Alan Biggs at Large: Clough sacking at Sheffield United was harsh, now Blades have huge decision to make

File photo dated 07-05-2015 of Sheffield United manager Nigel Clough. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Monday May 25, 2015. Nigel Clough has been sacked as manager of Sheffield United, the club have announced. See PA story SOCCER Sheff Utd. Photo credit should read Nigel French/PA Wire.
File photo dated 07-05-2015 of Sheffield United manager Nigel Clough. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Monday May 25, 2015. Nigel Clough has been sacked as manager of Sheffield United, the club have announced. See PA story SOCCER Sheff Utd. Photo credit should read Nigel French/PA Wire.
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A tale of two clubs in Yorkshire. Hull City, relegated from the Premier League; manager stays. Sheffield United, miss promotion in League One; manager axed. No prizes for guessing which has been the more successful over the past decade.

Sackings represent serial behaviour from the board of the Blades in all of its recent guises. United have also been serial under-achievers across eight years and nine managers (including caretakers) since dropping from the top flight in 2007.

by Pete McKee

by Pete McKee

The club appears to see the clear connection but at the same time be blind to it. Of course, eventually a roll of the dice will work and this column sincerely hopes it does. With some credible candidates to choose from and a decent squad already in place, there is - or should be - every chance that the next man will be an instant success when it comes to achieving promotion... at the club’s fifth attempt.

From the look of the field, I hope there won’t be too much quibbling about the eventual choice. Personally, I’d be hiring Nigel Adkins for his success in League One and higher, his two promotions at a similar sized club in Southampton and the fact he is a quality person. Karl Robinson has clear merit while Darren Ferguson and Bradford City’s Phil Parkinson carry some support.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that parting with Clough after just 19 months was right or fair, never mind in the club’s best interests. The opposite view from some fans is to be respected but to me it was, and always will be, very harsh.

That’s regardless of any differences at a rumoured debrief, a meeting said to have changed the club’s thinking and been a reason for the shock timing.

Just suppose you had told Clough, or anyone, that a team he took over in some peril would reach two major cup semi-finals, achieve a highly improbable seventh place in that first campaign and then fifth, missing out via the play-offs, at the end of his first full season. Could you have possibly predicted that he and his management staff would then be dismissed?!

That is not to overlook one below-par league season on a big budget or to pardon the manager for omitting to say that several performances, particularly at home, were unacceptable and that he was ultimately responsible.

But if you apply that responsibility across his 19 months in charge there is no case for a change if the club were serious about taking a long-term view of his appointment. No pain, no gain.

Besides, Clough managed in the old-fashioned sense, which refreshingly (or so I thought) bucked the trend. He took a personal interest at all ages and all levels, having been entrusted with the club’s overall direction. Some of his decisions were geared to the future rather than the present.

For his own sake, the new manager should concentrate entirely on the first team.

And let’s hear no more glib, meaningless comments at his unveiling about projects and blueprints. It’s really about winning promotion in one go – or else – with largely someone else’s players. Unless there is to be a radical squad overhaul that would look to be unnecessary, let alone expensive.

To the future, then, and those credible candidates. Fortunately, a damn sight more credible than the club’s record right now.