Methods of Brian Clough, a football legend

IT was a great privilege and joy for me to write a book about one of the true loves of my life.

Nottingham Forest 20 Legends includes personal interviews with some of the most famous players in the club’s proud  152-year history – yet inevitably had a strong focus on Brian Clough, the iconic manager who led the club from the old Second Division to two European Cups.

From chatting to John Robertson, Kenny Burns, Larry Lloyd, Garry Birtles, Ian Bowyer, Terry Curran, Steve Hodge, Paul Richardson and Liam O’Kane who all played in Clough’s team, I’ve compiled below what I consider to be some of the principles of his remarkable success.

Confidence is contagious: Cloughie labelled himself ‘Old Big Head’ and was widely known for his self-confidence, some would say, arrogance. Former players told me how, over time, this confidence got through to them and affected the way they performed. This helped to transform them into a team who went onto the pitch believing they would win whoever they were playing against.

Rest is as important as training: Forest were as good physically and mentally as anyone – and that was as much due to the days Clough gave them off as their work on the training pitch. The manager was the man who virtually invented mid-season breaks, taking the players off to Spain in particular. Players joked at the number of days he told them to put their feet up during the week and even disciplined them if they were found to be doing any physical work. But all this helped to relax and refresh them for when they were really needed – match days.

Simple, basic tactics over and over again: Every opponent knew the way Cloughie played, but that didn’t matter. His players always went onto the pitch with clear heads, knowing exactly what their jobs were. Apart from very odd occasions such as when playing one instead of two men up front in the 1980 European Cup final, Forest played with the same formation and tactics during their glory days. They focused almost exclusively on their own strengths, rather than those of the opposition.

Typical Clough tactics also included: pass the ball to the nearest Red shirt rather than kick it long, always shoot from a free kick near goal, try one of two basic corner routines and never argue with the referee.

Always play your best team and give 100 per cent effort: This sounds blatantly obvious but goes well against today’s thinking of squad rotation. Steve Hodge told me how Clough arranged a ‘friendly’ with Notts County a few days before the 1991 FA Cup final against Spurs, picked his best team and said only those who performed well would play at Wembley. There was never any prioritising of matches under Clough – the only game that ever mattered was the next one. Players also knew he would never tolerate them easing up irrespective of the scoreline.

Take personal responsibility: Clough was widely known for praising his players when they played badly – as long as they never gave up or passed the buck to their team mates. He insisted on them being physically and mentally brave and trying to do the right thing, even if it didn’t work for them. In contrast, he would invariably bring his match winners back down to earth to ensure they were never bigger than the team.

Looking out for his players off the pitch: Clough and his assistant Peter Taylor seemingly had eyes in the backs of their heads. Remarkable stories include Clough having a washing machine transferred from the City Ground to Larry Lloyd’s house because he didn’t have one and spontaneously buying Terry Curran a new car as he was driving a lot of miles up and down the motorway at weekends. He also actively encouraged his players to be married as he thought this would mean they had more settled private lives.

One of the interesting postscripts to Clough’s career is that many have tried to copy his methods.

With the notable exception of Martin O’Neill, most have been very unsuccessful.

The reason for this is that Clough was, for all his many faults, unique.

He fervently believed in everything he did, however contradictory some of them appeared.

I don’t think there will ever be another football manager quite like him.

 

 

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