The Lessons in… “With Clough, by Taylor” by Peter Taylor (3)

Hey guys, how’s it going? Welcome to part three of The Lessons in “With Clough, by Taylor” by Peter Taylor, the series where we take a look at Brian Clough assistant’s memoir of his time with the two time European Cup winner and try to distill their method to take what can be learned from it, and apply it to Football Manager.

Once again I want to thank all of you for the support and encouragement words. As I said last time, I was pleasantly surprised to find that a series a bit unconventional this has still managed to gather interest. It really helps me to keep going so thanks a lot!

So, last time we learned of Clough and Taylor’s way of running the dressing room, with a no-nonsense attitude and a knack for getting into their players’ head, for good and for worse. The problem is managers with that kind of style require a certain type of team; one that can take it in the chin and move one, who respond to being bullied into performing at their highest level and not shrink at the challenge. Not every player can work under that type of managing, so it’s the job of the gaffer (and his assistant in this case) to put together a side that matches his or their strong methods. Let’s see how the Nottingham Forest manager and his partner did it…

Lesson #3: Build a strong side

Assemble a strong willed team

Taylor seems to have had an eye for a strong headed player since his days as a journeyman goalkeeper. He recalls of his first sighting of Clough, who was at the time a young striker at Middlesbrough: “He seemed pushy, a know-all and arrogant – but never forget that arrogance is an asset in a footballer”. What he saw in that young prospect was what he would eventually go looking for in his future signings.

He did not see in Clough the failings behind the reason why so many talented youngsters fail to make it at the professional level: “It seems to me”, he writes, “that the game has been too easy for the overwhelming majority of schoolboy stars; they have strolled through matches from the age of eight, playing with and against inferior talents. They have never learned to stretch themselves, they have never been forced to compete. And so they have nothing to draw upon when they join a league club, where they need new ideas because they are no longer cock of the walk”. The young striker he saw in 1955 was ready for the challenge.

Born in Nottingham in 1928, Peter Taylor played as a goalkeeper for Nottingham Forest, Coventry City, Middlesbrough, Port Vale and Burton Albion, where he would later begin his managing career.

Even when Clough’s teammates protested over the young striker being designed as captain, Taylor disagreed: “I believe in choosing captains for leadership, irrespective of their position”. For the soon to be retired goalie, the right personality weighted more than Clough’s youth or position; his will to triumph, to overcome obstacles, and his ambition to keep moving forwards was all it took. “His strength”, Taylor writes, “was an enormous ability to want”.

His methods can be once again traced back to the ever-present Harry Storer: “[He] admired skilful footballers”, Taylor recalls, “provided they also shaped like prospective VCs (Victoria Cross for valour). I can still hear him musing, ‘Yes, I agree that lad can play – but can he play when some big, angry bloke is trying to stop him?’”. One of the funniest anecdotes in the book comes from Taylor’s time under his mentor at Coventry City: “Joe Mercer, when manager of Sheffield United, phoned Harry to protest […]. ‘I don’t know why you bothered to bring a ball,’ said Joe. ‘Two of your players didn’t need one. They kicked us, instead’”. When Storer asked the Blades manager to name the players, he refused, afraid he would get them into trouble. “‘I’ll do nothing to them’”, Taylor recalls Storer saying, “‘I’m going to crucify the other nine!’”.

Harry Storer (1898-1967), footballer, cricketer, manager and hard-man extraordinaire. He was Clough and Taylor’s mentor and in many ways a manager ahead of his time.

It is then logical that they looked for those qualities when the young Derby County side they built required a captain. He writes about signing Dave Mackay: “We wanted such an indomitable character. […] Most of all, we wanted him as the old head to captain a young team […]”. Mackay was at the brink of retirement, and playing at a position he hadn’t previously played at, but all it took was that competitive edge, that determination, to be the right man for guiding the youngsters.

Those same qualities need to be shared by the squad. It’s not about having a hard-man leading group of unambitious, uninterested players, but rather have him be the best amongst his pairs, the leader of a determined, focused team. Taylor reminisces of their arrival to 3rd Division strugglers Brighton and Hove Albion: “Brian studied their team and summed up the problem in a sentence: ‘We’ll have to get some players with coal on their faces’”. It would have been of little point to install a Mackay-like figure there, they needed to build a team of fighters first.

Build a strong club culture

One of the things Taylor remarks is the importance of growing a club culture, developed from this winning mentality. His analysis of the end of Clough’s time as a player at his first club shows his thinking: “Middlesbrough were the wrong club for Brian”, he recalls, “because they didn’t know how to cope with a radical going crazy to burst into the First Division”. In Taylor’s opinion, where the North Yorkshire club were going wrong was with their lack of ambition; he  saw the board of directors as “[…] nice men running a pleasant club that treated players decently while getting nowhere”, and that the appointing of Clough as captain was the right decision as “[…] the team needed the spur of a dedicated winner […]”.

Between 1954 and 1964, Brian Clough scored 197 goals in 217 matches for Middlesbrough and 54 in 61 for Sunderland before a knee injury cut his career short at the age of 29.

He and Clough believed firmly in going in with force and imposing a strong club culture from the get go, even in the worst circumstances. He recalls the state Hartlepools United was in when they showed up: “Someone told me just after our arrival that the club had been losing since the First World War when a Zeppelin bombed the ground and the directors unsuccessfully sued the Kaiser”. It was mandatory to them to break with that attitude and develop a strong winning mindset.

They didn’t just apply this method to the construction of the club’s mentality, but also to the building of the squad from the standpoint of the player’s they prioritized when reinforcing the squad. “I have an old-fashioned idea”, Taylor writes, “about constructing successful football sides; I believe in strength down the middle – a good goalkeeper, a good centre-half, a good centre-forward. They are the spine of a side”. A side without weaknesses at its core is a side that cannot be easily exposed.

The same could be said of the club’s economic movements and focus. “I believe”, Taylor writes,  “that a club wanting the best players must accommodate their pay demands […]”. Their club will not freely or carelessly let talent leave, but will take all measures necessary to retain the players valuable to the outfit. Everything in their method is veered towards the construction of a winning mentality, at every level.

Don’t underestimate quality

Now, as we seen in the last part, the one thing Taylor values in a player is what he calls “class”, which comes to mean a kind of intrinsic quality the player posseses, a level of skill that cannot be taught. When criticizing the choices of at the time England Manager Ron Greenwood, Taylor comments on the former West Ham boss’ fixation on certain players that, in his view, lacked that vital ingredient: “Above all, we would have gone for class. You win nothing without it […]”. 

A photo of Mesut Özil? How did this find it’s way into this article? It must be a mistake…

So, what happens when you’ve got a player with the right skills-set but nowhere near the right attitude? For Taylor, it’s all about the balance. “I like heart in players”, he writes, “although I would take a lad who hid from the nasty tackling if he could drop the ball wherever he fancied; but a team doesn’t want too many like him”. A team built with the right mind-set can “tolerate” some crafty wingers or creative number 10s as long as their skill allows them to contribute enough to compensate their laid-back attitude.

Much the same happens at the other end of the spectrum, you don’t want too many big wigs without the sufficient skill. He comments: “I don’t look for hard men because a flowing side can’t be built on an overuse of muscle”. And that way of thinking is applied not only to physical or mental strength, but to any athletic ability; according to Taylor, there’s no point in being the strongest, the tallest or the fastest if you can’t also play football: “Some managers put pace as their number one requirement; for me, it’s only a close second. I’ve seen footballers who move like lightning but produce nothing because they can’t pass […]”. It’s fair to say, then, that the Nottingham Forest assistant manager would have been a fan of the kinds of Andrés Iniesta and Xavi Hernández. He writes: “The capacity to knock the ball twenty yards or more to a teammate when under challenge tells me that I’m looking at a craftsman”.

Midfield maestro Xavi Hernández found his way to the Barcelona first team after manager Johan Cruyff removed a La Masia rule where youth prospects suspected of being unlikely to reach 1,80 metres in height would be released from the Youth Sides.

Probably the best example of this “exception” rule to squad building in the book comes from technically gifted defender Colin Todd. “[He] had a failing”, recalls Taylor, “he lacked ambition. Kevin Keegan summed him up when remarking that Colin would rather play darts in a pub than win an England cap. This flaw showed in his football by cramping his vision; he would play short stuff instead of delivering the killer ball”. Regardless of that, Todd ended up playing over 290 games for Derby County under Clough and the managers that followed him at the Rams.

Don’t let it decay

So let’s assume everything is done. You’ve played the transfers game, spending all the money you made, selling at the right time and signing value players until you’ve built a level headed, skilled squad that can take some criticism in strong language and isn’t too full of itself, what then? If you ask Taylor the answer is… do it all over again. He writes: “It’s an unpopular part of management, but it has to be done. A manager should always be looking for signs of disintegration in a winning side and then sell the players responsible before their deterioration is noticed by possible buyers”.

One of the only drawbacks of the book being published in 1980 is that we don’t get to read Taylor’s take on the fallout that followed soon after they lifted their second European Cup, nor his thinking on the downslope path that Forest went on after that, so we can’t read a first-hand testimonial. However, there is a similar case Taylor examines: Brian Clough’s infamous 44 day reing at Leeds United.

From left: Paul Reaney, Johnny Giles, Allan Clarke, Jack Charlton, Billy Bremner, Peter Lorimer, Norman Hunter, and David Harvey. The figures of Don Revie’s Leeds celebrate winning the FA Cup in 1972; by 1980 all had left Leeds United, with the core of Giles, Bremner and Hunter gone by 1976.

Taylor’s main take is that Clough failed mainly due to the fact that he inherited a crumbling squad. “Revie and Cocker left a side starting to grow old”, he writes. As per his recollection, Clough agrees: “Fear spread through that club. The directors were frightened because I hadn’t won the first seven games; the players were frightened of their age. It was the culmination of a thousand things […] But mostly fear”. He points out that some of his friend’s decision’s weren’t spot on, but in his mind the biggest problem was the contrast between how much was expected and how little had been done to maintain the squad’s competitiveness over the years.

In Taylor’s mind the biggest obstacle to retaining that hunger, that competitive edge is winning; he writes: “Complacency often sets in when clubs win honours; managers sit back, satisfied with their side”. It’s then one of the football manager’s biggest challenges to keep the clock ticking, keep his players ambitious and not letting it all fall to pieces: “The difficult part of football management is keeping a side hungry for success and not allowing them to relax or lower their standards”.

Now we know some of the core aspects of the Clough-Taylor method; it’s all about being relentless in your persuit of improving a team, be it via the transfermarket, the managment of the players or the building of a winning mentality. It’s then time to take a look at how to implement these ideas into our Football Manager save, and that’s what next episode will be about.

Until then, thanks for reading!

Published by fromero92

Argentinian writer and journalist

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: