I have little doubt that thirty, forty or fifty years from now, in a world that has grown old enough to forget, we’ll be telling anyone willing to listen how the world almost went to sh*t and we were asked to lock ourselves in our homes for safety. Hardly as inspiring a tale as the one told by the generations that went through the Wars, but every bit as terrifying for those on the front lines. For the rest of us, it’s more a fight of exhaustion, a mental duel with a series of invisible yet ever dangerous enemies.
Trying to cling on to any sense of usefulness, I’ve been doing quite a lot of reading lately. Once an avid reader, the ever so sensual light of the screens had driven me away from the joy of books. This being as good as any moment to get back a it, I tackled a previously started tome that laid dormant, waiting for me at my bookshelf: Peter Taylor’s own recount of his time working with Brian Clough, “With Clough by Taylor”.
Originally published in 1980, it’s fair to say Clough wasn’t a fan of his colleague’s work
The book is a very interesting insight into the workings of a relationship that brought massive success to clubs like Derby County and Nottingham Forest, but is also one of those perfectly timed photographs; written when the pair were at the height of their success, just a couple of years after the book was published the two would have a fallout (of which the book was allegedly at least in part guilty) and never talked to each other again.
Even more, however, it can be seen as a guide. Hidden (sometimes not very well) between the biographical data and the anecdotes, you can catch glimpses of a “handbook to management” of sorts, a detailed description of a system of work. After I finished it, I figured a recollection of such details could be made, in an effort to paint a picture of how the two-time european champion and his assistant worked, and what we can learn from it. This series will be split into four parts, containing three lessons and a final “practical” chapter of sorts, where we go into applying them into Football Manager. Without any further ado, here are The Lessons in “With Clough by Taylor” by Peter Taylor
Lesson #1: Play the transfer market
Act without doubt
While he doesn’t spend half the book citing his influences, Taylor does bring up the main men who, in one way or another, were crucial to what he and Brian Clough achieved. One such man was manager Harry Storer; he writes about the former Coventry City manager: “He boiled down the job to one sentence – ‘It’s easy to be a good manager; all you do is sign good players’ – and then he would wink. He knew that was the hardest part of all”. It’s a simple message, but one that can be overlooked, particularly in modern times. If you take a look at what the top teams in world football are doing to be there, recruitment is something they all have in common. Way before any tactical philosophy or training technique, what will bring a great team down is bad recruitment.
A close inspection of M. United’s latest signings reads like a who’s who of terrible recruiment. My personnal favourite has to be effectively spending 30M pounds (what Mkhi cost) on soon to be free Alexis and giving him a record salary for a total of 5 goals. Mr. Taylor would dissaprove.
Overspending, underspending, selling on the low or losing players on bad financial decisions, all affect the overall quality of the team, and how it performs on the pitch. Without great recruitment, there can be no great team, but at the moment of backing your judgement with money, doubt can creep in and Taylor knows this full well. “I came to understand the difference”, he writes, “between assessing a player when the transfer is a dream and looking at the same man when the cash is in your hand and the deal a reality”
One of the main points Taylor brings across in the book is the importance of a manager to put his money were his mouth is, and doing it decisively; he notes about his signing of Tranmere Rovers’ Roy McFarland: “A few hours [after the deal was done] I believe that [Bill] Shankly reached for a phone and blasted [Tranmere Rovers’ manager] Dave Russell for not warning him of our swoop, but Liverpool themselves had been complacent. Big Ron Yeats was the unshakeable centre-half in a winning Anfield team, so the club view on McFarland seemed to be, ‘He’s always just round the corner should we need him’”. Moving with intent when a possible signing is there for the taking is one of Taylor’s ethos: “We pipped nobody for McFarland”, he writes, “a future England star had been available to anyone prepared to back their judgement”.
Spend, spend, spend
Brian Clough and Peter Taylor are renowned, amongst other things, for being the first to pay a million british pounds for a player (Trevor Francis from Birmingham City, in 1979), and that attitude towards signing players appears very frequently in the book: “[…] Brian and I never stint on fees or wages once sure of getting value for money”. It’s something Taylor truly believes in, and nothing will get in his way when targeting a top player. He recalls an argument he had with a member of the Derby County board about the signings they made: “I tried to tell him, ‘The influx of players into a club must never stop,’ but it was like talking to a wall”. In order to sustain the quality of a team, the right signings must be done, and the football manager can never sit on his hands.
Former Arsenal Chief Executive Ivan Gazidis is said to have sat on a 200M pounds war chest that could have brought the club back to the top of the EPL, and instead had their fans watch five seasons of Wenger winging it with what he had available. Not on Peter Taylor’s watch.
Of course, that is particularly true when talking about a team with clear flaws, or when you’re about to face tougher opposition. After getting promoted with Forest, he recalls saying to Clough: ‘Now we’ll really have to get out the cheque book’. According to Taylor, the only way to get yourself out of a hole as a football team is to buy yourself a ladder. As he cites Clough pointing out how necessary good results are for a small club, he also never doubts how to employ those rewards: “Money cascades on successful teams”, he claims, “and I am never loath to spend it”.
Sell on time
As much as Peter Taylor puts a focus on the intent and the spending it takes to build a great team, he’s not oblivious to the much less glamorous side of the transfer market: selling players. As he puts it, it’s all about choosing the correct moment; he writes: “It’s as important in football as in the stock market to sell at the right time”.
He’s always conscious of the importance of being alert and mindful of the needs of the clubs around his own, and how that information can benefit his own side. He recalls the situation that arose after Nottingham Forest signed goalkeeper Peter Shilton in 1977: “The arrival of Shilton meant the displacement of [current goalkeeper] Middleton, which was followed by events illustrating the importance of timing in the transfer market”. He proceeded to identify as a target a former player of theirs, Derby County’s Archie Gemmill, who had made his unrest about playing under new manager Tommy Docherty public. “We needed Archie’s dynamism down the left of midfield and Docherty needed our surplus ’keeper”, writes Taylor, “We offered Middleton and £20,000 for Gemmill, and it was accepted”.
Winger Archie Gemmill won an European Cup with Clough and Taylor at Nottingham Forest, but was dropped out of the team for the Final. As we’ll soon learned, the magic pair were not afraid to do whatever they thought was best for the club.
However, it’s not always as smooth. “The transfer market is full of pitfalls and no one in it is infallible”, Taylor comments. When the wrong player is brought to the team, and the manager is sure that two will never fit together, there’s only one solution possible according to Taylor: “A small loss is always preferable to trying to justify an unsuccessful signing […]”.
Sign good signings
“What is a good signing?”, Taylor asks himself and the reader, “It has to be measured on what you pay, what service you get and what profit can be made when selling”. If you’re paying too much for a player who could be easily replaced by a cheaper option, then that’s not a good signing, but then again if you go cheap and get a bad player instead, that’s not good also. For Taylor, a player you can’t get rid of afterwards for decent money is also a no-go.
For a man so bent on getting the player whatever the cost, he seems to have a rather straight forwards definition of what constitutes a great deal: “A good signing is not breaking transfer records but backing your judgement on a player available to everyone at a modest fee […]”, he writes. It’s not about going all-in on a bank-breaking transfer but trusting your discernment and your guts when nobody else will, and then reaping the rewards, either by filling the trophy cabinet or by selling at a profit.
Apart from their famous double win at the European Cup, Clough and Taylor won 2 First Division titles, 2 League Cups, a Second Division title, a Charity Shield and a European Super Cup.
It all boils down to the principles he learned from Harry Storer all those years ago. “Every game he played for us” he writes when talking about iconic signing Dave Mackay, “confirmed our theory of management: assemble good players, handle them properly and extract their best”. It’s a message that really comes across everytime he discusses what could be considered “their secret”. Over any kind of tactic or play-style philosophies, any methodical training wizardry or psychological revolution, the truth Peter Taylor most relies on is solid recruitment and man management.
Nevertheless, a methodology of work being simple doesn’t mean it’s easy to carry out. “Success in football”, writes Taylor, “rests on a simple principle: find talent, then handle it. And handling it often requires ruthlessness […]”. And that’s what we’re gonna discuss next time.
Until then, thanks for reading.