Look and learn, Nigel: A lesson for Clough Jnr from the master

16 February 2009 04:00
It is a peculiar fact that during a period of remarkable defensive frugality for Manchester United

in the Barclays Premier League, Derby County have managed to score against Europe's champions four times in the space of a month.

But although that says much for the pluck and determination of Nigel Clough's team, Sunday's comprehensive defeat at Pride Park will have reminded the Derby manager just how much he has to learn at this level of the game.

Clough spent much of the afternoon sitting back in the home dugout. With arms folded and chin buried in the collar of his jacket, he looked like a grumpy teacher trying to work out how to punish an errant pupil.

Meeting the master: Nigel Clough greets United boss Sir Alex Ferguson

But his mind will have been working hard, just like it did during his days as an intelligent, quick-learning second striker for the team down the road, Nottingham Forest.

It is impossible to play Sir Alex Ferguson's team three times - Derby lost 4-3 on aggregate to United in the Carling Cup semifinal - in such a short space of time without learning something and it is to be hoped that Clough returns to League duties against Blackpool here on Wednesday night a better manager than he was before.

There are an infinite number of things to learn from Ferguson, of course. The very fact that Clough has been able to share a post-match glass of wine with him three times since mid- January may transpire to be priceless in itself.

 Derby 1 Manchester United 4: Flipping awesome Red Devils ease into the last eight

Derby 1 Manchester United 4: How the action unfolded


Perhaps prime lesson, though, was in how to choose the right team for the occasion; how to nurse players through the rigours of the domestic season while ensuring that results do not nosedive just because the personnel look a little different.

The Championship, a 46-game season, is a harder slog even than the Premier League. The fixtures programme is relentless, the football physical and unforgiving. The stakes are higher than ever.

England's second tier is full of teams who enjoy productive spells during a season, only to fall away when the toll begins to show on players' legs.

Lessons to learn: Clough shows his frustration on the touchline at Derby's performance

Ferguson has been confronting this challenge for years and has got things wrong on occasions.

The United manager , however, chose a team without a recognised centre forward, left his two best central midfield players out and then watched his side pull Derby to pieces.

Only he will know why he picked Cristiano Ronaldo at the start of a week-and-a-half that features important games against Fulham

and Blackburn

and a Champions League tie at Inter Milan.

As it transpired, Ronaldo was at his imperious best at times. He and the remarkable Ryan Giggs looked as though they could beat Derby on their own.

To see Giggs play so well surprised nobody and the timing of his contract extension last week - coming when Ferguson needs every member of his squad to be supremely motivated - was not coincidental.

Again, it is the little things that matter. By all accounts, Clough already understands this. It is not always appropriate to draw comparisons between Clough his late father, Brian.

Shake on it: Ferguson awards goal scoring winger Ronaldo a well-deserved rest

But Clough Jnr would appear to have inherited a little of his father's famous impatience and sense of how footballers should live their lives and go about their everyday business.

Suggestions that he has disbanded the club's support staff of masseurs, nutritionists and the like are wide of the mark. But Derby's players have been carrying their own kit out to training and found themselves more prominent in the Derbyshire community than ever before.

In the Clough family, footballers have never been allowed to get ahead of themselves. But this project is long term. This is a time to take small steps. If the mind is like a sponge then Clough's will already be filling up.

 Derby 1 Manchester United 4: Flipping awesome Red Devils ease into the last eight

Derby 1 Manchester United 4: How the action unfolded



Source: Daily_Mail