the Premier League when Forest came calling. Known primarily as a right-back, he has established himself as the first-choice left-back since Nuno Espírito Santo replaced Steve Cooper as the manager.

“I am really enjoying my time here at Forest. I love it. It’s been great and they have welcomed me in with open arms. The club is fantastic and it’s a great experience playing at the City Ground. The atmosphere is amazing and it feels good to be here. I just want to finish the season and I’m sure stuff will sort itself out. Right now the focus is just being in the Premier League next season.”

As for the four-point deduction that forced Forest to fight for their lives and the controversies over his club’s public spat with the referees’ body the PGMOL, Aina – who says he wasn’t aware Mark Clattenburg was briefly employed as a refereeing consultant or that he officiates on Gladiators, believes both have made the players more determined.

“We’ve been very unlucky and I think some things could have been dealt with differently – that’s clear for everyone to see,” he says. “But the way we are as a squad is that we will moan about it for a bit and then just move on. We never dwell on things. All we care about is getting on the pitch and performing well. With thing having not gone our way, we have got closer together and fight for the badge and the club. Our fans can see that togetherness when we’re on the pitch. We have been relentless and won’t stop fighting until the end.”

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