The 10 year anniversary of the passing of the man many call the Master Manager has not gone unmarked. Time will not fade the memories of those who watched, the man himself, playing for Middlesborough or Sunderland, scoring two hundred and fifty plus league goals in record time. Nor will they forget watching the teams he went on to manage. Starting, as the league’s youngest manager, at Hartlepools, his championship winners at Derby County or the title winning Nottingham Forest who went on to become back to back European Champions.
The notorious spell at Leeds has been immortalised in a tough to accept fictional novel and in a memorable film. His more visual characteristics are still to be found in you tube, scenes of terrorising commentators and interacting with talk-show hosts and even Mohammed Ali. Yet it is easy to caricature Clough and miss the true genius behind the bravado.
Amidst the banner headlines, of a superlative career, many other superb achievements are not properly recognised. Forest’s capture of the top flight title was achieved in the 1977/78 season and was their debut year after gaining promotion. Rarely done previously it has never been repeated. The ability to galvanise a team, to believe that this was even possible, and then pull it off, would surely test the greatest managers of any era.
The regular development, and re deploying of players, into new positions or with new confidence and belief is a shining example of something missing today. The mercurial John Robertson, turned into the a double European Cup winning hero, the reputed thug, Kenny Burns, turned into the player of the season, the carpet fitter Gary Birtles, turned into one of Europe’s best strikers. Of these achievements Peter Taylor deserves a share of the credit, yet the conveyor belt still continued after his sad departure. Steve Hodge, Steve Stone, Stuart Pearce, as well as the prodigal son Nigel, were all turned into England internationals and they were not alone.
Those , including myself, who eulogize about Jose Mourinho and his ability to forge teams and take much of the pressure onto himself after imbuing the belief of the zealot into his players, should refer to the Clough handbook for hundreds of examples of this school of man management. The examples of unusual tactics and diversions to relax players, and psych out oppositions, are legendary but also pre cursors of much that sports psychology attempts to teach us today.
Another area of unmatched skill was the discipline with which Clough’s teams played and conducted themselves. Players were fined if they crossed the line with the referee, threatened with non selection if they set bad examples in front of fans or others. The well known quotes about “get a hair cut, young man” would not be half as long lasting if they were not true. Although even Clough may have gone too far with the remark about all Leeds United’s trophies being gained through cheating, he simply believed they had not been achieved the “right way”. The comments of referee’s following his retirement, and later in eulogy, speak more than any statistics can manage. Perhaps this comment from a famous interview with John Motson sums it up “I think that what you do to referees is nothing short of criminal. I do, honestly. And I think that the standard you feel that should be coming from referees at the moment is absolutely incredible…He makes a decision in 5 seconds, or 2 seconds, or one second or whatever it is, in the heat of the moment, with 22 players and 30,000 people shouting and bellowing. All I’m saying is that you don’t make that point strongly enough. It should be over-emphasised how hard it is to referee a match.”
The legacy of Brian Clough is manyfold and for that we should be thankful. His many contradictions and charismatic ways have led to a flood of recent books and writings. One pair of books contains over 140 stories and anecdotes from people’s memories of the man and his work. No other manager would inspire such outpourings, the various biographies are often worth reading just for glimpses and perspectives not before in print. From a darker perspective “Nobody ever says thankyou” by Jonathon Wilson is a tremendous piece of analysis and writing. Clough’s legacy in influencing those who played and now manage or coach is comparable with any. Stuart Pearce has managed in the top flight and both England and Great Britain teams. Martin O Neil has had a tremendous record with provincial clubs and great names in England and Scotland and now is combining with Roy Keane to manage Ireland. The interesting link between O Neil and Clough via Neil Lennon’s excellent work at Celtic and Paul Lambert with Roy Keane at Villa seems to have started well. Nigel Clough has demonstrated an ability to manage clubs and to bring them steady progress and stability, I await the day this is tested at the highest level.
Clough’s greatest legacy is simply the demonstration of what can be done. The ability to select, motivate and manage a team of players to, outwardly unexpected, glory. Every now and again in the intervening years a brief flash of this is shown to be true, Porto winning the Uefa Cup & Champions League, Bayer Leverkussen reaching the final. Athletico Madrid winning La Liga and pushing Real all the way in the Champions League final. Notice a common thread? Each has a lower budget and a hugely dynamic, determined, self-possessed and charismatic manager. The enduring legacy is surely that even in today’s climate, it can still be done!
Thank-you, for everything, Mr Clough.