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In profile: Brian Clough

Dubbed 'Old Big 'Ead' in England for his supposed arrogance, Brian Clough showed he had the talent to back up the chat with two European Cup wins at Nottingham Forest.

Brian Clough with the European Cup
Brian Clough with the European Cup ©Getty Images

The evidence
• Steered modest Nottingham Forest to glory in the 1979 and 1980 European Cup finals.

• Led unfashionable Derby County to the English championship aged 37 in 1971/72.

• Won the English title – and the first of four League Cups – with promoted Forest in 1977/78.

The expert testimony
"He's won two leagues with provincial teams, not the big guns, and he's won the European Cup twice in a row with a provincial team. He was eccentric at times but I don't think there was anything wrong with that."
Sir Alex Ferguson, former Manchester United manager

1979: Francis heads Forest to glory

"I walked all the way [around Nottingham on a visit in 1996] and when I saw the stadium I thought: 'Are you kidding me – this club won the European Cup? Twice?'"
José Mourinho, Manchester United manager

"I played for Bill Shankly and Bob Paisley but, without doubt, Cloughie was the best. I can't remember ever having a tactical or coaching lesson from him, but as a football manager he was second to none. He made us feel invincible. Every time we ran out there we thought we would win."
Larry Lloyd, former Nottingham Forest defender

"Every day was a coaching lesson from Brian Clough and when he did come down to the training ground for a 20–25 minute spell, you'd pick up enough in that time to do you a lifetime."
Martin O'Neill, former Nottingham Forest midfielder

"The game is full of bluffers, banging on about 'rolling your sleeves up', 'having the right attitude' and 'taking some pride in the shirt you're wearing'. A manager or coach who trades in those clichéd generalisations – and there are many of them – is missing the point. Brian Clough dealt in detail, facts, specific incidents and invariably he got it right. Playing for him was demanding. I loved it."
Roy Keane, former Nottingham Forest midfielder

Peter Taylor and Brian Clough in 1979
Peter Taylor and Brian Clough in 1979©Getty Images

The back story
Clough was an extraordinarily prolific – if somewhat outspoken – striker for home-town club Middlesbrough, scoring 197 goals in 213 games. He netted 54 more in 61 matches for Sunderland but had to retire at 29 after failing to overcome a cruciate injury sustained in 1962. After a short stint as Sunderland youth team coach, he took charge of Hartlepools United aged 30 in 1965, making him the league's youngest manager. He switched to Derby County in 1967, where his legend began in earnest.

The method
An autocrat with soft skills (as he famously said of resolving issues with players: "We talk about it for 20 minutes and then we decide I was right"), Clough's sides played a straight 4-4-2 with an emphasis on passing football. Clough and assistant Peter Taylor made striker Trevor Francis England's first £1m signing in 1979, yet their great skill was blending unconventional talents and transforming unfancied players – John McGovern, John Robertson, Garry Birtles, Ian Bowyer, Viv Anderson, Martin O'Neill – into world-beaters.

The take-home quotes
"If God had wanted us to play football in the clouds, he'd have put grass up there."

"I wouldn't say I was the best manager in the business. But I was in the top one."

"Rome wasn't built in a day. But I wasn't on that particular job."

A statue of Brian Clough and Peter Taylor stands outside Derby County's stadium
A statue of Brian Clough and Peter Taylor stands outside Derby County's stadium©Getty Images

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