Run that past me again, Lewis. You were at Blackburn’s training ground on deadline day?
“Yes. I’d undergone all my medical testing and had signed everything by 10.20pm, then did all the interviews and pictures ready for the announcement.”
And you thought it was all done?
“Well, yeah, but then at 11.05pm I was asked to sign another paper and there seemed to be an issue. It all unravelled from there.”
Lewis O’Brien is recounting how his proposed loan from Nottingham Forest to Blackburn Rovers inexplicably collapsed on 31 January.
The Championship club had failed to submit the paperwork on time, the move was subsequently blocked by the English Football League and Blackburn’s appeal was rejected by an independent arbitration panel.
As O’Brien had not been included in Forest’s latest 25-man squad, he was not allowed to move to another Uefa club outside of the transfer window.
A switch to the Major League Soccer to play for Wayne Rooney’s DC United until July was recently agreed.
“It’s definitely been the toughest part of my career so far,” the highly-rated midfielder adds, speaking exclusively to i from the American capital.
“I probably wasn’t the nicest person to be around for those four weeks after the Blackburn saga.
“My fiancée Robyn dealt with the worst of it. I would go to training, do some running on my own, come home and probably wouldn’t even speak.
“I had two options – I could have just plodded along while waiting for the summer or I could have gone abroad. Now I’m here at DC United and absolutely loving it.”
O’Brien was born in Colchester but his family moved to Littleborough in Greater Manchester when he was four.
He spent time at Manchester United and joined Huddersfield Town aged 11, emerging as one of the brightest young talents outside of the Premier League.
Forest signed O’Brien and teammate Harry Toffolo for £10m after beating the Terriers in last season’s Championship play-off final.
O’Brien’s left foot and relentless work-rate featured prominently for Steve Cooper’s side before an illness left him on the outside looking in.
“No one would turn down the opportunity to play in the Premier League and I don’t regret signing for Forest,” O’Brien reasons.
“The first six or seven games, I was starting and, in my opinion, playing pretty well in a team that was gaining a foothold in the league.
“I felt like I held my own and, against West Ham, I got Player of the Match, live on Sky, and we won 1-0.
“Manchester City were definitely the hardest opponents, we couldn’t even get near them and it was like playing a different game completely. That made me realise the standard I needed to aspire to.
“You get to the Premier League and think to yourself ‘I’m here now, I’ve made it’ but there is the Premier League and then there is Man City’s level, which is a completely different world.”
Nevertheless, that 6-0 defeat at the Etihad Stadium in August was a memorable day for the O’Brien family.
“I grew up supporting City and had a season ticket with my dad for many years,” adds the 24-year-old with a smile. “It was a bit surreal waving to him in the home crowd and I don’t think he cheered any of the City goals that day!
“But I felt what I had added to the team was working well in the Premier League.
“In my opinion, if I had got more of a chance, I might have got even better and showed even more of what I had produced in the Championship.”
The move to the DC has afforded O’Brien the opportunity to play regularly again before returning to Forest – where he remains under a long-term contract – in the summer.
O’Brien has quickly settled into a squad which includes former Leeds United midfielder Mateusz Klich and ex-Crystal Palace striker Christian Benteke.
He says: “I’ve been here for just over a week, but felt at home straight away.
“I went to watch the Washington Wizards basketball team the other day and drove past the White House and the Lincoln Memorial.
“It’s crazy and you’re never going to get these experiences unless you book time off work and go – but I’m out here working.
“The standard of the MLS is far higher than people think.”
O’Brien will have to return to England for an interview with the American Embassy to secure his visa before making his DC debut.
But he reckons his spell Stateside under Rooney will bolster his hopes of re-establishing himself at Forest.
“Wayne and I played each other in the Championship and I respect him massively,” O’Brien says. “As soon I knew he wanted me, it was a no-brainer.
“If anyone’s going to make you a better midfielder, it’s Rooney.
“You can see his desire to win and the training sessions are ridiculous.
“If some of the lads aren’t passing the ball how he wants, he will step in and show how it’s done.
“The fire is still there and if it wasn’t then he wouldn’t be managing.
“I believe I can come out of what has been a crazy situation as a better person with some fantastic life experience behind me.
“I’m not going to hold a grudge about what happened in January. I want to go back and prove to Forest and myself what I’m capable of – I feel very strongly about that – because my best is definitely yet to come.”