Alan Biggs: Clough sets table for Blades success

Alan Bigg Telegraph
Alan Bigg Telegraph

Nigel Clough sees his style of management as a throwback - but no-one will call it old fashioned if the hands-on methods he was “brought up with” bring success to Sheffield United.

The word “manager” rarely means what it says these days. At Bramall Lane, as Clough presides over all football matters, it certainly does.

And it means Nigel can work on the lines that achieved so much for his famous father.

Latterly, Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger have been in a league of their own in that respect.

Clough junior wouldn’t dream of making any comparison to himself – except for being given his head in one crucial flash of enlightenment at a club that seems finally to have corrected some muddled thinking.

It’s clear in this one-to-one that Nigel is very much in charge.

“My dad used to run his clubs from top to bottom, even the non-football side,” he told me.

“And I think, to a degree, Sir Alex and Arsene Wenger are the last ones to do that.

“I don’t think it’s any surprise or coincidence that Manchester United and Arsenal have had huge success.

“I read that when Sir Alex was brought in, the chairman, Martin Edwards, said that the manager was the most important person at a club.

“I don’t see why that ethos should change over the years.

“Now you get a lot of chief executives or directors of football and so on.

“But the manager is the one who should set the principles for the club.”

Nigel is tracksuited from training but our conversation is conducted across the boardroom table.

That, you feel, is more than symbolic.

At a time when foreign owners are under fire for their interference, United’s new partnership with Prince Abdullah is proving a refreshing antidote.

They are simply letting Clough and his former Derby henchmen Andy Garner and Gary Crosby get on with it.

“That was another attraction, yes,” says the 47-year-old former Nottingham Forest, Liverpool and England striker.

“It’s their first investment in England and we’ve been around football a long time. I hope they trust us to look after that investment and maximise it. I still see the chairman of my first club, Burton.

“I don’t think many managers would be friends with a chairman after so long.

“He trusted us to look after his money as if it was our own.

“There are times when you have to spend but you shouldn’t do it frivolously – another thing we’ve been brought up with.

“We keep an eye on everything – because everything reflects what you’re trying to do and how.

“We want the academy lads to play in a certain way because of continuity and being on the same page when they step up.

“That’s what we tried to do at Derby and why we brought so many youngsters through; Will Hughes a prime example.

“The teams we pick and the players we bring in has to be our responsibility, nobody else’s.

“We try to ignore the self-interest, self-preservation side of things.

“The talks we had at the beginning were along the lines of ‘we’ve got to build something and it’s going to take a bit of time.’

“We’re trying to bring in somebody at the moment who might not benefit us much this season but might do next season.

“We’re in a battle to stay in League One but there’s an element of building as well.”

All very refreshing and total commonsense.

Unlike his brash and charismatic dad, Clough junior is quietly spoken. But he makes every word count.

More of them next week.

Gray and Bully are doing what Milan wants

Well done Stuart Gray. You weren’t on my Owls shortlist when Dave Jones left. Or Milan Mandaric’s.

Whatever they call you (head coach seems closest as I write) you’re doing the job alright. Yes, your lack of a title has looked harsh considering apparent promises to resolve that issue earlier.

But the plain fact is the chemistry has worked and wily old Milan Mandaric wasn’t about to tamper with it.

Hopefully, Gray and Bullen will feel their treatment is fair in all respects, including financial, to keep the momentum intact – while, as is ever more apparent, Mandaric and Paul Aldridge drive all matters off the field.

Solving the riddle of the manager’s position

I wonder what the future holds at S6 - in spite of learning never to second guess Milan Mandaric! It’s as if he’s been likelier to clear up the management riddle when everyone was looking the other way... after an unlucky defeat maybe (Burnley away on Saturday?) Or perhaps, having looked for a “strong personality”, he hasn’t seen Gray as traditional manager material? Another part of the puzzle is that number two Lee Bullen must be stretched keeping up with his vital day job with the development squad. But here’s the bottom line; nobody, surely, will buy a football club until it is safe from relegation. So I can’t look far enough ahead to answer my own question!