Football: A new chip off the old big 'ead

'I don't find it daunting. All I can ask is that people judge me on what I do, not on what Dad achieved'
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The Independent Online
BESIDE the River Trent, some 25 miles upstream from where his father used to walk on the water, Nigel Clough has taken a commendably brave step of his own.

Nigel is the new player- manager ("more manager than player," he says) of Burton Albion, the Dr Martens League club. The comparisons with Brian Clough, his two League Championships, two European Cups and a forbiddingly successful career are inevitable but Nigel insists: "I'm looking ahead, not over my shoulder. The fact that I was taking on a job Dad did so well never crossed my mind.

"He casts a big shadow in other people's minds more than my own. He's been my Dad for 32 years now, so you get used to it and, anyway, there was similar speculation when I started as a player.

"My getting this job has created quite a bit of interest, though 99 per cent of the people still want to talk about him. It's understandable and I don't mind. I'm more interested in getting publicity and possible sponsors for Burton Albion than the personal part of it, anyway."

In looks and temperament, Nigel much more closely resembles his mother, Barbara, as he readily acknowledges, though there is more to it than that. "I have also made a conscious effort over the years not to be like him. That way I didn't get compared to him too often. Not to be like him was one of the easier parts of life with Dad.

"But I have always been tremendously proud of what he achieved in football and, given his track record as a manager, there is bound to be something thrown at me whatever I achieve from now on. That's not something I find daunting. All I can ask is that people judge me on what I do, not on what he achieved.

"I'm not overly concerned about keeping the family name going in managership. It might be that I only spend a couple of years here, fail miserably and never get another job in football. Then again, I might have a bit of success and maybe go on. You need a bit of luck along the way."

Luck has not figured prominently in Nigel's football life since he separated from Nottingham Forest and Brian Clough when the club were relegated in 1993. "My contract was up, so I thought it was now or never and I decided it was time to go." Liverpool were keen to buy and Nigel was happy to sign for Graeme Souness.

As ever, competition for places was keen at Anfield and when he found his first-team appearances limited he moved on to Manchester City in January 1996. "Alan Ball was the major reason I signed for them because I had a lot of respect for him and had worked with him when I played for England under Graham Taylor.

"Unfortunately, six months later, he had left. After him came Asa Hartford, Steve Coppell, Phil Neal, then Frank Clark and Joe Royle. I even went to Sheffield Wednesday on loan and played a couple of games under David Pleat but he left the club a few weeks later. With that sort of thing happening, you get paranoid after a while. At some point I would have liked to have gone back to Forest when things weren't working out but that didn't happen. Maybe with hindsight I should have stayed at Liverpool and battled it out there.

"It was very depressing at City. When you have been used to 10 years as a first-team regular and an international and you can't even get into a side that is struggling, you begin to have all sorts of doubts. You start trying to analyse what's gone wrong, what you're doing differently, and that tends to send you even more round the bend. Once you start thinking about the things that came naturally on the pitch it's downhill from there."

Clough's misery was deepened by long-term injury problems with his heels, which have prevented him playing for the last six months. The house he had bought in Knutsford as a base was sold and he returned to the home he had kept on in Duffield, across a Derbyshire dale from his parents' residence in Quarndon, with his wife, Margaret, and son William, now six months old.

Six weeks ago he read in the local paper that Burton had parted company with their manager, John Barton. "I thought it might not be a bad place to go so I talked it over with a few people, including my Dad. I thought he might say 'Hang on, see if you can get a youth team coach or a reserve coach job in the league'. But he was very positive and said there was no harm in it at all, that it would be a great place to start."

So an amicable parting was arranged with Manchester City, where Nigel still had 10 months of his contract left, and as a symbolic gesture he then sold the Mercedes which was part of his signing-on deal at City. "I suppose I was saying cheerio to the days of a highly-paid professional and all that. Now I am 15 minutes' drive from work in a smaller car and the improvement in my lifestyle is worth a lot. Neil Warnock started at Burton as a manager, Peter Taylor was here too. I think it's a good way to learn the ropes, get a grounding and a good feel for the job. You will find out if you are any good at it because the principles are the same here as they are anywhere. You have to get the best out of the lads you've got. We have everything here that a league club has, just on a smaller scale."

Burton's trim Eton Park stadium, painted in the club colours of bright yellow and black, has a capacity of 6,000. The club is debt-free, ground improvements are under way and there is an air of optimism and progress about the place. "They do lovely mushy peas here on match days as well," said Nigel.

There were three clean sheets and two wins to greet the new manager and the club are through to this Saturday's first round proper of the FA Cup, in which they are away to Kingstonian. Clough starts a three-year contract in charge of a 50-strong part-time squad that puts out a first team, reserve team and youth side.

But the realities of life at this level were brought home when Burton travelled to Morpeth in the FA Cup fourth qualifying round last Saturday. The coach left at 8am without the reserve goalkeeper because he coul not get off work until 10.

Nigel has recruited Gary Crosby, a former Forest team- mate, as his assistant - the Peter Taylor to his Brian Clough, some would say. Clough and Taylor got their start small-time at Hartlepool, so the partnership of Clough and Crosby should feel right at home.

Clough senior, whose football involvement tends to be through a large TV screen in his living room these days, has promised to go to see how Nigel is getting on. "I spoke to Dad about it last week and when things calm down a bit he will sneak in the back entrance one day and watch a game.

"My brother Simon has already been with his little lad, Stephen. He's nine now and has been going to football for five years. When the ball comes near him in the stand he wants to try and grab it. He came over the barrier four or five times in one game."

Clearly, another Clough prodigy in the making.