IT'S A QUESTION dominating many a Blades fan’s agenda. Personally, I don’t think it should. Healthier to get it out of the way right now.
Whether from a minority or not, the voices are loud enough. Too loud for the good of Sheffield United at this crucial time in my opinion. Should Nigel Clough be sacked if United don’t get promoted? Would that the majority shout up on this. For me, the answer has to be no, no, NO. Not if the club is to draw a line under the managerial mayhem of the recent past. Not if the club wants to avoid the upheaval of yet another new regime, yet another “long term” plan. Not if the club wants to benefit ultimately from the very talented and able squad Clough has assembled.
Such strong arguments against. There is no evidence, outwardly at least, that the Bramall Lane hierarchy is thinking to the contrary, having projected as much good sense as commitment. Isn’t this cause to knock this whole subject on the head, besides the destabilising effect it could have at this precarious time?
Yes, expenditure dictates the Blades should have challenged all the way for automatic promotion rather than relying on the play-offs. Yes, they have under-performed on results and, yes, the manager picks the team and has signed many of the players. I’m no apologist on that basis and, dare I say, if I was a supporter I’d be feeling fraught right now. But Clough’s critics overlook all of this;-
- This is United’s FOURTH season in the third tier.
- He is unfairly burdened with the build up of frustration from the other three.
- He has been manager for just 18 months, starting with an unthinkable relegation threat.
- A phenomenal record in the cups, including two semi-finals, appears to have been conveniently forgotten.
- Well, just look at an overall win ratio of nearly 50%.
Now to even bigger reasons. United’s recent history shows that little or nothing is achieved by chopping and changing. It is expensive and disruptive.
If you think you have a good man, you let him lay down foundations, accept this takes a little time and back him for more than one full season. And when it comes to foundations at the Lane, these are deep-rooted.
No other United manager in my experience has devoted more time to watching junior games or to tending the club’s football operation from bottom to top. This is the job with which Clough was tasked. Some argue he should simply concentrate on the first team. That’s what most modern day managers do. It’s an act of necessity for their self-preservation.
Where United have been refreshingly different is that they have dusted down the glib title of “manager” and made it what it actually says. It is only with a measure of security that a proper manager can effectively tackle such a mission, carefully balancing short term needs against long term benefit.
Witness Louis Reed’s surprise first team debut at the age of 16 on the opening day of the season. The result was wrong but a very good player was born.
Yes, there is desperation verging on exasperation about United escaping League One and that is understandable. Yes, it is Clough’s first imperative and, rightly, he would be left under no illusions about what is required next season should this bid fail. But can we not take stock of this now? And not pin final judgments on two or, hopefully, three matches?
That’s why this column has said its piece in advance – rather than jerking at the knee.
LINK TO MY VIEW: Clough heading for extra time but can United afford to pay penalty?
ALAN has written a book, Confessions of a Football Reporter (www.verticleeditions.com) which I can highly recommend to anyone who wants a genuine insight into what it is like covering the beautiful, and not so beautiful, game. Alan's easy, inimitable and humorous writing style opens a window on the Press Box, full of scrapes and anecdotes from a lifetime covering football. It's guaranteed to make you chuckle.