Sheffield United don’t have time to indulge a manager who stubbornly refuses to accept serious failings.
It may be the reason why Nigel Clough’s managerial career, spanning 17 years, has produced one piece of silverware, the Northern Premier League title in 2002 at Burton Albion. His best finish in 56 months at Derby in the Championship was tenth.
“His job was to the start the season with a squad capable of going up - by his own admission he didn’t.”John Osborne
Put like that, a play-off semi-final and two cup semis during his year and a half at Bramall Lane are personal highs. Yet all is not well at S2.
Sacking managers is often criticised as knee-jerk reaction. By no means does it guarantee future success. United, who have appointed seven since Neil Warnock left in 2007, know this to their catastrophic cost.
There is, however, surely no point labouring with a manager whose own philosophy and unwillingness to change is the main reason for his team’s league failure.
Clough’s United have seriously under achieved.
The reason is three-fold. A negative tactical approach which restricts players’ freedom; failure to assemble a squad fit for purpose in time to launch a serious promotion bid; points squandered, many against inferior teams that have cost dear.
Remember, United fell 20 points short of automatic promotion. They dropped 32 at the Lane thanks to schoolboy defensive errors in evidence from day one but never addressed.
Clough said on the eve of the play-offs: “People ask ‘Is it total failure if we don’t go up?’ We don’t think it is. Other people might judge that differently.”
This statement alone from someone in charge of a club which has languished in League One for four years, calls into question his suitability to continue.
What followed was equally damning, but truthful. “We are not the finished article, both in terms of numbers and in terms of who we need for the squad even for this league never mind the one above.”
This from a man who has signed 17 players, another four on loan, since last summer and spent £1.5million on a fullback.
Clough’s job was to start the season with a squad capable of promotion and add if necessary for a final push. By his own admission he didn’t.
Time, it appears, is an irrelevance. Matching his managerial blueprint, no matter how long it takes, is priority. Given the success that has achieved since 1998, it’s not very good.
Clough arrived at Bramall Lane with the ‘Negative Nigel’ tag already earned at Derby before they sacked him. It’s something he continually denies but events so often since last August prove otherwise. Perplexing given United weren’t negative under his tenure in the previous campaign when at the wrong end of the table he succeeded David Weir to finish seventh.
Some say Clough’s critics ungratefully ignore two cup semi-finals and last season’s dramatic recovery. I and others like me urge the Board to not let 12 weeks of impressive league form a year ago and cup distractions, however thrilling, cloud the bigger picture and pave over the cracks. If Clough won’t change he has to go.
Read more from John Osborne at johnosborne.eu/view-from-john-street.