Clough: an epic career ends: Ken Jones on the football manager whose style became a byword for bluntness

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The Independent Online
THE announcement from Nottingham Forest yesterday that Brian Clough, 58, is to retire at the end of the season brings to an end one of the great careers in football.

The most successful manager of his era, Clough won the Second Divison championship with Derby County in 1969, followed by the League Championship three years later. Even greater success was achieved at Forest, another unfashionable club: promotion from the Second Division in 1977, another League Championship, the European Cup twice and four League Cups. Only the FA Cup eluded him.

This season, however, there have been visible signs that he is not in the best of health, and it is unlikely that Forest will avoid relegation from the Premier League.

There may be considerable substance in the notion that Clough was driven to succeed as a manager by the disappointments he experienced as a player; not merely the knee injury that curtailed his career at 29, but the frustration of failing to establish a big reputation outside his native North-east. Between 1956 and 1965, Clough scored 251 goals in 274 League games, yet turned out only twice for England.

Clough's management style, authoritarian, blunt, retributive, was essentially anachronistic, unfailingly challenging difficulties brought about by freedom of contract and a proliferation of agents. In favourable contrast to many modern managers, he did not take refuge in the pretence of being able to understand strategy that is often obscure to the players. Nor did he believe in spouting jargon.

Clough's teams were not the most adventurous - defence was the keynote of Forest's successes in the European Cup - but he encouraged cohesive, well-disciplined football. The priorities were control, pass and movement; cowards were quickly rooted out; a number of hard men were pragmatically tolerated, but there was no place for bad behaviour.

In the minds of many footballers who came under Clough's influence, humorous tales about him had a hollow ring, his legendary omnipotence communicating anxiety, even fear, as well as passion.

First at Derby, then Forest, Clough was big daddy and the players his children, whose only desire was to please him - and shut him up.

John Robertson, a prominent figure in the best of Clough's teams at Forest, once approached him, timidly, with a transfer request. Clough asked Robertson whether his education had brought about literacy. Upon confirming this, he was required to read out the terms of his contract. It had two years to run. 'Right,' Clough said. 'Now clear off.'

Some players declared privately that they would not be able to stand Clough if the team did not win. Few escaped his caustic tongue. Even established internationals admitted to taking cover if he was in the vicinity. Nor did Clough's belief that they were nothing without him endear him to them.

But until he succumbed to the ravages of a profession that has disfigured and even killed men, he had the respect of players and supporters because their religion, success, was his.

Although he would probably have been the wrong choice, Clough would have obtained a clear mandate to manage England if a referendum had been held, his reputation secured as much by polemical lunges in print and on television as by a redeeming vision of how the game should and could be played. Offended by the onset of a crass method in the League, he said, famously: 'If the game was meant to be played in the air, He would have put grass in the sky.'

(Photograph omitted)

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