Martin Smith column: Sheffield United may face fight to keep Blades boss Nigel Clough

Nigel Clough
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A matter of some considerable urgency is developing at Bramall Lane.

As Sheffield United continue to dazzle in the cups and make steady progress towards the top of League One, they become more and more vulnerable.

Not on the pitch but in the dressing room, boardroom and on the training ground.

Abdullah bin Musa’ed bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and Kevin McCabe need to start making plans for Nigel Clough - the man who has been accumulating career calm and football wisdom since he and brother Simon sat alongside their dad, Brian, on the bench at Brighton as kids 40-plus years ago.

How about that for learning from the master?

How much of Nigel Clough’s trust in his own gut-feeling for situations was absorbed as a child sitting between Clough and Taylor in the dug-out?

No doubt he and his brother had more interesting things to do than listen to Dad shout at footballers but an instinct for man-management and decision-making and a flair for making things work are hard-wired into his personality.

And it’s a personality United need to hang on to.

A lot thought that Forest might come calling when they sacked Stuart Pearce but they went elsewhere.

But all those cup wins and stand-out performances mean the name of Nigel Clough is already near the top of the ambitious chairmen’s hit list.

Clough is apparently halfway through his two-and-a-half-year contract at Bramall Lane and if he were one of the country’s top players there would be talk of a new deal being prepared to keep him sweet.

McCabe is no mug. He hires and fires, buys and sells for big money every day.

He knows that deep-thinking, genuine and talented men like Nigel Clough come along rarely in any walk of life. He also knows that when they do you’d better hang on to them. That might take a better contract or bigger resources or both.

But whatever it takes Sheffield United need to keep hold of Nigel Clough and it might be better to do that before the FA Cup fourth-round log-jam clears.

United’s growing reputation as a battling team with ability led by a manager with organisational, motivational and tactical gifts is bound to make Clough a top target for higher-placed clubs.

For all I know United are working on a deal right now, and if they’re not they ought to be.

If Sheffield United end up playing Manchester United and pulling off another ‘surprise’ in the FA Cup it might be too late.