THE CASE AGAINST
By John Osborne (United season ticket holder, blogger and lifelong fan).
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.
Put like that, a play-off semi-final and two cup semi-finals 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 of them 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 ignore, ungratefully, two cup semi-finals and last season’s dramatic league 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.
THE CASE FOR
By Ian Rands
IN THE immediate aftermath of the defeat at Swindon I was angry and frustrated
The clear objective. of promotion had not been achieved.
Nigel Clough was quick to extol the positive; progress made, youngsters developed, a fifth place finish, not seventh. But. in light of the money spent and players brought in, it is a relative lack of progress.
United finished four points better than last. year, but the points per game under Clough this season is lower, in what is a poorer division with weaker opposition. The 71 points would have been insufficient to make the play-offs in any of the last three seasons.
Clough points towards a hectic season, with fixtures bolstered by cup runs.
Yet the argument. of tired players holds little sway when you note that Bristol City had more players who played in at least three quarters of their league fixtures and just 17 making ten or more appearances. By comparison United had 27.
lnjuries played a part, but for manager who stated at the start of the season he wanted a squad of around 18 players supplemented by youth, it highlights a plan gone awry.
The balance of the squad has been skewed with a surplus of midfielders and a gaping hole in central defence, unfixed since Paddy McCarthy left in January.
With Andy Butler and Neill Collins blackballed we have had a series of square pegs in round holes and John Brayford has seen his his natural attacking instincts neutered in a central defensive role.
In 46 games the manager has seemingly failed to identify his preferred starting eleven and each week has seen changes.
With an arrogance, stubbornness and barbed digs at the fans’ expense, Clough’s stock has diminished over the season. His clear failure to address obvious problems, along with a focus on not losing rather than winning have seen fan frustration build.
Yet with a period of calm reflection I think he should remain manager. Yes, that is completely at odds with everything I have just said, but the fact is United need a period of stability, something we have lacked with six permanent managers in the last five years.
It also needs him to change. There is the makings of a decent team there, but it needs a significant number of players to be moved on and five quality additions to provide a central spine to the team.
It needs more open and expansive football to be played. Bristol City and MK Dons were playing Vindaloo football – ‘we’re gonna score one more than you’ – United played in the single goal margins, just as likely to concede as score.
If Clough remains changes need to be immediate, with better pre-season preparation than last season when we opened with a starting eleven that hadn’t played together throughout the build-up.
Much will depend on the opening couple of months of the season. The relationship between manager and fans is fractured. Healing will require time that a poor start will not allow
Read more from Ian Rands at aunitedview.blogspot.co.uk.