Alan Biggs: Clough intends to sharpen up Blades

Alan Bigg Telegraph
Alan Bigg Telegraph

Football managers have varying methods and I’m no fan of that familiar refrain when one takes over from another.

It usually goes along the lines of the players “aren’t fit enough.”

Too many do it and I loved the scathing response this week of new Ireland boss Martin O’Neill to similar claims made by his Sunderland successor Paolo Di Canio.

O’Neill called Di Canio a “managerial charlatan” who just reached for the readiest excuse. Quite right, too.

One of the many things to admire about Nigel Clough is that you won’t hear any such below-the-belt mantra from him.

So it’s by utter coincidence that word reaches this column that improving fitness standards IS among the priorities of Sheffield United’s new boss.

It comes by chance rather than design from reliable sources outside Bramall Lane and is unlikely to be trumpeted from within.

From what I gather, Clough’s first pre-season programme next summer will contrast sharply with that of Weir’s approach in the opening weeks of his ill-fated reign.

Players traditionally hate hard running but it is proven for building up stamina – and apparently there was very little of it last summer.

The grapevine suggests Clough has found tired legs in some cases.

He’s already changed matchday routines that saw players ordered to report by late morning for home games in a slow-burn routine that can induce boredom. That said, all managers make mistakes. Inexperience turns into experience when those are learned from. Weir is bright enough to do exactly that.

And in his next job he’ll also be finding things to change.

Equally, there are things that will work for him and not for other managers. Clough’s approach is simplistic like his famous father’s.

It’s more about putting the right players in the right positions than any tactical wizardry.

With wins in league and Cup, he has made a good start.

And it seems the prime mover in Clough’s appointment, Prince Abdullah, will be in attendance to sample the Bramall Lane matchday experience for the first time on Saturday... another feelgood factor for Gillingham’s visit.

It’s a mood makeover and I’ll be surprised if the Blades look back from this big turning point.

* Talking of running, it never did Howard Wilkinson any harm! Happy birthday Howard, 70 yesterday. And congratulations in advance to new PFA chairman Ritchie Humphreys, set to make his 600th league appearance for Chesterfield on Saturday.

Jones Owls anger is justified

You can understand Dave Jones’ anger. For a team to set a standard and then instantly fall so far below it was plainly unacceptable, culminating in a warning of changes by the Sheffield Wednesday boss.

But of a team that picked itself at Derby (oh, yes it did, be honest you 4-5-1 merchants!), how many can effectively be threatened?

Three of the best players (Roger Johnson, Matty Fryatt and Connor Wickham) are on loan. The fear here is that the Owls will lose their services, not the other way round.

Two others – Stephen McPhail and Seyi Olofinjana – are on short-term deals they are looking to cement. Having managed both in the past, Jones is in their corner.

That’s half a team in a state of some uncertainty. Not that any lack of commitment is insinuated. Quite the reverse. They all have something to prove and all the evidence is that they – and every player – have fully supported a manager who needs that backing right now as much as ever.

From Jones perspective, there is not much scope for obvious change. So his short, sharp shock after the 3-0 defeat at Derby has to be a one-off.

And he has to hope it sparks a Reading-style response from the only side in the country still without a clean sheet.

But the accent has to be – again – on scoring more goals than the opposition against Huddersfield next week.

Support the Carlton 10k

Imre Varadi tells me he’s “starting” the Carlton Palmer 10k in Sheffield. I imagine he’ll be running the first bit. But no. . .

Turns out the former Owls (and Blades) star will be standing around with a gun in his hand! The rest of us are not quite so fortunate, but runners always find pleasure in pain – especially for a fantastically worthwhile charity.

The course is not quite as good as the cause (no escaping the hills around Dore and Whirlow) but ex-Wednesday and England star Palmer has strong support in aid of Cavendish Cancer Care.

I’m just wondering by how many minutes I’ll trail this hard-driving box-to-box player?

There’s still time to enter for a week on Sunday (November 24th). Even you Imre! No entries on the day. www.cavcare.org.uk/Carlton

Eagles celebrate home return

Sport is big business – some of it far too big for its own good – but Sheffield Eagles’ return to Owlerton Stadium is more about community spirit.

The rent is nominal. By return, the multi-purpose venue will have catering rights – and in that regard the stadium is backing Eagles to draw a crowd.

Last night, relieved supporters of the city’s rescued rugby league outfit were at Owlerton to celebrate the Eagles return “home.”

Plans for a stand from Don Valley to go with them were scuppered. But some things are a good deal more precious than bricks and mortar.