Getting Irate So That You Don't Have To

Getting Irate So That You Don't Have To

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Establishing The Cause Of The Rebels

I’m currently reading a biography of Brian Clough, arguably one of the greatest football managers who ever lived.

“Provided You Don’t Kiss Me” is a candid and wonderfully readable account of Clough’s managerial career, concentrating mainly on his time at Nottingham Forest, about which author Duncan Hamilton – sports journalist at the Nottingham Evening Post – is well qualified to write.

Hamilton saw the lot: the brazen confidence; the rudeness and downright arrogance; the huge rows with all and sundry; the charm, warmth and generosity of which Clough was capable; the eccentricities such as kissing of complete strangers – men and women – hence the book’s title; the triumphs that enabled Clough to be bracketed with the very best; the partnership with side-kick Peter Taylor and the subsequent fall-out that was ultimately to leave Clough devastated; the long decline accompanied by the slide into all-encompassing alcoholism and death.

Despite his many, many faults, Clough, with Taylor at his side, had a range of talents that marked him a class apart from anyone else around at the time. He had an ability to spot young players with potential and older players whom others thought were well past their best. He could get the very best out of them. He shunned complex tactical systems in favour of simplicity. He could court controversy with the best of them and win and earn publicity for his club. And he was the ultimate disciplinarian.

Clough did what no one else will ever do in the future. He won the League Championship – now the Premier League – with two different clubs (Nottingham Forest and Derby) based in medium-sized provincial towns. Even in the 1970’s that was hard, with the likes of Liverpool and Arsenal to contend with. Now it’s impossible. Not only that, but he twice won the European Cup with Forest, and may well have won another European trophy had not the president of Belgian club Anderlecht bribed the referee in a semi-final.

For any English football fan aged over 40, the late 1970’s carry with them an emotional baggage. For it was then, having failed to qualify for the World Cup for the second time in succession, that the FA turned down Clough’s application for the vacancy to manage the national side.

In terms purely of football, it was a crazy decision. Clough was the best. He could lead, encourage, motivate, cajole and get results like no one else. But the FA wanted someone they could trust. They were terrified of Clough’s unpredictability, his loathing of the Establishment and his capacity to offend. Clough took delight in describing football officials from Africa as “spear throwers” and in deriding Holland as Hitler’s stopping-off point. As a getter of results, he would be a dream. As a diplomat, a nightmare. So, frightened to pick someone who might undermine the Establishment, the Establishment went for one of their own; Ron Greenwood. Greenwood was guaranteed to offend no one, and guaranteed to win absolutely nothing. England failed abysmally in the 1982 World Cup.

Twenty-five years later, things have not changed. In the intervening years one England manager – Glenn Hoddle - lost his job for expressing his views about reincarnation. Now the post is open again. Once again arrogant hell-raisers (such as Jose Mourinho) have been in the frame but now appear to be out of it. It’s not clear why. Fabio Capello is thought to be favourite, despite the fact that his English is poor. He is supposed to be a strong man, capable of standing up to players who have been overpaid, under-managed and who have woefully under-performed. I hope so. But what I do know is that if Capello has any capacity to offend or to say anything remotely controversial, then the FA will not pick him. Like many organisations in positions of authority, they take the view that the ultimate crime is to rock the boat. Which is a shame.

Now, as in 1978, society needs boat-rockers. Brian Clough was one of the best.

1 comment:

maria said...

Ooh, you don't 'arf go on about the bloody 70s, don't you? Most lied about and over-hyped decade ever.