Both sets of supporters have been urged to dress in green in honour of Brian Clough when Sunderland face Nottingham Forest tonight, but Roy Keane could not wait that long to pay tribute to his former mentor. Luke Edwards reports.
IT is notoriously difficult to define what a genius is, but as far as Sunderland manager Roy Keane is concerned two words sum it up perfectly in football – Brian Clough.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary a genius is someone of “exceptionally great natural ability” but somehow that literal definition does not do its complexity justice.
From Mozart to Albert Einstein; from Leonardo Da Vinci to Sir Isaac Newton, those who have earned the genius tag have also been unconventional characters, left-field and rebellious, their intelligence and sharp minds often mistaken for madness or dangerous subservience.
It was no different for Clough (pictured below), the former Middlesbrough and Sunderland striker who became a maverick, brilliant and outspoken manager who made enemies more easily than friends.
But his unique coaching techniques, his powers of persuasion and his unrivalled skill in man management made Clough the most successful manager of his generation at Derby County and Nottingham Forest, winning the league with both and the European Cup twice with the latter.
They also made him the closest thing Keane has to a mentor following their three years together in Nottingham.
“All of those who played for him, we all have our own stories, but Brian Clough was an absolute genius,” enthused Keane, as he prepared for this evening’s return to his former club in the Carling Cup.
“When you look at the clubs he managed, the things he won. He created history for Forest and you still feel as though he is there around the place in spirit. Great managers are remembered for what they left behind and he left a brilliant stadium, history, trophies, the way they play.”
To describe Keane as the new Clough is like telling a promising A-level student they are the new Albert Einstein. Clough achieved success over more than two decades in football management, Keane has only been a manager for two years – but there are still glaring similarities between the two. Both are hugely charismatic and driven, intense, passionate men full of contradictions and quirks of personality. A ferocious temper is combined with deep compassion, a ferocious will to win is allied to belief in a strong team ethic where the individual must sacrifice themselves to the greater good.
You sense Keane would like to replicate Clough’s success and mimic his approach; that he would like to stay at Sunderland, build a club in his own image and create a trophy-winning dynasty – but he is careful not to say it.
He explained: “Could someone do what he did in the modern game? I think the game has changed too much. If you get two or three bad results it’s panic stations, it’s a crazy game now. It would be very difficult, particularly at a club like Forest or Derby and then you really would be classed as a genius. I wouldn’t throw that word around, but it’s true about him. He was coming towards the end of his career when I spent my two or three years with him, but imagine how good he was when he was in his real prime.
“I had three great years under him, but it was unfortunate that we never won a trophy and that we ended up getting relegated in his last season. These things you remember and a great manager like that didn’t deserve it. I felt as though we all let him down and that won’t change for me.”
That sense of regret was clearly visible as Keane’s mind wondered back to his final season with the man they called Cloughie, but it was quickly replaced by a smile as he reflected on another of his favourite memories.
He said: “You have to be careful comparing people because we are all different. Brian Clough was a one-off, so let’s not kid ourselves that we could copy him. He did things off the cuff, but he knew his football. You don’t win European Cups and English titles unless you know your stuff.
“You look at the players he brought together without spending the crazy money that is being spent now. He was unbelievable but you don’t appreciate it until the people have gone.
“He was always good to me, hard but fair, which I completely respect him for.
“I used to love the fact that when he came down the training ground, he’d bring his dog. The green jumper. He had his own style. You always knew when he was in because you saw his dog, Del Boy.
“He made us all get in a five-a-side goal one day which I thought was brilliant,” added Keane. “We are all crammed in this goal for no reason. If someone did that today, you’d be thinking how has this lad got his A or Pro Licence. The whole Forest first team, we were all squashed in there. It was like a big game of twister. It was good.
“You all say ‘why do that?’ and that’s the beauty. I don’t know. We all don’t know, but it was brilliant, it was classic Clough.”
Clough, according to Keane, would never have expected him to become a manager, but surely the master would be proud of the way his pupil has turned out. Clough will be there in spirit tonight, in more ways than one.