THERE’S a tired old cliché in football, one trotted out by inane talkshow callers and eagerly peddled by chairmen to justify casting honest men out of work. It goes: “Manager X has taken us as far as he can”, and the inference is that the poor sap in the dugout lacks the tactical nous or transfer savvy to improve the club.
What it really means is: “Sorry, pal, I know your hands are tied by the budget but the gates are dropping and we can’t give you any more cash so canning you off is the only way we can generate a bit of excitement. You know how it is.”
Presumably, that’s what Derby chief executive Sam Rush was thinking on Saturday evening when he called the club’s owners in America to recommend the termination of Nigel Clough’s contract. Or perhaps he had simply taken the huff after rowing with Clough following the 1-0 defeat to Forest and gone telling tales to teacher.
Either way, the result was the callous, unjustifiable and deeply sad dismissal of the man who kept Derby afloat for almost five years.
Five years of dwindling budgets. Five years in which he had cut the wage bill by some 60 per cent. Five years of being forced to sell every talented player he’d nurtured. Five years of fielding raw kids. Yet five years in which Derby never once came close to relegation and even flirted with the play-offs.
And you know what? Clough never moaned. If you asked him about budget restrictions, he’d tell you the truth.
But unlike Billy Davies, his counterpart on Saturday, he didn’t spend every Press conference demanding more money or whining that the squad wasn’t strong enough.
He accepted the situation and got on with it. He did the board’s dirty work with dignity and class. He took the pelters for the mid-table stasis.
He laid the foundations, yet his only reward was to be robbed of the chance to build on them. Shame on Rush and the Derby board for that.
What makes the situation so sad is that replacement Steve McClaren will probably finish higher than Clough; if not now, then certainly within three years. Not because he is “better” but because of what he has inherited. After the wreckage of their single-season stay in the Premier League, Cough’s cost-cutting has finally helped Derby level out.
Though they still lose around £8m per year, this is the first season in five when the playing budget hasn’t been cut.
What’s more, Clough brought through a host of talented young players like Jeff Hendrick and Will Hughes, who will be flogged for millions. They will provide either the basis of a good team, or the warchest to build one.
And let’s not be naïve. With a controversial decision to justify, you can bet your bottom dollar that the men upstairs will shove more cash McClaren’s way than they ever offered Clough. Given that he kept the Rams in mid-table with pennies to play with, just imagine what he could have done with those resources.
Now we will never know. So don’t fall for the mealy-mouthed claptrap about “new directions” or “moving to the next level”.
Because Clough didn’t take Derby as far as he could. He took them as far as he was allowed.
AS he is a rookie boss who has dragged a big club to the foot of League One, it would be easy to say that David Weir is out of his depth.
But before Sheffield United fans start baying for blood, they should ask themselves why a rookie manager is there in the first place.
Is it because the board were bold and forward-thinking? Or is it because everybody with a reputation to protect knew that the club were skint and ran a mile? I know what my money’s on.
Since relegation from the Championship in 2011, the Blades have been slashing costs all over the shop. Like Danny Wilson before him, Weir has been expected to challenge for promotion with a squad full of freebies and green kids.
So what if they’re a famous name? Ferrari could make a scooter and it wouldn’t set lap records round Silverstone.
Yes, Weir is inexperienced. Yes, his side are losing. At times, his tactics have frustrated the fans at Bramall Lane. But he is learning his trade in the toughest environment going, a club in the doldrums with no money to spend.
With new owners, that may change in January. Judge Weir then, not now.
TOP FLIGHT WON’T BE LOSERS OF A WINTER WORLD CUP
I’VE not got much time for folk whinging about a Winter World Cup. After all, it is a “World” Cup. Why should our tiny corner of the globe dictate when it is played?
Like most South American countries, the Brazilian season runs from May to December, meaning every World Cup punches a hole in their schedule.
But they don’t bleat like the Premier League and it hasn’t exactly stopped them winning the thing has it?
The Premier League could factor in a winter break for a tournament played in December and January. It just doesn’t want to.
But the Football League? I’m not so sure. Leagues One and Two would probably be unaffected. Even the Championship could soldier on, at least if Scotland and Ireland failed to qualify.
But the number of internationals playing in the second tier is increasing every year. By 2022, who’s to say England won’t be delving in.
If one team loses a job lot of players, in the name of fairness, the whole thing would have to shut down.
So how would you do it? No other division in Europe has 24 teams. No other lower league sides play in three different competitions.
This season began on the sun-drenched afternoon of August 3. It ends – hopefully – on the sun-drenched afternoon of May 26.
That’s two months of down time. Yet a World Cup takes a month (OK, so probably not in England’s case), with another month for warm-up games and bonding. Factor in recovery and there’s simply no time for a winter break.
Do we play two seasons back-to-back? Do we can the League Cup for a year? Do we even shuffle the season back a bit each year so that the 2022 and 2023 seasons are played January-October. Or will it be left to managers to ensure their squads aren’t full of internationals?
Whatever the case, Greg Clarke and the Football League need to ensure they are at the centre of any talks over the 2022 World Cup. Because the way things stand, they are the ones who will have the biggest headache.