Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Brian Clough: The Greatest Manager England Never Had

Following BBC’s broadcasting of The Damned United a week or two ago was this documentary charting the career of Brian clough. Clough was a little before my time, but I do remember his final days at Nottingham Forest before his retirement and the public out pouring upon his death. I caught a bit of the Damned United that evening, but I have seen it before and loved it. I knew that the Clough family were not keen on the book that the film based upon and the writer admitted it was fiction based on fact. I was looking forward to the documentary to see the ‘real’ Brian Clough.

The documentary was fascinating as it followed Clough through his career as a manager. One thing that was immediately clear is that what he achieved was very specal indeed. To take Second Division strugglers Derby to winning the First Division was a great achievement. Then followed his dark 44 day reign at Leeds that eneded in disaster and may well have buried a lesser men. But not Ol’ Big ‘Ed. When he took over as Notts Forest manager they too were Second Division struggles and he took them to back to back European Cups beating the holders Liverpool in the first round in 1978/79. An achievement that even the great Sir Alex Ferguson has been unable to equal with his mutli million pound squads.

Clough's style of management was controversial to many, but so effective. He created the emphasis on team and working together as a unit. Many of his best players were not world superstars, but grafters and hard workers. He bonded them together and made them play for each other. His methods for doing so were as weird and wonderful as Clough himself. It's documented that he has at times not spoken to his players during a half time break and he gave his players booze the night before certain games to ease their nerves. In my opinion he created a new form of management that has been echoed by other managers. The way he creates the team unit and feeling of them against the world is evident in the managerial style of Jose Mourinho amongst many others. Phil Brown giving his half time team talk on the pitch was a novel idea possibly inspired my the methods of Clough. Clough knew how to create a reaction in his players and Mourinho, Brown and many others attempt to do the same.

Clough was undoubtedly phenomenal at what he did – manage. Despite the self chosen nickname of Ol’ Big ‘Ed he remained humble when stating that his achievements would not have been possible without his number two – Pete Taylor. In the documentary Clough is even moved to tears when he talks about missing Taylor shortly after his death.

What came across in the film was Ol’ Big ‘Ed’s character. Clough's confidence oozed from his every word, his dry wit and humour were never far away when he sat in front of a camera and he never held back his thoughts because he always thought he was right. He was indeed a huge personality and character, of which I think Martin Sheen captured perfectly in his role as Clough in The Damned United. One player even remarked that when he shut his eyes he thought it was Clough on the TV Sheen was that good.

It was also clear how much Clough was admired by his players, colleagues and almost anyone else in the game. Bobby Robson explains that he tried to convince the FA to give his England job to Clough during the Eighties as he thought he was the best man for the job. All the players that played for him, except the Leeds team he inherited from Don Revie, speak volumes of him and several of his players have gone on to become good managers themselves including Martin O’Neil.

I learnt a great deal about Clough through the documentary and immediately noticed his effects on the game. He may not have been everyone’s cup of tea, but I don’t think anyone wanted to see Clough's career end with relegation and his life suffer difficulties though alcohol. I think Clough should, and will, be remembered for his legacy in the game, his achievements and the drama he brought to football both on and off the pitch. Football, and the world, seems a slightly less interesting place without Ol’ Big ‘Ed.

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