Nigel Clough: Thick-skinned, brutally honest. Who does he take after?

He slashed Derby's annual wage bill by £5 million and faces a crisis of confidence ahead of a tricky Cup tie tomorrow, but an 'easy life' is not for the son of Brian. Jon Culley meets Nigel Clough

Nigel Clough doesn't recall making the comment that Steve Evans, the Crawley Town manager, has been invoking to stoke up tension ahead of the non-League side's FA Cup tie against Derby County tomorrow. Evans claims that when he left Burton Albion to take charge at Pride Park, Clough said he would relish "never having to go to places like Crawley again". Describing the third-round draw as "poetic justice", Evans barked: "It is on public record what he said, but now he has to come back."

Clough greets this information with a blank look. "I don't remember saying that," he says. However, he has not forgotten Evans, in his Boston United days, calling Burton "a pub team". One suspects their reunion at the Blue Square Premier club's Broadfield Stadium will not be noticeably cordial. Neither has Clough forgotten that his father would rib him, not completely in jest, for settling for what he perceived as "an easy life" looking after Burton's part-timers rather than seeking to test himself at a higher level. He stayed with the Staffordshire club for more than 10 years but insists it was timing, rather than lack of ambition, that lay behind his reluctance to move on. Sadly, by the time the opportunity had come to be the second Clough to manage Derby, Brian was no longer around to bask in parental pride.

"My father had no experience of managing in the Unibond or the Conference so he didn't know what it was like," he says, being purely matter-of-fact. "It is different at Derby but I would not say it was harder. Whatever the level, you have the same sort of problem trying to find players who will go through a brick wall for the club. I did not want to leave Burton and it is unlikely I would have if it had not been for Derby. But it was not about being in a comfort zone.

He says "there probably would have come a point" when he wanted to test himself at a higher level. "But it would have had to have been right for the family. The kids were settled in school and I didn't want to give up a good job at Burton and move 250 miles to the other end of the country." He could argue, too, that if he craved an undemanding appointment he would not have entertained taking on Derby, particularly when the task assigned was to slash an unsustainable wage bill on behalf of owners – United States-based General Sports and Entertainment group – who burned their fingers funding previous managers and wished to rein in.

"I did not know it would be quite so severe as it has been but I knew it would be hard. The owners have put a lot of money into this club and at the moment have seen no return for it. This is the way they want to go forward and we have to work within that. When they came in – before we arrived – perhaps they had bigger ambitions. But when you are a successful businessman, you don't just keep investing and investing if you are getting no return."

Clough has reduced the annual wage bill from £15.5 million to less than £10m. Of the players he inherited – assembled by Billy Davies and successor Paul Jewell at a cost of more than £15m in transfer fees – less than a quarter remain. It may dismay supporters that they now have a middling Championship side to cheer on, but it could be worse.

"It is extremely difficult to rebuild the team in those circumstances," Clough says. "While other teams are buying established Championship players, we are having to pick ones who haven't quite proved themselves."

The "we" now includes Simon Clough – Nigel's brother – whom he has made his chief scout, adding another dimension to the Clough dynasty. Family appointments in football have not always been greeted positively, but Nigel insists his older sibling's credentials are sound. "Simon and I have watched football together for 40 years, from European Cup finals to the Unibond North. He has been around football clubs for as long as I have and you can only benefit from that experience and knowledge of the game."

They have been canny, picking up bargains from Exeter (Dean Moxey) and Crewe (James Bailey and John Brayford) and going back to Burton for Jake Buxton, while plugging gaps left by injuries through judicious use of the loan market, from where Shefki Kuqi (Swansea) and Luke Moore (West Bromwich Albion) have served them well.

"We are having to back our judgement and pick players who might come good in the next year or two, so it is a gamble. You are going to have the kind of inconsistency we are finding at the moment, where we have a great run but then we lose five in a row."

The fifth – painfully – was at the other Clough stamping ground, Nottingham Forest, where the last game of 2010 resulted in a 5-2 humiliation. Clough (left), Forest's second-highest scorer of all time, was so disgusted that he broke with normal etiquette and named the players he felt had most let him down. "It was nothing to do with how I felt personally. I don't really look at it on a personal level because for me as a professional it is about my job as Derby's manager.

"I look at it more from the point of view of the 4,500 supporters who travelled. To lose to your local rivals is unsatisfactory at any time but to lose in the manner in which we did, to give goals away as we did, was extremely hurtful to everyone at Derby. I don't regret naming players. I more regret playing them. A local derby is about who wants to put his head in, put his foot in where it hurts, who wants to do everything he can not to concede a goal. Two or three people did not do that and we named them."

As a player, Clough's bravery was never questioned. His thick skin as a manager – which he may need again tomorrow, by his own admission – should not be either. Derby's fragile form goes on the line against a team whose goal of winning promotion to the Football League has been underpinned by heavy investment in players, including a reported Conference record fee of £275,500 for ex-York striker Richard Brodie.

"When you have a non-League team who can spend close to half a million pounds on new players you have to take them seriously. They probably have more money to spend than us. We have got a few who have played in the Conference and they will know what it is like. They will know how hard Crawley will work to stop us playing. At Burton we played Manchester United in the Cup, played with nothing to lose and took them to a replay. There will be one or two shocks over the weekend. We don't want to be one of them. But we are not in a mood to go anywhere with confidence at the moment. I don't think we'd be that confident even at home."

Thick-skinned. Brutally honest, too. With his softer looks, they used to say Nigel took after his mother more than his father. Perhaps not any more.

Crawley Town v Derby County is tomorrow on ESPN, kick-off 8pm

Life and times

Name Nigel Howard Clough.

Born 19 March 1966, Sunderland.

Height 5 ft 9in.

Clubs Nottingham Forest, Liverpool, Manchester City, Sheffield Wednesday (loan), Burton Albion and England (14 caps)

Manager Burton Albion (1998–2009) and Derby County (2009-current).

Family Coached at Forest by his father Brian, who publicly referred to him as "the No 9". Made 403 appearances at the club and is their second-highest goalscorer with 131. His father also managed Derby.

Honours Two League Cups (1989 and 1990), scoring twice in '89 final victory over Luton. Burton were also promoted to the Conference as Northern Premier League champions.

Controversy During Derby's 1–0 win over rivals Nottingham Forest, was accused by Billy Davies of kicking him in the knee during a pitchside altercation. Clough denied the claim and nothing came of Davies's official complaint. Was also sent to the stands during Derby's 3–1 home defeat to Ipswich – he was fined £1,000 and given a one-match ban.

Fascinating facts Football-mad Irish band The Sultans of Ping FC wrote a song about Clough. Given away free with a Forest fanzine, it was entitled 'Give Him a Ball and a Yard of Grass'; the lyric was a quote by his father about ex-Forest winger John Robertson. In the 2009 film The Damned United, a young Nigel Clough was played by Oliver Stokes.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£36000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, - 1 Year contract

£50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, Stock...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Human Resource Officer and Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join one of...

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events business) - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants