Arsenal column All Guns Blazing: Nottingham Forest FA Cup humiliation shows Arsene Wenger fails to understand the fall of Brian Clough
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They were doing a brisk trade in Brian Clough badges outside the Nottingham Forest Sportsmans Social Club before kick-off on Sunday.
The legendary Clough is still a potent icon for supporters of the club from the smallest city in Europe to have lifted the European Cup.
The atmospheric City Ground, yards from the River Trent, with its back to ignored cousin Notts County on Meadow Lane across the ice cold water, always looked towards bigger targets during ‘Old Big ‘Ead’s’ heyday.
In the shiny club shop off the Radcliffe Road, a Stuart Broad overthrow to nearby Trent Bridge, homage is still paid to the man who revolutionised this proud club.
You could purchase European Cup memorabilia as if the pair of immortal triumphs happened yesterday.
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Grandfathers spoke to their awed grandchildren in hushed, reverential terms of the victories in Munich, against Malmo – and 12 months later at the Bernabeu against Branko Zebec’s Hamburg – who fielded Kevin Keegan, Felix Magath, Manny Kaltz, Horst Hrubesch and all.
It may have only been a club shop – but for those who followed Forest across Europe, after conquering domestic rivals of course, nearly four decades ago – it could have been an exhibition staged to honour Clough, and by definition, Forest’s greatness.
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Yet the tragedy of Clough in footballing terms was that he stayed too long.
Nearly two decades he bossed Forest, from 1975 to 1993.
He was a young, charismatic, hungry manager, determined to remake the face of domestic football – and succeeding for ten glorious years – as he transformed a moribund, listless club living on past glories into one of the best teams England and Europe had seen.
He could have won more trophies, yes, but his teams beguiled neutrals with their attacking flair, their unorthodox brilliance, and, through his capacity to rescue and remould players who needed a spot of tender loving care from an influential father figure they revered, transformed them into the continent’s finest.
Clough in his pomp was box-office. When he spoke everyone listened.
He was ruthless, brutal with players who were surplus to his plans, but to those he needed, they would have died for him, commanding loyalty from all he encountered. Quite simply if you weren’t with him you were against him.
He was often one-eyed, but through a natural intelligence and a twinkle in his eye suggesting a smidgen of irony and bathos not pathos, he got away with most things. Even now some of his best lines are still recalled with a fondness and warmth upon retelling that prevents them from falling into truisms.
“We talk about it for twenty minutes and then we decide I was right” was his mantra on dealing with players who disagreed with him.
But he stopped winning big games.
And started losing them instead.
Who can forget him sitting alone and aloof, King Canute-like, on the bench at Wembley while his Forest team cried out for instruction before the 1991 FA Cup Final went to extra time as they eventually lost 2-1 to a Gazza-less Spurs?
Eventually his team stopped playing big games – before they then stopped winning full stop.
Clough passed his sell-by date but refused to acknowledge the fact, surrounding himself with acolytes or simply refusing to take heed of the evidence.
Forest fans were split. They loved this man who walked on water, or at the least the Trent, during the late 1970s and most of the 1980s.
But for some in 1993 - despite what they’ll say now – he was a hated figure. Reviled by some, mocked by others, the respect he instantly commanded vanished.
Fans saw his sad demise through the prism of an underachieving club riven by cliques, staffed with poor signings, beset with underperformance and complacency and wanted him out.
By the time he realised it was too late.
He destroyed his own legacy.
He left a club that two decades on is still struggling to recapture a semblance of self-respect, let alone regain its rightful place at the top table of English football.
That was his real football tragedy.
The fact he brought low a club he loved through his own stubbornness and arrogance, with a hubris generated from the very same traits that made him successful.