Ex-manager was liked at Pride Park
1 October ~ Derby County supporters have variously been left upset, torn, and relieved by the recent sacking of Nigel Clough – sometimes all at the same time. You will struggle to find many supporters who didn't want Clough Jr to succeed, and that historic family name is only one reason. Clough had the team playing good football, brought through young talent from the academy (Will Hughes and Mason Bennett being prime examples) and made steady if unspectacular progress. He handled himself for the most part with dignity and most fans are saddened by his departure.
Yet, in many cases, they are also pleased. Despite operating on a budget reduced season upon season, Clough led Derby to Championship finishes of 18th (after taking over mid-season with the Rams already in a spot of bother), 14th, 19th, 12th, and 10th, with the team sitting in 14th the time of his departure. For many this isn't enough and a shot at the play-offs is the bare minimum expected.
Add to this a certain amount of scepticism over Clough's tactical nous and the occasional tetchy interview (once telling Tomasz Cywka, through the media, that he could "go back to Wigan or wherever he came from"), a number of fans feel the time is right for a change.
However, a lot of fans and media commentators have lambasted the club for sacking Clough and see parallels with the departure of his father 40 years ago. Former player Robbie Savage called Radio Derby and spoke of his disappointment, arguing that Clough had moved the team forward despite being ordered to cut costs.
The timing could also have been better, with the announcement coming just hours after defeat to local rivals Nottingham Forest. Pictured in the stands at that game was Tony Pulis, sharing a joke with chief executive Sam Rush. Message boards went into overdrive, with many accusing the club of disrespecting Clough and of already having agreed a deal to appoint Pulis – not true, as it turns out.
Fans dreaded the prospect of the former Stoke manager's unsophisticated brand of football but that fear is now moot, the club having appointed Steve McClaren in Clough's stead. McClaren is a former player and coach at Derby, and in the latter role his progressive coaching techniques caught the eye of Alex Ferguson, who appointed him to the Manchester United staff.
Given that McClaren's managerial career has been a mixed bag so far – successes with Middlesbrough and Twente balanced by disastrous spells with England, Wolfsburg, and Nottingham Forest – many Derby supporters are underwhelmed by the choice, while others are cautiously optimistic.
Again fans are divided, even within themselves. It is a shame that Clough couldn't take the club further forward, and perhaps unrealistic expectations from the board and some fans precipitated his departure. Whichever way you look at it, the club doesn't come out of this with much credit. Nobody will be celebrating the departure of a manager that deserved better, and that everyone was willing on to succeed. Charles Robinson