Two photographs of Brian Clough stare down from the walls of the manager's office at Glanford Park, home of Scunthorpe United. Before his sad passing last September, Old Big 'Ead let it be known that he liked the cut of Jose Mourinho's managerial jib at Chelsea. Having started his own life in the management game at Hartlepool, where he painted the stands and learned to drive the team bus, Cloughie, though, would have been the first to appreciate the attributes of another potential manager of the season: the man pictured alongside him on the walls at Glanford Park, who will be pitting his wits against Mourinho in the FA Cup third-round contest between the haves and the have-nots at Stamford Bridge next Saturday.
Mourinho has moved Chelsea from second place to pole position in the Premiership this season, with the help of the many millions spent on new players. Brian Laws has hauled Scunthorpe from 22nd place to first in what is now known as League Two, quite remarkably after spending three weeks out of managerial office last spring while a battle for boardroom power was being resolved. He has also done so on a transfer budget of precisely nothing.
"What I did get from the chairman, Steve Wharton, who brought me back to the club, was an increased budget for players' wages, which allowed me to bring in three experienced players," Laws says, alluding to central defender Andy Crosby, midfielder Ian Baraclough and goalkeeper Paul Musselwhite, who joined the 39-year-old Peter Beagrie in a transformed Scunthorpe side who ended 2004 unbeaten in 13 matches.
In seven years and 11 months as manager at Glanford Park, Laws has not spent much on transfers. Ask him for a ballpark figure and, instead of reaching for the calculator on his desk, Cloughie's trusty former Forest right-back starts counting the fingers on his left hand. "Steve Torpey was £175,000," he says, after some deliberation. "Martin Carruthers was £25,000. And Jamie Forrester cost £50,000. They're the only three players I've bought. That's three in eight years here, £250,000 all-in."
In seven months at Stamford Bridge, Mourinho has acquired £89m-worth of players, if you include the two new signings made prior to his arrival: Arjen Robben and Petr Cech. "He's got £100m-worth just on the bench," Laws ponders. "I've got £100-worth. It's a massive difference. And it is a different world. To me, if I even think about spending £20,000 or £30,000 at this club, it's like Jose Mourinho spending £50m at Chelsea. He's going to Harrods and buying. I'm going to the corner shop that's open 24 hours a day. That's where I buy my players."
So, what if Channel 4 were to introduce a new reality show: Manager Swap? Would the manager of Scunthorpe swap a month of peeking longingly though the window of Arkwright's for four weeks of being let loose in the Knightsbridge Al Fayed emporium?
"Ooh, hoo!" Laws exclaims, hooting at the prospect. "I'd definitely do that. But I know that Mourinho would definitely not do my job, because you've got to get your hands dirty here. I haven't got the finances. I haven't got a massive staff, though I've got a good staff. We all have to muck in here - whether it's cleaning up, making coffee.
"It would be an interesting exercise. In fact, if I took his job, I'd probably get bored, because I get involved in everything at this club. It's a real family club. There's nothing that goes through this football club without me knowing. It's almost like when Cloughie was running the place at Forest. He wanted to know everything, do everything. I'm the same.
"Clubs of this size, their feet are firmly on the floor. The only way to achieve anything is hard bloody work. We haven't got the resources to go out and buy players, and our training facilities... well, I think if Mourinho turned up he'd walk straight back out again. I'd love to see their squad turn up at some of the training grounds we go to. We have to beg, steal and borrow where we train."
The son of a Tyneside shipyard worker, Laws grafted hard for what he achieved as a right-back of unwavering diligence and not a little distinction, enjoying his best years under Clough at Forest. At 43, he has also worked hard to rebuild his managerial reputation after the flying plate that cost him his job at Grimsby and left Ivano Bonetti with a fractured cheekbone during an overheated half-time debate. The only slip came last season, when Scunthorpe slumped perilously close to the Conference, with the players' wage budget cut too close to the knuckle and untried youngsters filling the team.
Having returned from what he refers to as "three weeks' gardening leave", during which the ultimately ousted boardroom regime courted Colin Hendry as a replacement, Laws has swiftly made the picture a rosy one at Glanford Park again. "For us, drawing Chelsea in the Cup has been like hitting the jackpot," he says, pondering next week's trip to SW6. "It means we have money to strengthen the squad if we need to.
"That's why I jumped for joy when I saw the draw. I was in a television shop at the time, and saw it 40 times on 40 different screens. They must have thought I was an absolute lunatic, because I was screaming and jumping up and down. That's just how much it means to me and this club.
"We're not going to Chelsea just to lap it up and say, 'Thanks very much.' We're going to try and cause an upset. And the blessing is they know nowt about Scunthorpe. They wouldn't know any of my players' names. That's where I'll have the advantage. And my players know more about them than I do, because they watch Chelsea on the television while I'm out scouting at reserve games and non-League matches.
"It'll be a reality check for me... I'll have to sit down and let the players give me a team talk on the opposition."
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