Mihir Bose: Why Brian Clough would no longer feel at home in English football

In rugby much is being made about how England’s head coach Stuart Lancaster has brought back Englishness to the oval ball game. Yet look at the round ball game and you see that foreign culture is not only accepted but cherished. A glimpse of this was provided when there was much surprise that Tim Sherwood, as English as they come, would take over when Andre Villas-Boas, who could not be less English, was sacked. Yes there was surprise that Sherwood had no experience of first team coaching at this level but in many ways the greatest surprise was that he was English.

At about the same time Tottenham were making that appointment West Bromwich Albion was going Spanish appointing Pepe Mel and his first game in charge was against another Spaniard, Roberto Martinez of Everton. Even before the season began the two Spaniards had met as Mel, then managing Betis, had brought his team to Goodison for a pre-season friendly. “We had,” Martinez told me when I spoke to him recently, “a very good conversation before the game. I could see that he was blown away by the English League, had a real understanding and knowledge of the players and the way of playing and I knew he would end up in the Premier League.”

It was during that conversation with Martinez that I became aware of how Brian Clough’s game had changed. One of my questions was that in replacing a long standing manager in David Moyes did Martinez feel he should act as Clough did when he went to Leeds as Don Revie’s successor in 1974? Now Moyes had nothing like the success Revie had at Leeds. Nevertheless, for all his current problems at Manchester United, Moyes is, rightly, considered to have done a very good job at Everton for eleven seasons, more so given the financial constraints. Martinez’s answer was very illuminating.

But before we come to that let us remind ourselves as to what Brian Clough did at Leeds. The words are that of Johnny Giles, a legendary Leeds player under Revie. “He was,” recalled Giles when I spoke to him on this subject sometime ago, “on his holidays in Spain when he was appointed Leeds manager. He came back, signed his contract and went back on holiday again. We were back pre-season training. Most managers get back with the players as quickly as they can. But it was typical of Brian Clough. His first thing was I’m going to show these guys who is boss, so I’ll come back when I’m ready. He came back but even after three days he hadn’t spoken to anybody. Billy [Bremner] went to see him and said, ‘Look, do you think you should have a word with the players?’ And he said, ‘Okay.’ That’s when we met and we were waiting for him in the players lounge. We were sitting in the lounge and he came in and standing in front of us he said, ‘Right, you fucking lot. All the medals you’ve won, you can get them and throw them in that fucking bin over there.’

Then he said to Norman Hunter, ‘You’re a dirty bastard, everybody hates you. And I know everybody likes to be liked, and you’d like to be liked, wouldn’t you?’ And Norman shrugged and said, ‘I couldn’t give a fuck.’ To Eddie Gray he said, ‘If you’d been a horse, you’d have been put down years ago.’ Eddie had had injuries, but Eddie was a terrific guy and had the total sympathy of the players. And Eddie said, ‘You should know how I feel, you finished prematurely with injury.’ So, Brian Clough never got off first base.”

As to why Clough behaved in that fashion Giles says, “Brian wasn’t the most secure lad. Most people in football are paranoid anyway, especially in management. They always think somebody’s after their job. He was convinced that I wanted the job and that I would plot against him. But I didn’t.”

Now, exactly 39 years later, Martinez walks into the Everton training ground at Finch Farm to have his first meeting with the players. So did he do a Clough?

The moment I ask him the question Martinez laughs and says of Clough at Leeds, “That’s a great story. I have seen the movie. I think football has changed a lot since then. You could conduct yourself in the dressing rooms in that manner because there was only one culture. There was only one way of working. Now you have to be a little bit more open minded because the dressing rooms in the Premier League are multicultural. So people react differently to change, people react differently to disappointment. Players of different cultures react differently to defeats. And you need to be very wary of all that and try to fit into the team.

“What is important is that Everton were very, very strong in that respect. Everything was about the team and the dynamics. It’s been easy for me to pick it up from that perspective bearing in mind that there are different cultures. I have been able to relate to the Spanish speakers really well because I have been in their position. I came to this country in 1995 and it was a culture shock. And I have understood that you have to be open-minded and go along with it rather than comparing things and looking to your own background. It is important that you manage a team in a multi-cultural approach.”

This is despite the fact that he has dramatically changed Everton’s style of playing moving from Moyes’ more direct approach to possession play where the accent is on passing. What makes this comment all the more interesting is that in many ways Martinez’s progress as a manager has been a very British one from League One Swansea through Wigan to Everton. Many English managers, led by Harry Redknapp, complain that the English present crop of would-be home grown managers no longer have that sort of apprenticeship. “I agree,” says Martinez, “that a lot of English managers don’t have that opportunity. It is very difficult to have an opportunity in the Premier League.”

And even when some English managers, like Sherwood, do get the opportunity, they know they have to cope with a world that has changed dramatically since the days of Clough.

Take diving. Martinez unhesitatingly agreed with me that the influence of continental football has increased diving in the English game. “It has”, he told me, “come from the continent, absolutely. Players on the continent have been brought up on diving and everyone is allowed to get a decision. If both teams are allowed, that is not seen as cheating, it is seen as being clever and helping your team. But that is a great cultural contrast to what is seen in the English game. We see diving as trying to cheat the referee, as wrong. In the continent, if you dive and help your team, the feeling is you are clever enough to do it and the other team is able to do it too. So whoever does best will get the right decision.”

But if this is a continental import Martinez does make it clear that he has been influenced by the English in his reactions to diving. “I now,” he says, “discipline players who dive. I didn’t in the first few years because I couldn’t understand why you wouldn’t support a player who got a decision which won you three points. Over the years I have understood that it’s more important how you get the results rather than just get the result. I do feel now I wouldn’t enjoy seeing a player dive in order to get a result and not be fair to other players. All for the sake of getting a result.”

And his own acceptance of the English attitude to diving makes him say, “English football will never lose its traditions and values. That is vital.”

That may be so. But nevertheless English football has become a game Brian Clough would not have understood, let alone liked.

Mihir Bose was the first sports editor of the BBC. He has worked for various media outlets and launched the Inside Sport column for the Daily Telegraph. Now a freelance journalist he has written 28 books. His latest book: Game Changer: How the English Premier League Came to Dominate the World was published by Marshall Cavendish for £14.99. Follow Mihir on twitter @mihirbose