The Lessons in… “With Clough, by Taylor” by Peter Taylor (2)

Hi guys, how’s everything? Welcome to part two of The Lessons in “With Clough by Taylor” by Peter Taylor, the series where I take a look at the ideas brought forwards by Brian Clough’s brilliant assistant in his book retelling their history and try to develop a method to apply them to FM. 

First of all I want to thank you for all the support part one received. This is an special project for me, one born not out of the thrills of the game but of contemplation on the words and work of one the true greats, and I’m happy so many of you enjoyed it even when it wasn’t a piece strictly focused on FM.

In this second part we’ll be discussing the second lesson you can take from the book, and arguably one of the easiest to pick up from it, as every one of their former players could have told you they ruled with and iron fist. Let’s take a look at why and how Clough and Taylor went about their “tyrannical” ways.

Lesson #2: Rule with an iron fist

Pass judgement and act on it

Brian Clough once famously said about the ruthlessness required by the football manager: “In this business you’ve got to be a dictator, or you haven’t a chance”. For Taylor, that means you have to think carefully about what you’re gonna do, but once you take a stance, you have to stick to it; he writes about his arrival to Brighton and Hove Albion in 1973: “My job is: observation, decision, replacement. It wasn’t difficult at Brighton to see who to replace”.

Throughout the book, the moment he arrives at a club, comes the inevitable reckoning, and that cycle of judgement, action and reaction keeps running until they leave. If a player reacts accordingly to their treatment, they stay, if they don’t, good riddance. On their arrival to Hartlepools United, Taylor notes: “The players, […] were mostly free transfers and several of them had personal problems with drink, debt or abandoned wives. We had to discipline some and sack others […]”. And even then, nobody could be completely sure about keeping their jobs, even leaving those who weren’t making the cut exposed to harsh consequences: “[…] there was no sense, with only a couple of months left”, he recounts about planning for the next season with Hartlepools, “in buying boots for lads whom we wouldn’t be keeping for next season. Our players knew their fate without needing to wait for the official retained list in April; they knew by their footwear”.

Clough used to drive the club bus at Hartlepools United as there wasn’t even budget for a driver, so I can’t really justify the players complaining about the shoes issue.

A similar effort was done on their arrival to Derby County, to a harsh but funny degree: “[…] we went in like charging rams. Our cry was, ‘Observe, expose, replace’ […]. I think the casualties at the end of our first season totalled sixteen players, four groundsmen, some caterers, a couple of clerks and a tea lady who laughed after a bad defeat”. In Taylor view, everyone who’s not onboard and ready to push the ship forwards, is dead weight in the best case and a negative force on the worst.

Even more so than the ability to pass a right judgement, Taylor values the determination to pull the trigger. He writes: “To quote Brian on himself, ‘Decisiveness is my greatest quality; I’ve taken more decisions in five years than some managers take in their careers”. Being the one calling the shots can be hard, and many times there’s a lot of emotion involved, but the manager has to remain cold blooded and do what’s best for the club. “There’s no pleasure in parting with a player who has given good service”, Taylor comments on the sale of Willie Carlin, “but the decisions have to be made, however painful. […] money in the bank was more useful than a veteran midfield player in our reserves”.

Willie Carlin played 89 matches for Derby between 1968 and 1970, scoring 14 goals. He was sold for £40k to Leicester City, and would retire four years later.

This zero-compromises, our way or the highway attitude to squad management is best showed in back Taylor calls their “speech to new signings”. He recalls telling prospective signings: “That’s what we’re paid to do – to produce the best side and to win as many things as we can. If we see a better player than you but don’t sign him, then we’re frauds. But we’re not frauds and so just remember that anyone who plays for us can be replaced overnight.”

Fix it or replace it

As we learned during part one, Taylor was firm in his beliefs that a good side is built over time through good and smart recruitment, but he’s also not alien to the idea of building up a player, or recovering one from the wreckage of a failing career.

The best example of this in the book comes across when he speaks of his relationship with winger John Robertson. He recalls coming up to the scotsman after seeing him at an exhibition match in the first months since rejoining with Clough at Forest. “‘I’ve joined this club to observe and, where necessary, to replace people”, he told the player, “and I have a queue of lads for your position but I believe you could do the job better than any of them if you can give me the right answer to one question – not, ‘Do you really want to play for Forest?’ but, ‘Do you even want to play professional football?’”.

After that talk the winger saw how perilously close to ending his career was, and (with the guidance of Clough and Taylor) managed to get it back on track by dropping his bad attitude and taking a more professional stance. Taylor writes: “Robertson’s problems, which sprang from a couldn’t-care-less attitude and a set of hangers-on who had found a footballer only too easily led astray. He was shaken and suggested […] the possibility of another chance. I couldn’t show relief; instead, I laid down the law even more firmly […] ‘you’ll have to put your house in order immediately because there’s no waiting time with me’”.

John Robertson provided the cross from which Trevor Francis scored the winning goal in the 1979 European Cup final. Two of the best players Clough and Taylor had came from two very different sources.

For a manager that goes on and on about class and recruiting players with the right level of skill instead of falling in love with the charms of the youth schemes, he seems rather fond of the instances when the work was done close up, man to man, rather than scouting at the stands or negotiating fees. He admits: “I’ve been responsible for the outlay of millions of pounds, no deal pleased me more than launching the salvation of a brilliant player who cost nothing”.

But cut the tears there, cause Taylor is also firmly convinced about the importance of noticing when there’s nothing to rescue, and the perils of sticking to that mindset. “[…] it’s a common failing of coaches”, he points out, “to see in a player what isn’t there, or to delude themselves into believing they can build qualities into players without the basic ingredient of class”. For Taylor, if he can’t see enough in a player, the effort is not worth it. “We wouldn’t waste time trying to develop players without flair or true class”. 

Even within that same period where Robertson was remade from a failing young player into a key member of a two time European Cup winning team, others fell short: “There’s no denying that the framework of the promotion team, .as well as of the eventual Championship and European Cup teams, awaited me at Forest […] but the playing staff was also cluttered by dead wood. A dozen professionals were sold or released in my first season […]”.

Breed no divas

Now, it’s all well and good when you have to play the big and mean boss with the failing youngster trying to save his career, but what happens when you have to pull the same act with an established pro, or with a big money signing? For Taylor, it’s an all-in or nothing situation. Back down once, and you’re done, no matter where you’re managing: “[…] whether I am manager of Forest, England or Nottingham Pork Butchers I am determined to preserve my standards of team behaviour and discipline”.

He recalls the experience he had with Larry Lloyd, a big centreback signed from Coventry who came with a reputation for being full of himself and disrespecting authority. Taylor set the stage from the get got; “[…] if you don’t want to work for us”, he recalls telling the player, “you can go home and drop out of the game because we’re not frightened to write off £55,000”.

Standing at over 1,87cm and 88kgs Larry Lloyd was a force to be not to be merrily messed with.

But when, even after the warnings, Lloyd refused to back down, things came to a head. After a terrible match, Taylor had some words for his player: “[…] I criticised him in strong language […] he turned white and his fists clenched […]”. For the assistant manager, it was the moment to put himself in the line and set boundaries. “I stood my ground”, Taylor writes, “and warned, ‘If you come for me, that’s you finished”. Lloyd backed down and from there on the relationship was (mostly) pacific. 

This, undoubtedly, is something that both him and Clough picked up from their mentor, Harry Storer. Taylor remembers how his former boss managed the squad, and it’s clear that it influenced his approach: “I saw how he dominated players, for instance, when he descended on a skulking forward and demanded before the whole dressing room: ‘Show me where it is.’ […] ‘The hole,’ he spoke with a terrifying roar. ‘That hole you’re hiding in every bloody match’”.

Taylor points out the benefits of working in front of the whole squad, as Storer did and as it happened on the incident with Larry Lloyd. “A fellow who has shown cowardice in a match, or lied to us, or broken our code of decent behaviour”, he remarks, “would rather be taken to task in the privacy of the office. It’s a terrible shock to him when his offence is paraded before a group of clubmates, and he is always careful not to err again”. The players are not only accountable to the manager, but to his pairs; a scolding from the manager is not news, but being found out letting your teammates down is a much heavier weight to carry around.

Trevor Francis would earn the nickname “Superboy” after rising to prominence with boyhood club Birmingham City as a teenager during the early 70s. His manager at the Blues and later the Nottingham duo would try not to let it get go to his head.

So even when it comes to scolding the most expensive player ever, he and Clough would stay on top of it. “I believed that Trevor [Francis]”, he explains, “had been misled by his own ‘Superboy’ publicity”. He made sure that their superstar kept his feet on the ground by reminding him how far he still had to go: “One goal in one final doesn’t make you a top-class footballer. Until [you have become a established player], you’re a glamour boy who hasn’t produced the goods. […] you won’t justify the fee until you’ve ironed out your limitations”. Whether you were a struggling bench player or a million dollar signing, you got the same treatment, keep your head down, work hard and respect your manager; with Clough and Taylor nobody got a pass.

“If there is anything that we have taught football management”, he writes, “it is the importance of being independent, positive and decisive”, and when it comes to dealing with players, their personalities, their egos, and their flaws, it is vital to act in a way such as to not being stepped over. 

There is, however, little sense in ruling over your squad with a strong hand if they’re gonna melt like a cheap plastic toy in the oven at the first critic; you need players who are strong enough to take it, improve, and move on. That’s what we’re gonna talk about on the next episode.

Until then, thanks for reading!

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  1. Feverpitch

    When you think Trevor Francis was the first million-pound
    player, but his first few games, started from the bench.


    1. fromero92

      Absolutely. In the book Taylor talk about how the Birmingham manager had him do the chores as any other apprentices so it wouldn’t go to his head.


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