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…