“Rome wasn’t built in a day. But I wasn’t on that particular job.”
Clough really did walk a tightrope between genius and madness, veering to the latter more often than not, but his achievements are irrefutable, and no one can begrudge his legendary status with English football. When he took Derby County from the second division to become champions of English football in 1972, he proved that success is not always about having deeper pockets than your opponents, but man-management and strong leadership could prevail.
As a player, Brian Clough was a prolific striker for Middlesbrough and Sunderland in the late 1950s and early 1960s. However, all of his goals were all in the lower leagues and he only managed to gain two full England caps. Unfortunately his playing career was brought to an early end in 1962, but soon after, in 1965, Clough took his first manager’s job at Fourth Division Hartlepool United and appointed Peter Taylor as his assistant. This was the start of an enduring partnership that would bring them success at numerous clubs over the next two decades, although the relationship certainly became strained at several points.
The first example of their success was with Derby County. In 1967 both Taylor and Clough moved on to Derby County, who were then in the Second Division. In the very next season, Clough took them to success as Second Division champions and promotion. Three years later, Derby were crowned champions of England for the first time in the club’s history, and in 1973 they reached the semi-finals of the European Cup.
The second example of Clough impressive record came shortly afterwards in 1975. At this point Clough had joined sleeping giant Nottingham Forest who were near the bottom of the Second Division, re-uniting with Taylor in 1976. This was a return to winning ways, as Forest were promoted in 1977 and the following season won the league title for the first time in the club’s history. This made Clough one of only four managers to have won the English league with two different clubs. Forest also won two consecutive European Cups (in 1979 and 1980) and two League Cups (1978 and 1979). Clough retired from football in 1993, after Forest were relegated from the Premier League.
On the face of it, Brian Clough defied all good leadership models. After all, where does it say to embarrass and humiliate your chairman day in day out, or tell your star-studded team to disregard all they’ve previously won and anything they’ve previously been told?
However, in many respects, he was actually a model leader, understanding that he needed to vary his leadership style to fit the situation in order to achieve the results that put Clough into football’s ‘Hall of Fame’. His outspokenness was part of the gift. Clough knew that management wasn’t about an endless stream of bland, abstract jargon with which no one could disagree – sometimes it was in everyone’s interest to know exactly where they stood, especially as Clough was never one to mince his words.
Clough epitomised self-confidence. Brian Clough can be considered as one of the very best in the business at a visionary style of leadership, especially when we consider his ability to inspire struggling second-tier teams to believe that they could win the Championship or European Cup. Clough used his own indomitable personality to develop a strong performance culture within each of his teams he was involved with.
He believed in discipline, having control of everything football related, but most of all he was a man motivator. He was an excellent communicator, creating a sense of self belief in his players. And even though it didn’t come across in ‘Damned United’, he had excellent interpersonal skills in knowing how to deal with people. Some he would challenge and motivate to produce their best; others he would take under his wing and build their confidence.
Whatever you think of Mr Clough, he certainly was an asset to the football world and on the day that Sir Alex Ferguson managed his last game in English football, it was Clough who developed a new breed of football manager, and who knows, would the famous ‘hair-drier treatment’ have emerged without the inspiration figure of the one and only Brian Clough.