The week leading up to Nigel Clough’s sacking begun with a difficult home game against Reading followed by two difficult away days against local rivals Leicester in the cup on a Tuesday night and finishing at the City Ground against Derby’s biggest rivals Nottingham Forest.
You could say it seemed like it had written Nigel Clough’s P45 for him.
When he was finally shown the door by Derby’s acting chief executive Sam Rush, there was a lot of anger because when finally it looked like five years of painstakingly good work was slowly working towards an end goal, he was chopped.
It’s not like he ever had money to spend, or should have had heavy expectation on his shoulders because the nature of the rest of the division meant Derby were one of the ‘have-nots’ and after a respectable 10th place finish with a closed-knit young side, which would have seen natural progression alone see them better themselves there was rightfully a lot of confusion on the timing of the sacking.
It’s not like they were struggling massively – and were still within a few points of the play-offs and sitting mid-table with a fairly kind group of games coming up at home, so the general belief was that it wasn’t totally footballing reasons this decision was made.
Nonetheless what United can expect from Clough is a very good coach, with a knack of working with and developing young players. When he first came into Derby he was left in a dressing room full of embittered ageing footballers that were playing for the money, some for their last pay cheque and nothing else.
He brought out the best in certain players, usually the ones with the correct attitude and the worst in the players with a bad attitude so finding a group of players that matched his ethos, as well as the quality required was the difficult task, but he finally got there with a few bumps along the way, but once he got there the football at Pride Park was as good as I have seen for a decade, rivalling George Burley’s Derby side for the attractiveness of their football.
The amount of young players that came through was a breath of fresh air, admittedly he can only take a small amount of credit for this as Darren Wassall and his staff were the ones working with the academy but under Cloughs tenure Derby saw Jeff Hendrick, Callum Ball and Mark O’Brien come through first, then followed by Hughes, Bennett, Freeman and on the horizon are players like Hanson, Lowe, Hoganson and Gjoakj.
He redeveloped the clubs ethos’ and mentality for a long term project, which is refreshing when short term goals in football are the only thing that seems to matter. He does have his down-falls which inevitably ended his career at Pride Park, often naïve with his tactics and probably guilty to giving to much freedom to young players, who made bad decisions.
Questionable substitutions at key times, and sometimes although rare very snappy, direct and vicious post-match reviews which some players can become scathed. An infamous one he did about Tommy Cwyka (now at Barnsley) where he remarked ‘’he can go back to Wigan, Poland.. or wherever he has come from’’ obviously couldn’t bite his tongue for the young winger's inexperience costing Derby two points very late in an important game.
If I was a Sheffield United fan, I would embrace Clough’s management – he will always play the right way, and try and achieve great things even without the best of players.
The mentality and ideology is there, and he has certainly grown into the managerial role at Derby. I strongly back him to be a success, and he will unquestionably with time bring United back into the Championship, in a strong and healthy position and not through the use of over-the-hill, last pay cheque players.
image: © matlock-photo