The Championship battle of the sons - Football League - Football - The Independent

The Championship battle of the sons

Two dynasties collide this afternoon as Nigel Clough and Darren Ferguson go head to head. Glenn Moore hears how the aspiring managers of Derby County and Peterborough deal with the pressure of preserving their fathers' legacies

It is not, at first glance, the most alluring of fixtures. Derby County v Peterborough United. The last time the teams met, at the same Championship level 15 years ago, less than 8,000 watched a draw at London Road that helped neither side's ambitions.

This afternoon, however, there will be photographers aplenty at Pride Park. The reason will be evident from the direction most point their lenses - not at the pitch, but towards the dugouts. Were managers to wear tracksuits bearing their names across the back, spectators in the Toyota Stand would view one of the more evocative sights: Clough v Ferguson.

That is, of course, Nigel v Darren, scions of two of the most successful managers in the game, each twice winners of the European Cup. After contrasting playing careers, they are now united in trying to forge their own reputations despite the shadows cast by their fathers' formidable achievements.

Brian Clough and Alex Ferguson last exchanged a post-match handshake in January 1993. There was mutual respect, but no great closeness between the two men. That Clough refused to take Ferguson's calls when United tried to buy Stuart Pearce, and once claimed he should have been United manager, did not help. Manchester United won 2-0 at Old Trafford that day, a result which emphasised their contrasting trajectories. Clough, in his last season as a manager, was heading for relegation; Ferguson was on course to lift the first of a staggering 11 Premier League titles.

If Ferguson was on the brink of history, Clough's heyday was well behind him. Forest had been marking time for a while and Clough had increasingly taken refuge in alcohol. Those latter years do not, however, diminish his reputation as one of the great managers. Clough won the league title with both Derby County and Nottingham Forest, taking each from the second tier. He also took Derby to the European Cup semi-finals, only to lose controversially to Juventus in 1973, before winning the competition with Forest in 1979 and 1980. Neither club has done anything comparable before or since. It is a hard act to follow, especially in Derby, where the Clough family lived even while Brian was managing at the other end of Brian Clough Way, as the A52 is now called.

"Nigel's situation is tougher than mine because he's managing at the club where his father once managed," Darren Ferguson said. But Ferguson junior has a lot to live up to as well. Besides his father's phenomenal success at United there is the little matter of his spell at Aberdeen. In those eight seasons the Dons won three Scottish titles, four Scottish Cups, and the European Cup-Winners' Cup. In the other 98 years' of existence they have won one title and three domestic cups.

Darren recognises he will never match his father's record but hopes to establish a reputation by his own lights. His decision to become manager at Peterborough two years ago was in part due to the chairman, Darragh MacAnthony, not mentioning Ferguson pere in his job interview. Not that he is shy of talking about the old man – Nigel tends to be more reticent, as he is generally when talking to the media.

Two years ago, in an interview with The Independent, Darren admitted while playing under his father at Manchester United [from 1990-94] "there was no real father-and-son relationship." He added: "It became just a working relationship, although there were times when he left me out and never should have done. It got difficult for both of us. In his team meetings he'd say, 'I'm leaving Darren out, his mother'll kill me'. I didn't find it funny, but obviously he felt uncomfortable, and that was how he tried to deal with it."

Brian Clough dealt with it by referring to Nigel as "the No 9" or "the centre-forward". In his first autobiography he wrote: "It is never easy for a child to work for a parent, but when the gaffer in question is this particular father I know the arrangement is far harder for him."

Nevertheless, Clough was fiercely protective. As a teenager Nigel combined playing for Forest with turning out for his brother Simon's team, AC Hunters. Prior to one match an opponent threw a cup of tea in Nigel's face. Brian was there, found out, and ensured the match was cancelled and the player prosecuted. It was, said Clough, an "incident where Nigel was picked out because of me. He always had that cross to bear."

Nigel Clough played for Forest in that last competitive meeting between his father and Ferguson. Darren Ferguson – who was offered terms by Clough as a 16-year-old but chose United – had been in the United team which beat Clough and son at the City Ground earlier in the season. Injury then cost him his place, for good. As he later put it, by the time he was fit "the bar was raised". In came Eric Cantona, then Roy Keane. There were also some useful players coming through the ranks. Wolves were interested and Ferguson moved on. After a five patchy seasons and a spell in the Netherlands he wound down his career at Wrexham

Ferguson was a decent passer but lacked pace. Nigel Clough had the same flaw but he had enough ability elsewhere to win 14 caps for England and for Liverpool to pay £2m for him. Though an unorthodox, often deep-lying centre-forward, as likely to link the play and create goals as finish them, he scored 131 for Forest at nearly one every three games. As he entered his 30s a heel injury hampered him and he became player-manager at Burton Albion in 1998 – contradicting his father who once wrote he was "certain his son would not choose football management".

In a decade of incremental progress he steered Burton from the lower reaches of the Southern Premier League to the brink of promotion to the Football League – achieved after he answered Derby's siren call in January.

Ferguson, at 37 six years' Clough's junior, is only in his third full season but after achieving successive promotions with Peterborough his reputation is already sufficiently burnished for Reading to short-list him this summer. Ferguson wanted to talk but MacAnthony, a youthful self-made millionaire intent on reaching the Premier League, refused permission. Ferguson later signed a new four-year deal and approaches the new season full of optimism.

"We've taken a big step up in class and everyone needs to realise that, but it's still possible for us to have more success," he said this week. "We're not going into the Championship aiming just to avoid relegation. I'm looking for us to take our momentum forward and get off to a fast start. Derby is a good place for us to start. They'll be expected to win."

Clough did not respond to that dip into "mind games", but he did observe, "Darren has the major advantage – he has his dad to talk to for advice. My dad gave me plenty when he was alive, but I wish he was still here now to give me some more."

Nigel's advantage is that his father frequently took him to "work", even sitting him in the dugout at times. He will have absorbed many lessons in management, which was invaluable when he inherited, at Derby, a bloated squad low on morale. There was also the inconvenient distraction of The Damned United, the film which dramatised David Peace's controversial book about his father's time at Derby and Leeds, in which his own character had a role.

This summer Clough has slashed the squad and brought in promising talent from lower down the league like Exeter's Dean Moxey. He has also signed non-league players, a trick which has worked well for Ferguson who struck gold in former Conference stalwarts Craig Mackail-Smith and Aaron McLean.

While Ferguson appears a man in a hurry, Clough has a long-term outlook. "We will just try to improve every season, there are no timescales," he said. "We are looking for some signs that we have got a team coming together. I think sustained success is built like that."

Fortunately, given that an injury crisis already imperils their start, Derby's American owners seem to agree. So does the club's senior player. "Managers like Nigel need to be given time," said Robbie Savage, who has been rejuvenated under Clough. "It might take him two or three years, but I think he is going to take this club back to the Premier League eventually." The feeling is both men will get to the top flight, with, or without, their current clubs.

The apprentices: Young managers building their reputations

Roberto Di Matteo

(West Bromwich Albion)

The former Chelsea midfielder, 39, makes his managerial debut in the Championship after guiding MK Dons to the League One play-offs last season. As a result Di Matteo holds a 55 per cent win ratio in his embryonic career and, after holding onto most of their best performers after relegation, Albion are one of the favourites to go back up.

Simon Grayson

(Leeds United)

A successful spell at Blackpool alerted Leeds to Grayson's ability. Guided the Tangerines to promotion to the Championship in 2007 and, perhaps more impressively, managed to keep them up. His acrimonious departure to Elland Road in December rather sullied his reputation in Lancashire and he will be expected to take Leeds up this season after last term's play-off failure.

Nigel Pearson

(Leicester City)

A useful central defender for Sheffield Wednesday and Middlesbrough, Pearson, 45, is now making a name for himself in the managerial world. Steered Leicester into the Championship at the first time of asking last season after various coaching/caretaker roles at WBA, Newcastle and Southampton. Should have the Foxes looking up rather than down again this term.

Brendan Rodgers

(Reading)

Jose Mourinho's new best friend faces a hard task following on from Steve Coppell at the Madejski. Was in charge of Watford for eight months last season and did well to guide them to mid-table security. The departures of Graeme Murty, Kevin Doyle and Marcus Hahnemann leaves Rodgers with an uphill challenge at Reading.

James Mariner

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