Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Damned United II: The Sequel - Mountainstriker

Tom Hooper’s ‘The Damned United’ staring Michael Sheen as Brian Clough is currently playing to favourable reviews across the nation. Based on David Peace’s 2006 book of the same name, the film recounts ‘ol Big ‘ead’s turbulent 44 days at the helm of Leeds United in 1974. Most of the stories are common currency amongst football folk – how Clough deserted his long-time ally Peter Taylor to take the job, how he despised Leeds’ physical style and what he saw as gamesmanship, his address to the squad in which he told them to throw their medals in the bin as ‘’…you got them all by cheating’, the inevitable player revolt, poor results and dismissal - only for Clough to re-emerge triumphantly at Nottingham Forest with Taylor by his side.

The subtext to both the film and book is the inevitability of a clash between a squad of successful players and a manager who had raised Derby County not only to be their arch-rivals but the antithesis of their playing style and beliefs. It’s possible that this difference was exaggerated at the time and that this film will serve only to magnify it. Though few would dispute that Leeds could look after themselves (one has only to think of Jack Charlton’s little book of those marked for future retribution) they were also a supremely skilful side that accommodated the wiles of Johnny Giles, Peter Lorimer and Eddie Gray as well as bruisers like Charlton and Norman Hunter. Even the arch enforcer himself, Billy Bremner, could play a bit. This after all, was a side that reached European finals in 1973 and 1975.

Shortly before his death in 2004, Clough gave an extended interview to the BBC. Yellow faced and bloated from a recent liver transplant, he was asked whether any of the current managerial crop caught his eye. His response,

‘I like the look of Mourinho, there's a bit of the young Clough about him. For a start, he's good-looking and, like me, he doesn't believe in the star system. He's consumed with team spirit and discipline,’

has been regarded ever since to be the anointing of his successor.

Certainly there are parallels – like Clough, Mourinho took a provincial side to European victory, defeating the likes of Manchester United en route. He also won the English championship in his first season and has always been good for a controversial (and often funny) quote.

But there are significant differences. Clough’s teams, particularly his First Division and European Cup Forest winning sides of 1978-80, were notable for their willingness to pass to feet and hit on the break – an approach exemplified by his principal forwards at that time - Woodcock, Birtles, Francis and Robertson. Though Clough could also accommodate the more rudimentary attributes of Peter Withe, he would have scorned Mourinho’s reliance on long balls to Didier Drogba and his current taste for Zlatan Imbrahimovic. He would also have been disappointed by Mourninho’s failure to play to the strengths of Andriy Shevchenko and his decision to sell ball-carrying wingers like Damien Duff and Arjen Robben. In retrospect, it’s not inconceivable that, had he lived to see them, Clough would have regarded Mourinho’s later Chesea teams similarly to the Leeds side of the early 70s.

So I find it surprising that Mourniho is often touted to succeed Alex Ferguson at Manchester United. If any manager could be said to have carried Clough’s legacy over the last 20 years then surely it’s Ferguson and not the Special One. Their teams have had far more than Roy Keane in common. Defensive parsimony built on buying the best keeper available (Shilton/Schmeichal/Van Der Saar) and a no-nonsense centre half (Lloyd/Burns/Stam/Vidic); midfielders who can pass (McGovern/O’Neill/Scholes/Carrick); tricky and pacy wingers (Robertson/Giggs/Kancheskis/Ronaldo) and mobile forwards with both skill and an eye for goal Woodcock/Francis/Clough/Yorke/Sheringham/Rooney). United at their best pass, move at pace and counter attack in the best traditions of Clough’s Forest. Hell, they even have the same red nose.

Sit down Mourinho

Mourinho’s arrival at Old Trafford would mean a wholesale demolition of Ferguson’s legacy.

Though I’m sure he wouldn’t proffer a bucket for Ronaldo’s medals, I doubt that he would oppose his move to Real Madrid as stubbornly. Man U fans know this, instinctively sensing that Mourinho is not one of them. Anyone who stood behind Mourinho while Inter succumbed to United last month can’t have failed to notice that Old Trafford paid scant attention to the game, preferring to indulge in 70,000 strong choruses of ‘Sit down Mourinho’, ‘Bye Bye Mourinho’ and hilariously ‘You’re not Special anymore’ throughout. Just as Elland Road never accepted Clough, Mourinho would always be ‘the other’. How long would it be before the rumours of player revolt stated? Paul Scholes or Ryan Giggs as Johnny Giles anyone? My money’s on Gary Neville.


Ebren said...

There's a Clough quote I can't track down about Mourinho. "He's got a lot to say for himself," Old Big Head said of the Special one.

Michael Sheen said of playing Clough: "He's a mix of Mourinho, Ferguson, Simon Cowell and Oscar Wilde."

Personally, while Clough advocated ball on the ground and respect for referees, I think there is more to Mourinho's style that is similar to Clough's than dis-similar.

They both love possession, short passing, width. I think if anything Mourinho is more flexible and more tactically rigorous (perhaps more like Revie in this respect).

A couple of vaguely interesting pieces on the matter for further reading:

This after Porto's Big Cup win.

This as it was all unravelling at Chelsea.

Perhaps the key similarities are utter belief in themselves and their methods. Charisma. And perspective.

They are both so strong partly because football does not consume them. It is a means to an end, the end being proving to the world how great they are and financial security, but the fact they don't see it as "more important than life and death" means they assert their superiority with a smile and a wink.

Which, in the end, is why I like both.

Ebren said...

Oh and a couple more pieces comparing them:

On arriving at Inter, he made a bit of a "throw your medals in the bin" speech: here.

And a roundup of the comparisons between them here.

Margin said...

I think the British public would love to find or develop a new Clough, because he has such a phenomenal status that we all want to believe such a man can return to our footballing lives.

But I don't really find one anywhere in football now. Indeed it is hard to find one in Clough.

After all, for all his labelling of Leeds as cheats, he was himself a cheat. Bung culture was not something that happened to other people after all.

And we can find superficial similarities to many managers. (Need I point out Harry Rednapp's seemingly dodgy status, gift for a quote, and love of football on the ground)

So maybe we should start to admire the excellent managers we have for the great men that some of them already are - rather than hoping to match one to the Clough model.

mimi said...

I'm not a huge fan of sports films (apart from This Sporting Life and Cool Runnings) but I am quite keen to see this movie.

I've heard various clips and although Sheen is not the most convincing northern voice (there's always a touch of the valleys - though maybe I hear it because it's my accent)he seems to convince as Clough.

I've read that this flick rather underplays the darkness of David Peace's book, but having subjected myself to the recent Red Riding trilogy, I reckon that a little less darkness would go a long way to a more enjoyable film.

Rooto said...

A thoroughly excellent piece. Thanks very much.

I'm not sure there was ever a period in time when 'we' weren't crying out for characters. But now we seem particularly short of interest amongst the managers. The press is trying to develop Benitez, but it's thin gruel.

Second, re: the similarities between Clough and Ferguson. You mentioned mobile forwards, but using Clough jnr, Sheringham and Berbatov as examples, we could cite 'non-mobile' forwards.

Thirdly, isn't it odd that it was Giles who took against Clough, rather than, say, Hunter? The creative spark who didn't want to adapt. I'd have thought he had more to gain from Clough succeeding than anyone else in that squad. But, I only know what I read in the book, (which incidentally, and finally I didn't much like).

mimi said...

I heard Chris Barrie (Rimmer/Brittas) being Clough today, shortly followed by being Blair, Kenny Williams and Colin Murray. It was spooky and Michael Sheen should be worried. Barrie was a better Clough than Sheen.

andrewm said...

I think there are far too many characters in the game, actually. What we need are decent, honest managers. I give you the two Steves, Coppell and Bruce.

Has anyone read Steve Bruce's football novels? I only found out about them recently. I would love to know what they're like.

Mouth of the Mersey said...

Whoever is next as Old Trafford won't be accepted, not by the fans anyway.

Interesting set of comparisons between Clough, Mourinho and SAF. I feel there's far more between Clough and Mourinho than between Clough and SAF. Clough would never have stood for SAF's club-wide systematic intimidation of officials and Clough would have recognised that, like Mourinho, the team must be a projection of the manager's personality.

mountainstriker said...

Morning everyone

As Ebren points out, I'm not going to win any awards for originality with this one. Sorry, I just found the symmetry of the film's release and Mourinho's (and my!) recent visit to Old Trafford too good to resist.

Still, just to pick up on some of the comments – are there any characters in the game these days? I’m with andrewm on this one. ‘Character’ is a double-edged sword and even Clough’s most ardent supporters would find it hard to defend his every utterance. Personally I found Mourinho’s paranoia rather tedious after a while. His attack on the medical staff at Reading in the aftermath of Cech’s concussion for example, was later shown to be completely unjustified. As far as I’m aware he’s never apologised. ‘Character’ in managers is a bonus but they are, rightly, judged by what happens on the pitch.

‘Clough was a cheat too’. Exactly and this, surely, is an example of how fiction sharpens perceptions of difference to the point of distortion. One of my problems with the film was the portrayal of Leeds as nothing but thugs.

Giles has sued about how he is portrayed in the book so it’s perhaps unwise to comment on the extent to which was the leader of the opposition. To the extent that his depiction reflects reality at all, I’d suggest that Giles’ may have been driven primarily by the fact that he had been overlooked to succeed Revie. Significantly, the film suggests Bremner as the principal protagonist and he is, conveniently, too dead to argue.

Try as I might I can’t ignore the suggestion that Clough, Sheringham (another BC\AF link and whose sale Clough cited as his biggest mistake) and Berbatov are ‘non-mobile’. No!! They lack pace but their games are all about movement, finding space and using it well. Without movement they would be nothing.

And finally, the discovery of the day – Steve Bruce, literary giant. I can’t find him on Amazon but come on, someone must have a copy!

cheers everyone.

Ebren said...

Hey MountainS - Steve Bruce has two novels (at least) that i know of:

SWEEPER! and STRIKER! (unfortunately the caps and exclamation marks are his)

Amazon barely features them.

Hou can find one here.

Have a look for titles with exclamation marks here

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