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Brian Clough: The greatest manager England never had

Brian Clough. A football legend known and regarded by many as the greatest ever English manager. So what was so special about the man, and how would he do in the game today, asks Harry Montague.

Brain Howard Clough, born on the 21st of March, 1935 in Middlesbrough, went on to play for Middlesborough scoring 197 goals in 213 starts,  before a bizarre move to local rivals Sunderland, where he carried on his goal scoring record of 54 goals in 61 starts.

Brian Clough

On the 26th of December, 1962 in a match against Bury, Mr Clough picked up a serious injury to his cruciate ligament in his knee putting an end to his playing career.

Then the managerial career began. He was offered the Hartlepool job, who was in the then called Division 4. Before taking the managerial plunge, he asked Peter Taylor, who he knew from Middlesborough, to join him. Taylor was in charge of non-league club Burton Albion, but decided to join him as assistant manager.

In 1967, Brain Clough took over Derby County who was near the bottom of the Second Division, and took Peter Taylor with him. They won promotion in 1969, and in 1972 were crowned Champions of England. After Leeds and Liverpool both dropped points on the final game of the season to give Derby the title, they was accused of winning the league by luck. Brian Clough’s response was simple. “ You can get lucky for one game, two games, five games, but not 42”.

A bust up with Derby County’s chairman, Sam Longson, led to Brian Clough and Peter Taylor’s departure. Brighton and Hove albion was next, but it was to be a short spell for Mr Clough, not as short as his next job however, at Leeds United which lasted 44 days.

The pair reunited at Nottingham Forest in 1976. Forest was near the bottom of the second division but in 1977 they won promotion, the following year they won Division One.  In 1979,  they were crowned champions of Europe after a 1-0 win against Malmö FF. The following year they defended their title, beating Hamburg.

In May 1982, Peter Taylor decided to retire. This was soon put on halt as six months later Peter Taylor took the Derby County job. The signing of John Robertson from Forest to Derby led to the duo falling out and they didn’t speak to each other again.

What Brian Clough would demand if he was still around and managing any club, would be total control. The type of control Arsène Wenger has today at Arsenal. There would be no transfer committee like what Brendan Rodgers had to deal with. After getting the sack from Leeds United, Clough admitted being concerned that most chairmen would be worried that he would want to “run the show”. Talking about not getting the England job, Clough stated ” I am sure the England selectors thought that if they took me on and gave me the job I’d want to run the show. They were shrewd because that’s exactly what I would have done.”

He described his regular arguments with the board of directors as “normal procedure”.

Whilst at Hartlepool, Brian was sacked by chairman Ernest Ord but simply didn’t leave. Eventually Ernest Ord resigned.

What would keep Brian in a top job would be the fans and his man management of players. We have recently seen Sam Allardyce lose his job at West Ham after finishing 12th and qualifying for the Europa League. Due to the fans not being happy with the style of football, he was sacked. This despite West Ham being a fair few amount of pundits choice to be fighting it out  in the relegation scrap.

What Clough provided was attractive football and fair players, writing several articles on Don Revie’s Leeds United, accusing them of bullying the referees and cheating. He even called for Leeds to be sent down a division due to this. When he became manager of Leeds United, one of the first things he said to his new players was to put all their medals in the bin, because they had  won them all by cheating. The attractive football would come natural to any Brain Clough side. “ If God would have wanted us to play football in the clouds, he’d have put grass up there.”

The players who worked for him also loved him, maybe except most of the Leeds players.

Roy Keane, who won 17 major trophies under Sir Alex Ferguson including seven Premier league titles and a Champions League, when asked who was the greatest manager he ever had simply replied “ without a doubt Brian Clough”. Clough himself had previously spoken about Keane. “I only ever hit him once. He got up so I couldn’t have hit him very hard”.

Clough kept it simple with Keane. When reminiscing Roy Keane said that he was told “ you get it, you pass it to another player in a red shirt. I made a career out of it”.

The straight talking but loving man management Clough provided to his players was second to none. Even with some of the interesting comments he gave about his players, they seemed to love him.

On John Robertson. “Unattractive young man, if I ever felt off-colour on a morning, I would sit next to him” but followed this up with “Give him a ball and a yard of grass and he became an artist”. On John  McGovern after explaining how he persuaded John’s headmaster to let him join Hartlepool, “ He went on to lift more trophies than any A-levels he might have gained had he stayed at school”. On Kenny Burns. “ The ugliest player I ever signed was Kenny Burns”. Dave Mackay on Brian Clough. “ When Brian introduced me to the rest of the team, he told them that they were lucky to be playing with me. I was embarrassed but it was nice to be appreciated”.

A mindset that Mr Clough had was that preparation is relaxation. “ When footballers go out on the field, they have to be relaxed. There was no point in me spending all week training and motivating my players and then sending them into a match as tight as guitar strings”. This being a quote from Brian’s autobiography.

One of my favourite quotes of Brian Clough’s was on the news of the new offside rule. “ If any one of my players aren’t interfering with play, they’re not getting paid.”

There is no doubt that Brian Clough was the greatest manager England never had, no doubt that there will never be another Brian Clough, and no doubt the Brain Clough was a true footballing legend.

Written by Harry Montague

Harry Montague

Gradually going insane supporting Arsenal.
Harry Montague

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