Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Making Plans for Nigel

So United have finally confirmed what many have suspected over the last 10 days, Nigel Clough is the new Blades manager. Their number one choice from the start, according to reports, but I am sure it was not without a great deal of consideration and thought as to the merits and risks of the appointment.
Thinking over the candidates and when asked for my Top 3 last week, I struggled to make a 100% certain case for any of the candidates; each raising a degree of risk and concern. So I thought it worth setting out my thoughts on Clough, starting with my concerns. After all, it is always good to end on the positives>
Detractors could point to the steady consolidation at Derby County and whether his play and tactics will be positive enough when we desperately need some forward thrust, both in the short term and over the next two or three seasons. Derby were accused of lacking a winning mentality, something Clough will need to instil at United and quickly. They also lacked goals and Clough's inability to find a winning and scoring formula will be one familiar to Unitedites.
In a similar way to our feelings about David Weir, Derby fans could see what he was trying to do in terms of playing style, but without the results early season, fans believed that it would click into a positive run of results. They never got the chance to find out. His style of play may well fit the club's over-arching plan, but it needs to bring results.
There have been question marks over his man-management of the personalities at Derby, particularly Stephen Bywater, whilst outbursts against players such as Dean Leacock, Paul Green and Tomasz Cywka gained criticism from supporters and observers alike. You would also expect there to be not much of a future at Bramall Lane for Chris Porter, given observations made by Clough during the striker's time at Pride Park. 
For a manager left looking in Scotland, Ireland and the lower leagues for players, concerns have been expressed about the club's recruitment policy and scouting structure. This was possibly put further under the microscope by the appointment of his brother Simon as scout; a role for whom has been found at Bramall Lane. Appointments like this raise questions of nepotism and appointing the best man for the job.
Looking for the positives, I think it is fair to say we have made a "safe" appointment. Despite the concerns previously expressed he has some great experience and is a steady performer with clear success. He served a long and successful apprenticeship with 11 years at Burton Albion, taking over at a relatively young 32 whilst still playing.
With two promotions he all but took Burton into the Football League in 2009, joining Derby County with the Brewers well clear at the top of the Conference Premier. At relegation threatened Derby, he inherited a mess from the departing Paul Jewell. A run of early form was not maintained, although the Rams did survive on the penultimate weekend of the season. 
Over his period in charge at Derby, Clough had overseen the development of several young players into first teamers - even putting to one side the one-off talent that is Will Hughes; there have been Jeff Hendricks and Mason Bennett amongst others. Clough has built strong foundations with the club's academy, which were partly a result of necessity, given the financial restrictions he faced and I expect that he will be expected to continue that work at United.
There is no doubt that he has worked within tight budgetary controls and that will still be a factor at United. You only have to listen to the co-owners to know that this isn't some vanity project that sees millions being thrown at the team. This also highlights the challenges the club will face, if and when promoted, when up against an increasing number of teams with ever increasing parachute payments.
His sacking in favour of a bigger name and ex-Derby player Steve Maclaren was not exactly welcomed by Derby fans. Many recognised the job he had done in difficult circumstances and although a freshening up may seem sensible, they questioned whether anyone would have done better. After all the club had the faith in him 18 months previous to give him a contract that still had nearly two years left to run.
Clough was in the middle of a long term transition with Derby and a lot of fans believed he was the best man to run with the project. United's transition will be expedited by money and if not the transition itself the expectation will be. It will be interested to see how he responds in a more demanding environment.
Just as Derby felt they would benefit from a change, maybe Clough will benefit from a new challenge. A new challenge, not without expectation, but without some of the baggage that comes from being at one of his father's former clubs.
Chris Morgan and Mick Wadsworth have steadied the ship in the last couple of weeks and it is now up to Clough to build on this and take us forward. You can never dismiss any team you come up against in League 1 and certainly not in our current position; however it is fair to say the upcoming run of fixtures appears kind to our new manager and will hopefully lead to a positive start to his reign.
Any appointment will never gain 100% agreement across a fan-base. People will have their favourites and I think the idea of new money in the club led to some aspirational suggestions from supporters. Maybe the perception of financial reward and money to spend might have attracted certain names, willing to ignore the club's league position, but I don't think they would be the right kind of manager for our club and where we find ourselves right now.
To be honest, I am not sure Clough would have joined in the summer, if he had been a free agent then, so maybe the money is a possible factor in this appointment. At least he is a realistic appointment for the position we are in, not a vanity appointment without lower league knowledge or experience. The key thing for me, now it has been announced, is that whatever their prior opinions or choices, the fans are 100% behind the new manager. That appears to be the case.
I can't say he was my first choice, but I back the board's judgement and wish him the best of luck. Don't under-estimate the luck, as we know from painful experience, you can do so much right before fates conspires against us. Maybe this time the Footballing Gods might look on us kindly…..maybe Old Big 'ead can have a word in their ear…then again, maybe he wouldn't, he won't have that fond a memory of the Blades.

1 comment:

  1. Give him a chance, Clough might get a slice of luck sometimes absent from his time at Derby bar the odd fluke goal.

    For instance, when he took over, you state our early form dissipated. I can tell you why though many Derby fans began to doubt him then. He lost a number of players to the same freak foot injury.

    As for his outbursts, Cywka was unfortunate but he was under severe pressure at the time and saw a much needed win slip out of his hands. But players like Leacock deserved criticism. They were given chances time and again and disappointed. Where are Bywater & Leacock? They hardly went on to cover themselves with glory.

    Porter got injured early in his Derby career.

    Clough is a decent man, forgetting the outbursts. He treated injured players as human beings, ask Shaun Barker & Mark O'Brien.

    Other than that, I agree with your comment about baggage. I once remarked that SUFC would have been a better club for Nigel instead of Derby where he was always compared to his Dad, ridiculous. Look at comments on his appointment. Blades fans', pro/con, are all talking his record at Derby, not his background.

    Every appointment is a risk, my only fear is that Nigel has taken the job on the rebound, but there's so much at SUFC that's already there which he had to build at Derby: the Academy; there is a supportive board keen on a long-term appointment after so many exits; a loyal fan-base. You are in the bottom four but were only a penalty kick away from the Championship.

    In other words, it looks like it should take less time to turn you around than it did at Derby where our board, GSE, is the one who is amateurish and often hide behind a surname.

    Good luck, you're fighting the drop but stranger things have happened like Bournemouth appointing Howe at a similar time & then storming up the table. I doubt that will happen but hopefully you'll finish strongly and that should bode well for the future.