Tag Archives: Brian Clough

The English Can Coach!

With the recent end of the 2015/6 Premier League, the headcount of English managers is at an all time low. Three English coaches are in place with clubs that retain their top flight status.

Eddie Howe has done a tremendous job with Bournemouth, Alan Pardew has kept Palace in the division whilst reaching the FA Cup final and Sam Allardyce has, yet again, performed a minor miracle in keeping Sunderland afloat for another year.
To be completely fair, others including Tony Pulis and Mark Hughes are from these Isles and have spent their playing/coaching careers here. Sean Dyche and  Steve Bruce will re-enter the battle for 2016/7.

But one look at any shortlist for clubs in the market provides reason to conclude that ‘big Sam Allerdicci’ has a point when he claims the odds are stacked against Englishmen in terms of opportunity. It seems that big clubs, and many others, believe that only foreign or non-British managers can encourage a culture of passing football, cope with a big club and develop players into valuable assets.

Not only is it a nonsense claim, Eddie Howe has built a club culture of the highest order, Dyche inspires and develops in equal measure and Sam himself organises a club better than many,he has taken over from foreign managers and had to sort out awful messes more than once!

It is very easy to forget the lessons of sporting history. English managers have coached clubs and nations all over the globe and produced exceptional results:

Sir Bobby Robson:

PKT5141-380922 SIR ROBERT (BOBBY) ROBSON FOOTBALL MANAGER 1990 It was almost the final question of my last major Press conference which encapsulated the highs and lows l have experienced in the last eight years as the manager of England. 'This may seem funny coming from a newspaper like mine,' said the reporter from The Sun. 'But have you enjoyed the last eight years?' The query raised a few giggles from the audience of newspaper, radio and television journalists on that morning after England had succumbed so cruelly to West Germany in the World Cup semi-final. ln eight years l have learnt to pause for thought before replying to what might appear on the surface to be the most innocuous of questions. 'Technically,' l replied, 'l have enjoyed every minute of it, particulary the big match occasions. 'This is a big job abd the man filling it in is going to be subjected to all kinds of stresses and strains. If he can handle it he can get on with the job. If he can't then it will defeat him. It's been a lovely experience and l mean that in all sincerity. lt's been nice to work at the highest level in my industry. lt's been lovely to work with a prepare the best players to play against the best opponents. It's been marvellous to pit my wits against the other coaches similarly at the peak of their profession.

Fulham, Ipswich Town, England, PSV, Barcelona, Sporting & Porto, Newcastle.
Try telling fans at any of the above clubs that the English can’t coach/manage. Robson achieved minor miracles with Ipswich and qualified England for two World Cups reaching qtr and semi finals. Still our best results away from home.

But in case the reader thinks he could only cope with English football, a trip to Lisbon will swiftly correct that notion. Nick-named ‘Bobby 5-0’ by Porto fans, due to the number of 5-0 wins only leaving the club, after two league championship wins, due to Barcelona calling. Again, at Barca Robson, was highly rated and won three trophies in his only full season. Following his spell as England boss he claimed the Dutch league with PSV and even his brief emergency return to Eindhoven ended with them qualifying for the Champions League.

Sir Bobby proved himself in each type of football and across the continent of Europe, combining success with ambassadorial skills of the highest level. He even managed to restore some glory and common sense to the basket case that is Newcastle United!
Yes, this Englishman could coach a bit.

Brian Clough

clough black and white
Hartlepools, Derby County, Brighton, Leeds United, Nottingham Forest.

Enough words have been written about OBE (Ol’ big ed) to fill any other managers office. They would do well to read them.

At Derby County, Clough took a small unsuccessful provincial club and won the league title. He crashed into the European Cup and was only denied in a quarter-final now accepted as totally corrupt.
Not to be discouraged, by being cheated, and later sacked in controversial circumstances, Clough repeated the trick with another East Midlands club.

The name of Nottingham Forest appears on the top division roll of honour in England and twice in a row on the European Champions Cup. Moulding players others rejected or deemed manageable, was his Clough’s speciality.
But the idea that he did not coach or think about what was needed to win is errant nonsense. Forest’s style in winning the European Cup was entirely different to that employed in winning the English league. He, and Peter Taylor, had worked out exactly how to play against mighty sides of the time and emerged triumphant almost every time. Clough’s other gift was that he made payers believe that they could do anything and were better than anyone else. Then each were given a simple job to do. The model concentrated more on Clough’s sides assets, than the strength of the opposition.

Sadly we will never know how he would have adapted to International football. My hunch is that he would have taken to it like a duck to water. Imagine an England side with the confidence to play and the belief they were as good as anyone in the world, it would have taken an awful lot to stop them.

Terry Venables

El Tel. Leading England with style in Euro 1996

El Tel. Leading England with style in Euro 1996

Crystal Palace, QPR, Barcelona, England and Spurs

It is often forgotten that “El Tel” was the first player to represent England at every level available. Whilst going through a wide-ranging playing career Tarry Venables applied his shrewd mind to coaching from an early stage. His first opportunity in management showed his approach. Combining select signings with his own youth players who he had coached through the club. As a result he took Crystal Palace to the top division from the 3rd tier within three years. They briefly lead the division, for only time in their history, finally finishing in solid mid table. Moving to second division QPR was brave but resulted in promotion, a cup final and finally a fifth place finish and qualification for Europe. Spanish eyes were now smiling on Venables.

The history of FCB is littered with legends of football. Michels, Cruyff, Rykaard, Ronaldo, Messi and even Maradona (briefly). It should therefore be to Terry’s huge credit that Barcelona came calling for him due to his reputation for success, style and coaching ability.

Although his reign could be viewed as mixed, his successes were remarkable. His side won FCB’s first league for 11 years and reached its first European final for over twenty years. Lineker and Hughes were  successful imports and the club was propelled back onto the major stages again.

In an age dominated by Liverpool, Venables return to England put Spurs straight back into the limelight and they did not disappoint. The club is as famed for entertainment as winning and Terry lived up to both. Lineker and Gascoigne ensured goals and skill were aplenty. The highlights included an FA cup win and 3rd place in the top division.

England Calling.

Quite simply Venables coached an England side, that previously were not highly regarded, to the semi finals of a major tournament and was only defeated on penalties. He picked players others thought were risky or unsuitable. Stuck by his players through thick and thin. Venables found a way of making all his best players play together and produced entertaining attacking football of a type not produced by England since.

Venables lasting football monument is the recording of England vs Holland in Euro 96. A 4-1 win over a Dutch side, favoured to succeed, is simply a superb piece of coaching and man management. Shearer and Sherringham are superb. Gazza is off the leash and unstoppable and everyone else knows exactly what job to do and does it perfectly.

Only the English FA could dispense with his services following such a tournament.

Vic Buckingham

vic_buckingham_ajax-nl1

Before Rinus Mikels, Johan Cruyff and Pep Guardiola, there was Vic Buckingham. Englishmen have been quite a strong influence in the foundation and development of Barcelona with Buckingham being one of the first and finest.

Some things are best stated in simple terms, Vic Buckingham managed West Bromwich Albion, Ajax of Amsterdam, Barcelona, Sevilla & Olympiacos, all before 1976. At all of these clubs he achieved some success and instituted youth programs and philosophies of football ahead of their time. West Brom won the FA Cup and were runners-up in the League ( almost The Double for West Brom!) Ajax won the Dutch league and Barcelona won the Spanish Cup.

This chap could coach/manage! Ajax asked him back for a second spell, during which Mr Cruyff made his debut and both Johan and his mentor Rinus Mikels held Buckingham in the highest regard. Strangely he barely is acknowledged in his UK homeland and only recently has some credit begun to find its way.

Roy Hodgson

roy-hodgson-profile (1)

It has proven easy for the English press to denegrate Hodgson as a bit of a stuffed shirt. An FA yes man who has more in common with your Grandad than he does with the sexy super coaches in the style of Mourhino et al. Yet even a cursory glance at Hodgson’s CV will reveal a rounded coach of huge experience and no little success.

Hodgson’s first managment job was in Sweden, he took a side almost relegated the year before and won the league title. He repeated the feat a couple of years later. After a brief spell at financial disaster that was Bristol City, Hodgson returned to Sweden where he would eventually take charge of Malmo. Beggining in 1985 Hodgson oversaw a remarkable spell at the club. Five League Titles, two cups and decent European including the European Cup Winners Cup defeat of Inter MIlan in 1989. Roy is held in very high regard in Malmo and known to fans as Royson.

International Management

Soon Hodgson was asked to coach Switzerland, after a successful spell in club management there, whom had not qualified for a major event since 1966. Roy rectified that at the first attempt, from a tough group, then managing to reach the knock out stages of the 1994 world cup in the USA. He easily qualified the side for Euro 96 and would have been in strange position of managing against his home country in the opening game. However as soon as qualification was secured Hodgson left to take over at Inter Milan. Switzerland were at the time ranked 3 in the fifa rankings!

Inter Milan

Speaking about Hodgson’s time at Inter, club president Massimo Moratti said: “Roy Hodgson was an important person in the development of Inter Milan to the point we have reached today. He saved us at the right time. When he came we were in trouble and things appeared dark. He didn’t panic, he was calm and made us calm. Disaster was averted at the most important time. Everyone at Inter will remember him for that and his contribution. He is considered by us all as an important person in our history. He left an endowment to this club that’s important in our history.”

It is fair to say that after this followed a eclectic spell in Hodgsons career, manging in Norway, Italy, Finland and United Arab Emerites to name a few.

A surprise return to England came with Fulham, He rescued them from relegation in the first season and built what began to look like a decent outfit. A remarkable 7th place finish the next year led Fulham into the new Europa League. An astounding run led all the way to the final, with a recovery from 1-4 to defeat Juve being the highlight.

Hodgson was voted manager of the year in England by a record margin. It appeared that all the knowledge gained across the world coaching, managing and even as a director of football, was finally being translated into success in his homeland. A move to a big club was finally offered. Hodgson took over at Liverpool in time for the 2010/11 season.

Sadly, due to an unusual background story, club legend ignored in managerial appointment, and never seeming to quite have the personality for the job , the two parted in January 2011. Hodgson was swiftly taken on by West Bromwich Albion, and immediately produced superb results again, soon finishing in the top 8 and producing quality players and good football.

In a repeat of the a situation from 1983/4 ( Clough & Robson) England again recruited the safe pair of hands whilst the public clamoured for the more colourful character. This time Hodgson was the beneficiary of the FA’s conservative outlook, whilst Harry Redknapp was left to rue what might have been.

So far Hodgson has done a steady job with England, qualifications have been achieved and decent performances put in. Tournament results have been mixed. With Euro 2012 regarded as a qualified success and the 2014 World Cup as a failure.

The Euro’s of 2016 will be, perhaps the final, testing ground for this world traveller of a coach from the heart of England!

 

Martin O’Neil – Often Underestimated, Rarely Defeated.

The Doctor, as Brian Clough christened, Martin O Neil.

The Doctor, as Brian Clough christened, Martin O Neil.

Unusually, in football, Martin O Neil gives off the impression of intelligence that is not restricted to his chosen sport. Having stalled a law degree, to attempt to make the grade at Nottingham Forest, he was christened Dr.,by Brian Clough, due to this intelligence popping up at times that the maestro found irritating.
An immense playing career followed the arrival of Clough at Forest, The League Title, European Cups and more silverware were followed by International caps, then the captaincy and successful World Cup campaigns with Northern Ireland. Yet throughout this time MON never seemed to get the credit he deserved. It was no fluke that he was selected, bought or retained, by great managers, in successful sides. A strong will, good touch and keen reading of the game made him highly valued within sides that often had players with higher profiles or reputations.

O Neil was hugely succesfull as an international player.

O Neil was hugely succesfull as an international player.

Due to his understated success no obvious managerial role was presented to him when he called time on that playing career, and so another day job, until non league management gave him an avenue to apply the skills, and experience, learned from the very best, in combination with his own thoughts and ideas on coaching and club management.

MON’s management career has been an almost continuous run of success with lower league, low resources and often lesser talents. Along the way there he been a couple of unusual decisions, on points of principle, and another couple of non descript spells. Just as it appeared that this superb career was fading and might be forever catagorised as “what might have been…..” A move to another team of lesser obvious talent and resources presented itself. Those who thought O’ Niel was a busted flush, or thought he was simply Mr Movtivator who had been found lacking, should have looked more carefully at his whole career, influences and character.

The Republic of Ireland are relatively new to the higher echelons of International football. The 1980’s and 90’s had seen the phenomenal success of Jack Charlton. Reaching the later stages of two World Cups with a mix of Irish talent, plying their trade mainly in England, and Irish qualified players whom could not make their “home” national team. That success was built on method, team sprit, hard graft and commitment, big Jack actually new how to win a World Cup! Since that time however, despite brief resurgences under Mick McCarthy and Giovanni Trapatonni, times had been tough. The talent pool appeared to be dwindling,the better players ageing and the opposition getting stronger. Yet, of course, the country wanted continued success despite these factors. Thus the clarion call went out and, courtesy of the financial backing of a wealthy Irish businessman, Martin would be given the responsibility of solving this conundrum . It did not take a genius to see that this was a perfect stage for O Neil’s talents.

Masterful decision. Keane could not have been an easy appointment.

Masterful decision. Keane could not have been an easy appointment.

His first decision upon being offered a hero was to build a management team fit for the job. Like his mentor MON functions well, and succeeds with players, when the senior partner in  double or small team. His regular counterpoint John Robertson, he of the golden left foot, was happy in semi retirement and so O’Neil borrowed from a Jose Mourinho tactic and found a “home team” assistant. Never frightened of controversy, or backing his own judgment, He persuaded the Irish Football Association and their paymasters to recruit Roy Keane. Due to Keane acrimonious falling out with the authorities while a player, and the many comments made by both sides since, this was a big achievement in itself!

Although it is an oversimplification, it is possible to now combine a few elements of MON’s football career and see them applied to his biggest challenge:

Influence of Ol Big Ed.

Although no clone of the master, it is clear that O’ Neil absorbed a huge amount, both consciously and on a sub conscious level. The assembling of a small team around him, with a complimentary right hand man, sore both Clough and O Neil at their peak. Other influences include giving players simple jobs, investing total belief in his view that they can do them brilliantly and being slightly removed from the day to day matters.

Meastro & Inspiration. Brian Clough.

Meastro & Inspiration. Brian Clough.

In the stop start world of international football this ensures players and staff are happy and relaxed, now what is expected of them and are on their toes at all times.

Siege Mentality

Although this was another of Clough’s skills, Martin may even out rank Brian in this area. Since his very earliest management job, with Grantham Town, he has consistently bonded a group of players, staff and supporters into believing, that although the odds were against them, they could achieve more and bloody the noses of the more fortunate along the way. This brings out the best in all groups and the he “We’ll show em” style suits Martin as well.

MON Celtic

Whilst in club management this was best demonstrated at Leicester City with three cup finals, winning two, and consistent top eight finishes in the top division. The extreme tribal nature of Scottish, and Glasgow, football mean that, despite being a huge club, siege style mentality could be applied at Celtic especially early in the job.

Thus the draw for his first qualification tournament was right up O’Neil’s Street. The, newly crowned, World Champions Germany, highly ranked and rated Poland, a fierce local rivalry with Scotland, a tough traveling assignment to Georgia and newcomers Gibraltar must have added up to a mouthwatering prospect.

After a nice opening run in friendly games, suffering only one defeat, the real business of qualification got under way with some solid display and steady results, a late goal away in Georgia would prove vital at the end of the campaign. Despite a few negative grumbles, after a draw and narrow loss to Scotland, O’Niel seemed to have settled on a method and was growing into the role. A superb ending to the campaign saw the Irish defeating world champions Germany and coming within a whisker of automatic qualification in a narrow loss to Poland. However the momentum seemed to have turned and be with the men in green. A tough play off draw against Bosnia was followed by a superbly earned draw in the away leg, despite a hostile atmosphere and a squad without several key members.

Ever one to pull a surprise, from the hat, O Neil went on the attack, in the home leg, and unsettled the Bosnian side. The selection of Brady at left back proved a masterstroke providing attacking menace and ammunition for ROI hero John Walters.

Walters could be said to have typified O Neil’s approach to the campaign. A huge amount of togetherness and team spirit, a never say die approach and not a little talent had been blended with O Neil’s knowledge of European football and getting the best for the underdog. O’ Neil thus qualified his side for a major championship at the first attempt and will a talent pool generally accepted as worse than many of his predecessors.

The thoughts of those at the FA, who turned down O Neil for the England job a few years ago, would be good to hear and may be even more sought after when the championships are actually played! I suspect I will be in very good company when watching how MON and his team perform in the tournament itself. However I would not be foolish enough to underestimate him.

 

Premier League Fan Rip Off ? Think Again.

Premier-League-LogoDuring a recent lively social media exchange, with a friend, the claim was made that, in 1968, it was possible to see the league champions for a small sum of what previous generations called “old money”.
This claim was used as a stick with which to berate the devil that is modern football, specifically The Premier League. Being a glass is half full type of guy, while suspecting that my friend suffers from “jumpers for goalposts” syndrome, I thought that this was worth a little investigation.
So is the Premier League the devil? Have things changed that much? If so, is it peculiar to The Premier League or football in general. A look at the price of the lowest & highest season ticket prices at a successful club over that period together with a general look at peoples wages should give us an idea.
In the fabled year of my friends recollection, 1968, the average wage, as claimed by the Financial Times, was around £1500 per year. The cost of the lowest season ticket at our anonymous club was £9.50 and the most expensive was £13.50. For the average wage one hundred and eleven of the more expensive or a hundred and fifty eight of the cheapest tickets could be bought.
Fast forward a decade to 1978, average wages had increased to £5,500 per year and season tickets had risen to thirty and thirty six pounds respectively. Thus a bumper time, in terms of average salary quadrupling, saw ticket prices  basically trebled in the same period. You could now buy one hundred and eighty of the lowest price seasons tickets. The dramatic increase in average wages slowed little over the next decade, £15,000 was now the reported figure not quite treble the 1968 figure. Again ticket prices increased heavily, this time the lower price had more than trebled to £100 but the highest priced tickets had increased had not quite reached the £138 price, that would have meant a three fold increase, weighing on at £114.

The forth decade, following the our 1968 starting point, 1988-98 sees wages rise to £25,000 whilst tickets are now £247 or £361. Here the reverse of the previous decade happens the highest price ticket has more than trebled, whilst the lower end ticket at £247 has not quite made two and a half times its previous cost. Only 101 of the lower priced ticket and 59 of the higher option could be purchased with the average salary. The 1988-98 decade can be seen as a 40-60% split between the old football league and the new Premier League. At the starting point of the premier league in 1992 both tickets both tickets had risen to £190. A very large percentage of the increase in the lower priced ticket and a much smaller one in the case of the higher priced version. This reverses over the Premier league period where the higher price ticket rises sharply and the lower one very slowly indeed. In 1992 at the start of the Premier League matters had slipped to 105 tickets being afforded in exchange for the average annual wage.

From 1998 – 2008 the entire period was within Premier League and Sky TV influence and tickets increased to £475 & £798. Wages were now stated at £37,000. By now only 78 of the cheaper price tickets or 46 of the higher price ones could be purchased for this annual wage estimate.

The final period up to the present day is only 7 years long and should be treated accordingly. Wages are stated at £45,000 and prices are now £532 & £950. This represents something of a reverse with 85 and 47 tickets available for the national average annual wage. An increase for the first time since the 68-78 decade.

It appears then that my friends rose tinted view of the past, and black view of the Premier League monster, although having merit in places is somewhat simplistic. The best period in terms of value for money would appear to be  1975-85. Fans had seen a large increase in the average wage vs ticket price equation and the difference between highest and lowest ticket price was not yet the huge margin it was to become.

The worst period for fan value overall was the four years before the founding of the premier league. The wage verses ticket ratio fell by a third in that short time. During the initial period of the premier league this was slowed to almost nothing for the lower price ticket. Since that time the equation is pretty simple wages are rising by approx. £10,000 each decade, low price tickets have stabled to a £16 per year increase. High price tickets remain disproportionate in as much as they are nearly double the cheapest ticket cost. However they are rising slower in terms of percentages over 10 year periods than at any time since the late 60’s.

The best way to sum up this, rather unscientific, study, would be to say that the average football fan has been subject to ever rising costs for at least 50 years.  The costs have risen less in tougher times and sometimes fall slightly. The real change, from those times referred to by my friend, is purely in who benefits. During the 50’s and 60’s players were subject to maximum wage rules and very restrictive contracts. In effect they were owned by their club. Chairmen and other owners were the direct beneficiary of the fans money with very little going to those who actually played, managed or were otherwise actually involved in playing the game!

This is the area that has changed with player now receiving a far higher % of the money that their skills and effort bring into the game. In addition there freedom of movement and control of their image rights, and other income sources, demonstrates the reversal of previous situation.

The Premier League then is no more the devil than were previous organisations or the owners, directors and chairmen of old. Brian Clough once stated that there “were a lot of villians in football, 92 League chairmen for a start”, It would appear, as always, he was correct.

clough green sweater

 

Great Sporting Reads

With the recent release of Kevin Petersen and Roy Keane’s eagerly awaited autobiographies and the strong performance of sports books in recent years, I have put together a list of some great sporting tales that may interest those who may have run dry of new inspiration.

Williams Hill’s inovative sponsorship of the Sportsbook of the Year, and some big hitters publishing strong titles in recent years, has meant that sporting books are no longer considered the lightweight fodder for Christmas stockings or the forwarding of personality/celebrity cults alone. Whether novels based on real people and events, such as The Damned United, or exposees of Lance Armstrong from determined sports journalists, analysis of great sportsmen and woman or coaching explorations and manuals, the sportsbook is a far more complex beast than it has been given credit for.

Over the past 30 years or so I have devoured a large number of literary sports works, the writing has been mixed but a number of them have had long term influence on other sportsmen, writers and readers. The list below contains a wide range of sports, styles and era’s. In addition I have added a few remarks as to the strengths of the book and the reasons it may appeal.

The Subject is Winning – Skip Rozin with Daley  Thompson.

This little known book by American journalist Rozin is a unique look behind the scenes of both an event and a remarkable individual. Daley Thompson cooperated fully with the attempt and contributed sections of his own. The book works in three very strong ways. It is a story of the most important phase in Thompson’s career, the phase from being merely one of the leaders at his event, to being a phenomenon. The background research and inciteful  interviews with the subject offer a valuable incentive to those interested in what it takes to make this leap.

Subject is winning

The Art of Captaincy – Mike Brearley

Brearley is famed for having “a degree in people” and this book gives a strong insight into why he remains a legendary captain of the English cricket team. The book is not a mere biography or an instruction manual. It uses the authors skills and personality to enlighten the readers knowledge of all areas of the responsibility involved in captaining a team in a pressured environment but also relates them to the issues faced by anyone attempting to lead in almost any other circumstance.

This book has achieved a status similar to the author, it is said to be the bible of the recent England captains who have turned around the fortunes of the side. During the late eighties and nineties it was difficult to find but has been given a new lease of life since Nasser Hussain revealed in had aided him in his re building of the team from its lowest ebb. The modern forward to the book is by acclaimed film director Sam Mendes whose own contribution is  a very interesting read in itself.

Art of captaincy

Racing Through the Dark – David Millar

Millar’s career has reached its second conclusion. It would seem highly likely that either a new book or an updated edition of this remarkable story will be released soon. The original however remains one of the best self penned biographical sportsbooks of recent times. The candour of the revelations still seems raw to the reader and as the areas in which Millar concentrates are not always the obvious ones the book does not seem a pedestrian chronological account like many do.

Racing through the dark cover

Running Free – Sebastian Coe with David Miller.

Despite its age this account of the early life and career, of the UK’s favourite sporting Lord, offers a brilliant insight into the changing days between amateur and professional athletics as well as one of the most talented athletes to grace a track. No politics or London 2012 distractions, just running, training and coaching insights from Seb himself, all fitted into a easy structure and digestible pieces by experienced sports journalist Miller.

The section regarding the pioneering efforts of Seb’s father Peter, and others such as Dr Ghandi, reveal much that is still of use today . Some of the perspectives offered on the promotion of athletics and the perils that may face the sport offer a clue to how perceptive Seb was even at this early stage of his career and how much he would have to offer later.

Running Free

Nobody ever says Thankyou – Jonathan Wilson

This exceptional Brian Clough biography can make difficult reading at times. Instead of the many eulogies or tribute type works, many of which are excellent and offer wonderful views of his brighter side, this is a finely researched and crafted book that attempts a deaper analysis of Clough as a man and manager. The alchohol theme runs strongly through the pages and can re focus some of the most famous Clough moments through a different lens. Yet overall it gives a strong account of the iconic career as both player and manager as well as offering a balanced and unbiased view.

Nobody ever says thankyou

Open – Andre Agassi

Some say you should not meet your heroes, if that is true then maybe you should not read their books either. This is a gut wrenching account of modern sport. The dedication, the pain, the insecurities and, in many places, the damage done to an individual from an almost abusive upbringing through the sporting and commercial pressures and laterly from the fears of life. No description of this book can do it justice. If you are a sports or tennis fan it should be read. I cannot assure you that it will be enjoyed, but it will be difficult if not impossible to complete.

open andre agassi

Winning Ugly – Brad Gilbert & Steve Jamison

This is a cross between a career autobiography, of former top ten player Gilbert, and an out and out manual on how the less talented or “worse player” can win any individual game. Gilbert went on to putting much of it into practise as a coach and in the hands of the sublimly talented Andre Agassi many of these tactics were seen as the opposite of ugly.

For anyone with an interest in the psychology of one on one sport, mid games, gamesmanship and what could be described as the dark arts, then you should look no further.

winning ugly

Beyond A Boundary – CLR James

A remarkable combination of social history, political discourse and cricketing tales that seem to flow through the history of the Carribean and West Indies. The exploration of such deeply important matters as race and history through the influence and impact of cricket is beautifully written and demands that the reader see the entire picture, not simply the anecdotal cricketing tales that are told with warmth and passion, including the almost unbelievable attitudes displayed by almost all parties through the 1940’s 50’s and beyond.

As an enormous fan of the 1970’s and 80’s Windies teams, the background to their coming as a force is instructive and when added to our knowledge of the next chapter is even more challenging.

beyond-boundary_2818429o

So whether you are a player, coach, fan or a combination of the three, these reads will add to your knowledge bank of the sporting world. Sometimes brutally honest and not how we picture the life of sporting legends. Sometimes simply well written, well researched and contributing to the genre whether deliberately or as a by product of writing what they wished to write.  I hope they prove as enjoyable and informing to you as they have been to me.

 

 

Brian Clough, Memories & Legacy.

clough playerThe 10 year anniversary of the passing of the man many call the Master Manager has not gone unmarked. Time will not fade the memories of those who watched,  the man himself, playing for Middlesborough or Sunderland, scoring two hundred and fifty plus league goals in record time. Nor will they forget watching the teams he went on to manage. Starting, as the league’s youngest manager, at Hartlepools, his championship winners at Derby County or the title winning Nottingham Forest who went on to become back to back European Champions.

The notorious spell at Leeds has been immortalised in a tough to accept fictional novel and in a memorable film. His more visual characteristics are still to be found in you tube, scenes of terrorising commentators and interacting with talk-show hosts and even Mohammed Ali. Yet it is easy to caricature Clough and miss the true genius behind the bravado.

clough green sweater

Amidst the banner headlines, of a superlative career, many other superb achievements are not properly recognised. Forest’s capture of the top flight title was achieved in the 1977/78 season and was their debut year after gaining promotion. Rarely done previously it has never been repeated. The ability to galvanise a team, to believe that this was even possible, and then pull it off, would surely test the greatest managers of any era.

The regular development, and re deploying of players, into new positions or with new confidence and belief is a shining example of something missing today. The mercurial John Robertson, turned into the a double European Cup winning hero, the reputed thug, Kenny Burns, turned into the player of the season, the carpet fitter Gary Birtles, turned into one of Europe’s best strikers. Of these achievements Peter Taylor deserves a share of the credit, yet the conveyor belt still continued after his sad departure. Steve Hodge, Steve Stone, Stuart Pearce, as well as the prodigal son Nigel, were all turned into England internationals and they were not alone.

Those , including myself, who eulogize about Jose Mourinho and his ability to forge teams and take much of the pressure onto himself after imbuing the belief of the zealot into his players, should refer to the Clough handbook for hundreds of examples of this school of man management. The examples of unusual tactics and diversions to relax players,  and psych out oppositions, are legendary but also pre cursors of much that sports psychology attempts to teach us today.

Another area of unmatched skill was the discipline with which Clough’s teams played and conducted themselves. Players were fined if they crossed the line with the referee, threatened with non selection if they set bad examples in front of fans or others. The well known quotes about “get a hair cut, young man” would not be half as long lasting if they were not true. Although even Clough may have gone too far with the remark about all Leeds United’s trophies being gained through cheating, he simply believed they had not been achieved the “right way”. The comments of referee’s following his retirement, and later in eulogy, speak more than any statistics can manage. Perhaps this comment from a famous interview with John Motson sums it up “I think that what you do to referees is nothing short of criminal. I do, honestly. And I think that the standard you feel that should be coming from referees at the moment is absolutely incredible…He makes a decision in 5 seconds, or 2 seconds, or one  second or whatever it is, in the heat of the moment, with 22 players and 30,000 people shouting and bellowing. All I’m saying is that you don’t make that point strongly enough. It should be over-emphasised how hard it is to referee a match.” 

clough black and white

The legacy of Brian Clough is manyfold and for that we should be thankful. His many contradictions and charismatic ways have led to a flood of recent books and writings. One pair of books contains over 140 stories and anecdotes from people’s memories of the man and his work. No other manager would inspire such outpourings, the various biographies are often worth reading just for glimpses and perspectives not before in print. From a darker perspective “Nobody ever says thankyou” by Jonathon Wilson is a tremendous piece of analysis and writing. Clough’s legacy in influencing those who played and now manage or coach is comparable with any. Stuart Pearce has managed in the top flight and both England and Great Britain teams. Martin O Neil has had a tremendous record with provincial clubs and great names in England and Scotland and now is combining with Roy Keane to manage Ireland. The interesting link between O Neil and Clough via Neil Lennon’s excellent work at Celtic and Paul Lambert with Roy Keane at Villa seems to have started well. Nigel Clough  has demonstrated an ability to manage clubs and to bring them steady progress and stability, I await the day this is tested at the highest level.

Clough’s greatest legacy is simply the demonstration of what can be done. The ability to select, motivate and manage a team of players to, outwardly unexpected, glory. Every now and again in the intervening years a brief flash of this is shown to be true, Porto winning the Uefa Cup & Champions League, Bayer Leverkussen reaching the final. Athletico Madrid winning La Liga and pushing Real all the way in the Champions League final. Notice a common thread? Each has a lower budget and a hugely dynamic, determined, self-possessed and charismatic manager. The enduring legacy is surely that even in today’s climate, it can still be done!

Thank-you, for everything,  Mr Clough.