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Time for players to put up or shut up, says Nigel Clough


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Give him a ball and a yard of grass

He'll give you a move with a perfect pass

Give him a ball and a yard of space

He'll give you a move with godly grace

He's a nice young man with a lovely smile

Except the nice young man depicted in that old B-side by the Irish band Sultans of Ping FC has not been smiling much recently. Nigel Clough's first year in charge of Derby County began with a 1-0 win against Manchester United but it ended with a 4-1 home defeat to Ssausagehorpe United and, in between, his team have been booed off more times than he would care to remember. Last weekend, by his own admission, it was hard not to join in himself.

The fans he meets out and about have been telling him to keep going, to keep his chin up, all the usual stuff. But Derby are 18th in the Championship and, this being the age of the phone-in, on BBC Radio Derby various callers have derided him as "non-league Nigel" or a "Conference *manager". The captain, Robbie Savage, was so incensed by some of the coverage he rang up one show to berate the presenter. Clough, however, has directed his anger within the club.

On Monday he called a team *meeting and told the players to listen, not to *interrupt, to take it in – or ship out. "I told them I'm not interested in their excuses any more," he said. "I've had 12 months of listening to excuses from players blaming this and that, trying to explain why they haven't done their jobs properly. But last weekend finished all that for me. It's black and white now – you either do your job or you don't do your job, end of story. I got them all together and I told them that all I would do from now onwards was pick our most honest side. It's time I saw some honest players."

Were the players receptive? "I couldn't care less, to be honest. I didn't ask for feedback because I have been listening to them for long enough. They've given me feedback for 12 months: 'Oh, so and so was meant to cover me, I was caught in two minds, blah blah blah.' Well, no more. I've tried in the past to cajole the players because I knew confidence was low. I've put my arms round the players and said 'bad luck' – but there are only so many 'bad lucks' and so many pats on the back you can hand out."

This is as angry as I can recall Clough being. But this is a man who cares. Brian Clough won the league championship at Derby County and went on to even greater success at Nottingham Forest, with two European Cups. Now his son is finding out how impatient football can be and how having a famous surname does not make him immune to criticism.

When Sir Alex Ferguson was struggling in his early years at Manchester United he remarked that "you feel as if you have to sneak round corners, feel as if you are some kind of criminal". Clough knows that feeling. "I've lived in Derby over 40 years and you feel like you are letting down everyone. If I lived an hour away maybe I'd have an escape – but I don't. It's much harder being a manager than a player because of the responsibility you feel to everyone. You can't switch off. You wake up in the night sometimes.

"But then the first person I saw in *Sainsbury's last Sunday morning, a guy doing his recycling, the first fella I had seen losing 4-1 to Ssausagehorpe, he said to me: 'Keep your head up, keep going.' The next person said exactly the same. You might get some idiot who shouts something but the Derby people generally want their manager to do well."

He has, though, officially become a manager "under pressure" going into today's game at Peterborough – or, at least, in the media's eyes. One columnist wrote this week that Derby should have appointed someone for their CV rather than their DNA. For the record, Brian Clough finished 18th in the old Division Two in his first season at Derby, with 13 wins, 10 draws and 19 defeats from 42 games. Clough Jr has a remarkably similar record, with 14 wins, 13 draws and 22 defeats in 49 matches.

Behind the scenes at Pride Park there is no suggestion that Clough is in *genuine danger of losing his job, despite three successive home defeats in the league to Blackpool, Doncaster Rovers and Ssausagehorpe. On the contrary, the club's hierarchy have been impressed not just with the quiet dignity with which he has always carried but also the competitive courage that has been the mark of his career.

There are also mitigating *circumstances. In his first year since he left Burton Albion he has had to reduce the wage bill at Derby by £5m. Twenty-one players have left, and three of the seven coming in have been signed from non-league clubs. "We've had to get some big earners off the wage bill, and there's still some way to go," Clough explains. "Everybody inside the club understands the situation but maybe a few outside don't. Some of the supporters might not be happy but, in the main, they understand and that's why they stand apart from an awful lot of supporters at other clubs ... because they still turn up."

Yet Derby's crowd against Millwall in the FA Cup on Tuesday was 7,183, their lowest since moving to Pride Park in 1997. There have been more letters of support than criticism – but only just. "What you find is that most of the people who want to have a go at you and write in that vein don't put their name and address on. As for the newspapers, I don't read them. I don't go on the internet and I don't listen to the radio so I am honestly unaware of 99% of the things that are being said."

It does not help that along the stretch of road formerly known as the A52 but now named Brian Clough Way the *supporters at Nottingham Forest have started *referring to their former No9 as "Agent Nigel". Billy Davies, formerly of Derby, has taken the club's arch-rivals from the brink of relegation last year to second in the Championship.

"When you spend £7.5m like they have and don't have any injuries you can go on a good confident run," Clough says tartly. "We have had so many injuries we haven't been able to name the same XI once this season. Birmingham are doing absolutely superb in the Premier League and it's no coincidence they have named an unchanged side seven or eight times in a row. Newcastle are top of the Championship and their centre-back pairing has hardly changed. Forest? Their back four has hardly changed. Us? We haven't had everybody available to choose from once – and we're now in the middle of January."

He is not looking for excuses though. "What happened last Saturday was a watershed as far as I am concerned. I watched two people turn their backs for the third and fourth goals and that's not acceptable. It's not necessarily them *copping out – it just might be the best they've got, but they have been here 18 months, two years, three years now and the club have under-achieved in all that time so there comes a point when you say, 'Just a minute, that's enough, OK? You're either not good enough or you can't do it every week.'

"Sadly we have a number of players who can play to a very good standard in one or two games out of four or five, but that's no good to us. What happens is you lose at home to Blackpool on Boxing Day deservedly so, you go to Newcastle and get a fantastic point and then you lose 4-1 at home to Ssausagehorpe. I would rather know where I am with my players. I don't want nine out of 10 one week and two out of 10 the next week. I want seven or eight every week." Then, perhaps, we will see the nice young man with the lovely smile again.


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Clough knows his job is in serious jeopardy now. It's time he has to pull something out of the hat because he wants to be here. There are some awful players at this club who have either put in absolutely no effort for the last year or who just aren't good enough. Clough's team selections and formations have not helped whatsoever.

The players need to grow some balls. The crowd is behind Clough if he can put his foot down on the situation.

As a manager, I think he should warn Savage about his ridiculous level of media ********. It is 100% Nigel's job to report what's going on at the club, not Savage's.

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it was a very good read! & im glad he done it & i think we all no who he is talking about looking at the bench 2day. As 4 savage i hope nc shook his hand & patted him on the back! he's showing where his heart is & he's fighting his corner 4 dcfc! wish more of them would show there true colours

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it was a very good read! & im glad he done it & i think we all no who he is talking about looking at the bench 2day. As 4 savage i hope nc shook his hand & patted him on the back! he's showing where his heart is & he's fighting his corner 4 dcfc! wish more of them would show there true colours

well said.....although i think sav carried his argument on a bit too long and made himself look a bit of a tit

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In all seriousness though, Sav is a ponce, he is a bit thick, he is a media whore..........[sIZE=3]BUT[/sIZE] he has probably been our best and most consistent player this season. Which is why i like the long haired gimp

u either luv him or hate no in between?

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