Saturday, 11 June 2016

A Touch of Cloughie in Versailles

The Autobiography by Brian Clough gives a detailed account of the major parts of the former Derby County, Leeds and Nottingham First manager’s career and his footballing conquests, which include a First Division League Championship with Forest and back to back Champions League titles as well. Or European Cups - to give them their correct name at the time. If the latter two trophies are the most far-fetched part of the story, so is the manner in which Clough, and his assistant Peter Taylor, managed the pressure for their players at those key times. Indeed, how they relaxed them before major matches, without players probably realising it at the time. Or not knowing any better.

The most vivid was carrying cases of beer on the team bus on the way to the Olympia Stadion in Munich for their first European final against FC Malmoe. Or their visit to the Red Light district in Amsterdam the night before the return leg against Ajax in the quarter finals of the 1980 campaign. Although it is not expected that the current Republic of Ireland manager, Martin O’Neill will take his squad to the Moulin Rouge on Sunday night in Paris, the eve of the first EURO 2016 game against Sweden at Stade de Frabxe. 

It is clear that the unique methods applied by Clough during O’Neill’s playing days at Nottingham Forest have rubbed off and the Derryman has no qualms about cancelling planned session in Versailles – a la Cloughie – if he feels it’s right for the players. A legacy of his formative playing days and a belief that teams need to be kept fresh in the build up to tournaments or major matches. A stark contrast to what his Northern Ireland manager did in the build-up the World Cup of 1986 in Mexico where the intense training in Colorado devised by Billy Bingham left them all drained and exhausted by the time they met their opponents Algeria, Spain and Brazil in Guadalajara.

In 1980 in Madrid when Forest faced the might of Hamburg SV – and one Kevin Keegan – in their second final Clough brought the players the week previous to Mallorca with no training sessions at all taking place. All the players enjoying the sun and San Miguel’s – yet able to run their socks off that night to retain the trophy against a German side that had spent the week in hiding, going to bed early and rehearsing all their set pieces over and over. Forest meanwhile – even without - their million-pound player Trevor Francis fielded eighteen-year novice Gary Birtles to do the shift of three men that night. Stifling Keegan in midfield to destruction. 

The Clough manuscript catalogues anecdotes of a similar nature which all were accompanied by success and a list of players that read like a footballing who is who of the period. Reflecting a man at ease with his management skills – or arrogant to some perhaps – but able to get the best out of any number of players – and win trophies. Some of which were unobtainable in the eyes of some experts when faced with the might of Liverpool domestically at the time. Or the major continental clubs in the European Cup during that era.

For the more senior demographic - or anoraks – Clough enhanced, invented or revived careers of many journeymen. The likes of Larry Lloyd, Archie Gemmill, John McGovern, Peter Withe, Kenny Burns, Colin Barrett, peter Shilton, John O’Hare, John Robertson and Ian Boyer. Mixed in with some other rising youngsters like Martin O’Neill and Viv Anderson at that time. And then years later Roy Francis Keane. In the early days it was Taylor who had a sharp eye for players and before their partnership split the combination proved indestructible. Yet their management techniques would still be perceived today as unorthodox – to say the least. 

A streak that O’Neill and Keane have inimitably added to their own magic tricks in the 21st Century at the helm of the Republic of Ireland.

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