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Name: Brian Clough
Teams Managed: Hartlepools United, Derby County, Brighton and Hove Albion, Leeds United, Nottingham Forest
Years Active: 28 (1965 to 1993)
Brian Clough enjoyed an exceptional playing career as a prolific striker for both Middlesbrough and Sunderland, yet he only he picked up two caps for England. This rankled with him, adding fuel to the fire as he entered his managerial career in the mid-1960s. Known as ‘Old Big ‘Ead’ for his cocksure personality, he would go on to become one of the most successful managers in football history.
For his first management job, Clough returned to the North East of England to guide Hartlepool, then known as Hartlepools, who were used to struggling towards the bottom of Division Four. He made gradual improvements to the team and led them into the top half of the table before leaving for Derby in 1967.
After a disappointing first season with Derby, he led the club to promotion as Division Two winners and, three years later, won the First Division title. The following year, Clough took the club to the semi-finals of the European Cup. Throughout this period, however, he had a turbulent relationship with club chairman Sam Longson, and he eventually resigned in October 1973.
Following that sensational six-year spell, Clough had a brief and unsuccessful stint as Brighton manager before taking over at Leeds on the back of Don Revie’s departure. However his criticism of Revie had not gone down well with the players, and he was sacked after just 44 days having won just one of his eight games in charge.
In January 1975 he was appointed manager of Nottingham Forest. By 1977 he had led them to Division One and, in their first year back in the top flight, he won the title with the club. Then, in 1979 and 1980 Clough took them to consecutive European Cup victories. These achievements were exceptional, but what made them all the more remarkable was the sheer speed with which Clough was able to turn around Forest’s fortunes.
He kept the club in the upper echelons of English football’s top tier for over a decade before relegation in 1993, his last season as a manager.
Clough was no out-and-out tactician. Indeed, he snarled at the over-complication of what he believed to be essentially a simple undertaking. He preferred a 4-4-2 shape with one winger maintain a wide position while the other came inside to support midfield.
His instructions were simple but clear and often targeted at specific individuals within his teams. This formed a basis for his dislike of Revie while the two were rivalling managers with Derby and Leeds; as opposed to Clough, Revie put huge emphasis on preparing the team tactically, compiling dossiers on opponents. However, their rivalry was also defined by a basic ideological difference.
Whereas Revie was a pragmatist focused on winning whose Leeds side were capable of playing flowing football, Clough considered a patient passing approach to be fundamentally right and core to every single one of his teams. His beliefs were summed up best when he said: “A team blossoms only when it has the ball. Flowers need the rain – it’s a vital ingredient. Common sense tells you that the main ingredient in football is the ball itself.”
Another difference between Revie and Clough came in their managerial styles. While the former was quiet, superstitious and had an almost nerd-like obsession with preparation, Clough was brash, supremely confident and unafraid to criticise. As a result of this persona he was able to draw media attention in a way few other managers before him had ever done. It is arguable that he was the first English manager to use his own outspoken persona to create an aura that surrounded him and his teams.
Peter Taylor played a crucial role in Clough’s longevity as a manager. The two met while playing together at Middlesbrough and formed a close bond. Subsequently, when Clough took charge of Hartlepools, he took Taylor with him as his assistant. The duo continued to work together at Derby and Nottingham Forest. They worked well in tandem, with Taylor complementing Clough’s straightforwardness with a slightly softer approach to man management.
Clough and Taylor were visionaries when it came to this aspect of the game. They put in effort to ensure players settled upon relocating to play for their club, and would often buy players who were undervalued by others because of their vices and maximise their qualities. One example of this policy was Kenny Burns, who Taylor described in his book, ‘With Clough by Taylor’, as: “A fighting, hard-drinking gambler . . . a stone overweight.” Burns signed for Forest in 1977 for £150,000 as a striker; he would be voted Footballer of the Year one year later as a centre-back.
While his man management was rooted in his desire for footballing common sense, Clough was also known for his ruthlessness and succession planning; when he felt a bid was above his own valuation of a player, said player would be sold. And, on many occasions, those very same players simply would not have the same level of personal success away from Clough’s auspices.
Clough is one of just four managers in history to win the English top division title with two different clubs, alongside Tom Watson (Sunderland and Liverpool), Herbert Chapman (Huddersfield and Arsenal) and Kenny Dalglish (Liverpool and Blackburn). That he achieved this feat with two clubs, Derby and Nottingham Forest, who were in the second tier at the time of his arrival only adds to the success. Indeed, Forest had never won the league prior to his appointment. Thanks to Clough, they are now the only club to have won more European Cups than domestic leagues.
Along with his stunning results, Clough gained notoriety for his charisma. The value of the role of manager had been embedded properly by the likes of Chapman before him, but he was the first to turn the job into a cult. His celebrity was as much for his personality as it was his achievements. “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” he once said, continuing, “but then I wasn’t on that particular job.”
An egotistical, abrasive personality, Clough was an exceptional man manager and transfer market specialist who made history thanks to his nous and understanding.
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