Why Derby were right to sack Nigel Clough (even if it does hurt to say it)

Posted by - September 30, 2013 - Championship, Ranting and Raving

There was a pouring of outrage, shock, confusion and relief last night as news emerged that Nigel Clough had been sacked as Derby County manager.

Judging by the majority of tweets and phone calls however – along with the thoughts of people such as Robbie Savage – anger and upset edge out happiness and excitement in the emotion stakes. But why?

Brian Clough’s departure was the worst moment in Derby County’s history. Clough Snr’s work put Derby on the map. Sacking his son amounts to sacrilege in the eyes of supporters who had to witness a messy and heartbreaking divorce the first time round.

“You should never sack a Clough,” is something i’ve heard many fans say. The difference is, when Sam Longson and the Derby County board of directors made Brian’s position untenable in 1973, Derby were deprived of the European Cups that Nottingham Forest later went on to win.

When Sam Rush phoned Nigel Clough last night (poor form if it’s true) to sack him, he deprived the Derby County fans of… another mid-table finish in the Championship and another season of infuriating fluctuations in form. That’s the truth.

Despite his legendary status at Forest, Nigel Clough is a Derby man and when he was appointed in January 2009, 99 per cent of Derby fans wanted him to succeed.

The disappointing thing is that he didn’t, at least not on the pitch.

Few managers will have the initial level of support in the stands that Nigel Clough was granted when he turned up almost five years ago. There should be no room for sentimentality in professional sport, but if a sentimental appointment comes off, it’s all the sweeter.

I lost faith in Clough last season, but his sacking still hurt me a little bit because it would have been brilliant for Nigel to continue Brian’s legacy and take Derby into the Premier League.

When you realise that isn’t going to happen though, you need to make hard decisions. It’s a bit like being in a relationship: if it’s not working, you have to let her/him go. “It’s not you, it’s me/if you love them, let them go/[insert your own romantic cliché here].”

I mentioned Nigel Clough didn’t succeed on the pitch. Mid-table finishes were accomplished, but only after often intense flirting with relegation.

Derby were never serious play-off contenders under Clough, despite promising starts to seasons. This is where the Clough fans make a good case though. “Who else could have done better with no money?” They have a point.

Nigel did a superb job of cutting the wage bill, getting rid of the deadwood, and assembling a good, young squad by giving academy products a chance and buying some gems from the lower leagues.

Would Will Hughes have played as much professional football under someone like Billy Davies? No. Would John Brayford be the Premier League star he is today if Nigel didn’t spot his potential (I jest, come back to Derby, John, you’re brilliant!). Off the pitch, Nigel Clough did a superb job.

So, to answer the question posed by Clough supporters, no, perhaps no-one could have done better than Clough to get Derby where they are now. That’s when you have to ask the question, who else could do better with this squad of players?

The answer to that, sadly, is plenty of people. His lack of man management skills and tactical nous saw Derby lose games that should have been won.

Sitting back on a one-goal lead with a defence as fragile as Derby’s is not the way to success. Openly criticising his players sits uncomfortably with me and cannot do anything for the player’s confidence.

The point is, Nigel did a great job to set the foundations, but he took the club as far as he could. It’s now time for someone else to take this talented squad to the next level.

The board are going to get a slating for this from pro-Clough supporters and casual fans and pundits. They haven’t given him millions to spend, but by no means have they left him to operate on a shoestring budget. Decent money was spent on Conor Sammon, Richard Keogh, Jason Shackell, Johnny Russell and even Chris Maguire, to name a few.

Attendances have dropped alarmingly, and for an owner of the club who relies on income from bums on seats, that’s a huge issue. Attendances were averaging around 28,000 on Clough’s arrival. This season they are around the 22,000 mark. It’s a problem that can’t, and hasn’t been ignored.

The main issue I have is the timing of it. It’s given the Forest fans something else to brag about. Agent Clough and all that. Enough about them though.

It’s a sad moment, but the head needs to rule the heart in football, and on this occasion I believe it has done.

So, thank you Nigel. I, along with most Rams fans, am grateful to you for clearing up the mess left by Paul Jewell and Billy Davies and giving us a great platform to build on, but it was time to move on.

Best of luck in the future. It’s not you, it’s me…

  • Andy H

    Eloquently put, but I’m afraid I have to disagree. My disappointment has nothing to do with the name “Clough”. I was born in the 80’s and that era is “history” for me.
    My disappointment stems from the timing. How can Nigel be judged just nine games in, when we were doing things differently at Derby and building from scratch and creating a good reputation for doing things the right way? Yes we haven’t won at home but can defensive errors be solely laid at his door? You say we sit back and defend a 1-0 lead. I can’t think when we have done that this season? We did exactly that in the Billy Davies promotion season. How many 1-0 or 2-1s was there that year? Why do you think his man management skills were so bad? Because he picked out poor performing players? How come so many of his former players speak so highly of him? Maybe it is an effective tactic? Look at Hendrick this time last year. Had a shocking start, Clough gave him a public dressing down, and he became one of our most consistent performers.

    I hope to be proved wrong and that this is a masterstroke of strategic management from the board. It just leaves a bad taste that the club we all have a strong connection to does something like this. Surely wait to the end of the season, or December if we were in danger of going down? Why the rush to do it now?


    He didn’t have 9 games. He had 4 years!

  • Andy H

    four years of asset stripping, re-building and a team of loan players. Each year getting progressively better. Whose to say he wasn’t going to make the play-offs this year? If not, then ship him out.

    The club was in a mess! It would be like expecting the government to fix the economy overnight. There’s no money but we want to be world leaders!? It doesn’t add up.

  • totenram

    king Billy could sit on a 1-0 less because he developed a squad capable of keeping the ball out of the net. he did that in his first season. we couldn’t do anything except pass in pretty triangles after nearly five years. and if taking off an attacker and putting on coutts on 63 minutes isn’t a negative strategy, one that in all possibility cost us 2 pts, then I suggest you try watching a game. how about 2-0 down, fifteen minutes to go and bringing on the all important game changing right back? I could go on. a weird manager who faked attacking personnel and a safety first, negative approach, particularly as the second half wore on. I don’t mind him going, I do worry because he was an ok manager I don’t trust the owners to find a good manager, all this crap about changing the structure of management is corporate speak, and not worth a slice of yesterday’s h toast.

  • Crewton Ram

    I despise Billy Davies with a vengeance, but the difference between him and Nigel is that Davies could organise a team to successfully defend a 1-0 lead and to capitalise on scant possession. Some of the football played under Nigel has been great, some has been heartbreakingly frustrating. Ultimately, any manager in any industry will pay the price for the failings of his staff as much as his own shortcomings. Both these factors have finally caught up with him. I wish him well, thank him for allowing us to see Hughes, Hendrick and Bennett blossom and hope he’s back in a job soon.

  • carl

    I don`t know what Nigel Cloughs problem is with Forest.
    At the end of the day he played for Forest under his dad and all we have had to put up with is his carping criticism of the club.
    It seems Derby have an hidden agenda with regards to Forest with the appointment of McLaren. Appoint managers who got a chip on their shoulders to needle the Reds.
    Derby can`t accept that Forest are a bigger club. People around the world have heard of Nottingham Forest managed by Brian Clough. Who`s heard of Derby?
    Even Harry Rednap paid Forest a compliment. He commented on how difficult it would be for OPR to go straight up. He said there are bigger clubs in this division than us like Forest, they have won two European Cups.