I was just emailing a friend who supports Stoke City and explaining that it’s apparently harder to blog when you’re winning 3, 4 and 5 every week than it is to churn out reams of doom when you’re lurking around the relegation line. Derby fans are loving it at the moment – but what do you write?
I’m not sure I’m psychologically geared for success. All these brilliant, brilliant goals, the style of play, the superiority, the talent. It may well not last through the whole season – our luck might turn, the young players might need a bit more help than is currently available, Robbie Savage might start to struggle to play as much as he did last season and there is still no long-term replacement for Rob Hulse – but the important thing is that the curve is upwards and the pattern is improvement. This run of form is the first flowering of Nigel Clough‘s Derby. Who knows where it will end?
When Clough was appointed, there were plenty of people who were concerned by his lack of league management experience. The ‘non-league Nigel’ jibes of Forest fans were shamefully taken up by some of his nay-sayers as Derby struggled to cope with an epic injury crisis last season. Three consecutive home defeats in the bleakest of midwinters, the last by Scunthorpe, 4-1, could have triggered the board to panic and sack him. It’s possible that their lack of experience of English football – who the hell would they appoint? – saved Nigel then, but an upturn in performances saw us safe in the end.
Nobody could have predicted that the coaching staff would get together over the summer, overhaul the tactical system and bring in two absolutely cracking young English players – James Bailey and John Brayford – plus two gifted foreign technicians – Tomasz Cywka and Alberto Bueno – thus radically reinventing a Derby County side which had lacked on-field cohesion or purpose since the promotion season of 2006/7. And crucially, although the Billy Davies way produced winning football, the Clough way is infinitely more entertaining. The players are young and have ability, the fans love them and the team has not been assembled by overspending in a way that would threaten the mid to long-term future of the club.
When Clough was touted as a possible replacement for Paul Jewell, I posted on a forum (I know, I know – I don’t do it any more) that I thought he would be a great appointment. I immediately found myself in a minority of one. In rubbishing the suggestion, one usually sensible commentator cited Clough’s lack of top level experience and then astounded me by saying, ‘I want Paul Ince’ – Ince was, at the time, manager of MK Dons, with only a prior short spell at Macclesfield Town behind him. Clough, I pointed out, was actually far more experienced than Ince, who went on to a disastrous spell at Blackburn Rovers and ended up back with the Dons.
What attracted me to Clough as a candidate was the work he had done at Burton Albion. OK and the name a bit, too. But think about it – Clough had played for England and at the top level for most of his career. His knowledge, experience and contacts put him in a position to apply for jobs at a higher level, but he’d never done it. He and his family lived in this area and I would suggest that here is a man who put his family first and didn’t want to uproot them for the sake of his work.
Even after he managed Burton to a draw with Manchester United in the FA Cup, helping the Brewers to move to their smashing new stadium in the process, he was not tempted away until finally, after he had taken the club to the brink of promotion to the Football League, the opportunity to move up to Derby came.
The impact of his long tenure at Burton is something that I sincerely hope he can duplicate at Derby, because if he can, the club will without a doubt end up as an established force in the Premier League. This will take seasons, but Clough has certainly bought himself plenty more time with the current, scintillating run of form.
There will be bumps and bruises and he has made mistakes, but you know for a fact that a promoted Clough-drilled side would not capitulate as pathetically as the Davies / Jewell shower of 2007/8. Anyway, it’s important not to get ahead of yourself. It’s impossible to predict the future, but at least we finally have the right man at the helm.