Nigel Clough was a talented centre forward for Nottingham Forest, Liverpool, Manchester City and England. He retired and then went to manage a non-league side Burton Albion for ten years- a successful ten years by all accounts- and now he's been promoted in football terms, given the job of turning around Derby County. Derby have been shocking for a while- they were in the Premiership last season and despite changing their manager were relegated with the lowest total of points ever. They have struggled on their return to the Championship- struggled so much that their previous manager resigned. They have a huge squad, potential financial turmoil ahead, but they do have a big stadium and a potentially big support base in the East Midlands. We will return to the Derby situation later- but there is one other factor to consider.
Nigel Clough you see isn't just any football manager. The name Clough in England is synonymous with perhaps the leading manager of the last thirty years, his father Brian Clough. Brian Clough was manager of Derby, Leeds United and Nottingham Forest. His period at Leeds was famously a traumatic and terrible one- but at Derby and Forest he acheived things that noone else ever has, and noone possibly ever will again. At Derby, he won the Championship and got to the semi-finals of the European Cup (two years after arriving at the club moored at the bottom of the English second division). At Forest his period in charge was even more spectacular, taking them to the league championship and winning two European Cups and two league cups. Clough unearthed major players- even in the less successful nineteen nineties it was he who found and nurtured Teddy Sheringham, Stuart Pearce, Des Walker and of course Roy Keane. A Clough returning to Derby is therefore a major event in English football.
So what are the chances of success? Well Derby have plenty of players with Premiership experience- Roy Carroll and Robbie Savage have both played for a long period in the division and have good pedigrees- though Savage's career has been fading for a while. They also have Stephen Pearson- ex Celtic- for example in the midfield. They have Giles Barnes- once seen as a great young prospect. They have Rob Hulse who can do a job in this division as he did for Leeds a couple of seasons ago. Kris Commons has been seen as a promising prospect for a long time too. The sky is not totally grey and if Clough can make a team out of them- they definitely could head towards the higher reaches of the Championship table. I don't know the financial situation up at Derby- there have been rumours of disquiet but as James Hamilton notes Clough knows
Derby well and probably what's happening inside better than I or you do. So the situation might look dire right now, but it is capable of improvement: it is not unusual for teams to yo-yo through the Championship quite considerably (see Crystal Palace under Iain Dowie or Leeds United going the other way under Kevin Blackwell)- Derby could be better than they look both in footballing and financial terms.
How we judge the situation depends as well of what we think of Nigel Clough? Clough was successful at Burton- but he comes to this job with an emense amount of expectation upon him as the young prince of the Clough dynasty, and he has never managed in the league. Set against that the fact that he has demonstrated considerable mental strength over the years- he had to play in his father's team for a while- an experience which must have tested his ability to convince his team mates that he wasn't just there out of nepotism. He also has had to cope with considerable professional disappointment. The fact he stayed at Burton for so long demonstrates something I like and value- a determination to do things his way. He must have an eye for a player having managed at the lower level and he has definitely got the reputation as a player and from comments in the media, as a man, to impress his charges. So as a new league manager, he is a better prospect than most- despite the weight of expectation.
At the moment I am cautiously optimistic. There are downsides to this appointment- I am not sure that going back to Derby would be the move I would have chosen myself. There is the fact that it is unlikely that Nigel will ever be able to emulate Brian's acheivements- the Premiership is a very different world to the competitive seventies Championship, the Champion's League even more so- and that shadow may hang over him. But at the moment in the sunlight of his first appointment- the young prince should be given a chance- afterall he has conducted himself well so far (a rarity in the world of proffesional football) and Derby are one of the old clubs of English football, overdue a revival.
Nothing is ideal in life- in Derby Clough junior has a challenge- for myself I wish and hope he succeeds.