Old Big Head: The greatest manager England never had


As a lover of the beautiful game, I will never forget the brilliance of Brian Clough, the man I regard as England’s greatest ever manager, who sadly passed away nine years ago today at the age of 69.

The man we used to affectionately call ‘Old Big Head” was the real deal, twice winning the European Cup with Nottingham Forest having previously made their equally unfashionable Midlands rivals Derby County English champions for the first time in their history.

Cloughie was the best manager England never had because the Football Associated lacked the character to appoint the outspoken boss to take charge of the national team. He should have been given the job when his nemesis Don Revie failed in 1977.

Clough was the original ‘Special One” and he knew it. He once famously declared: “I wouldn’t say I was the best manager in the business. But I was in the top one.”

What is more he achieved his glory without being bankrolled by a mega rich chairman and he did it with clubs with no previous history of being champions.

It ironic that self-publicist Jose Mourinho, Portugal’s poor man’s copy of the boss with the biggest head in football,is busy making excuses about the less than special start to his second spell in charge of Chelsea.

Ever since Mourinho breezed into London and announced himself as “The Special One” he has had the British media in the palm of his hand because they love the way he provides a never-ending succession of headline grabbing sound bytes and headlines.

There is no doubt the late Sir Bobby Robson’s former interpreter has charisma and has been a brilliant tactician and motivator. But his current body language is a pale shadow of his former self.

Despite claiming otherwise, the truth is Mourinho was a failure at Real Madrid, where his critics say he was the worst manager in the club’s history.

Winning one La Liga title in three seasons, albeit with a record points total, was not enough to challenge the supremacy of Spanish rivals Barcelona in a League where there are only two real candidates.

He alienated the fans and his critics because he thought he was bigger than the club and his negative approach to the game was not good enough for the mighty Galacticos regardless of how many matches he won.

The pinnancle of his success came in 2010 when he guided Inter Milan to an unprecednted treble of Serie A, Coppa Italia and the UEFA Champions League. The style of play was not the most pleasing on the eye but his tactical brilliance and motivational skill that season was beyond question.

Five years earlier in his first spell in charge at Stamford Bridge he led Chelsea to their first League title in 50 years. It was the start of a trophy laden era that made him the most successful manager in the club’s history.

Unlike Clough, Mourinho’s triumphs have been bankrolled by the huge riches of mega wealthy owners. The exception came in his first success at Porto where he rose to prominence by winning the Champions League for Porto.

It was an outstanding achievement. But the truth is he was helped by a giant slice of luck when his side knocked out Manchester United by virtue of a shocking offside decision that ruled out a winning strike by Paul Scholes at Old Trafford.

Had it not been for that linesman raising his flag when Scholes was clearly onside, one wonders if Mourinho would ever have gone on to be given the platform of those top jobs at Chelsea, Milan and Madrid.

Now that he has tasted success and riches beyond his wildest dreams, there is the suspicion that he has lost the hunger and the drive to replicate his previous triumphs on his return to West London.

Mourinho blames the search for a new style for Chelsea’s poor form. “I don’t like the way Chelsea were playing in the last couple of years. The club doesn’t like it and we want to change,” he explains.

But in that period the Blues won the Champions League and recruited a dazzling collection of flair players including one of last year’s players of the season Juan Mata, who has been consistently marginalised by Mourinho.

The harsh reality is that this has been the club’s worst start to a Premier League season in the Roman Abramovich era. A humbling home defeat by Basle in the Champions League on Wednesday night has put the spotlight on the boss who started the season by re-christening himself ‘the Happy One” – a title that now sounds ridiculous.

Not so happy second time around for Mourinho Stamford Bridge © visionsport
Not so happy second time around for Mourinho Stamford Bridge © visionsport

Not just because Chelsea’s form is even worse than the sum total of their results. But you only have to look into the eyes of the disheveled boss who used to be the epitome of style. His confidence and swagger have currently deserted him and the pressure will quickly mount if he fails to live up to all the hype and expectation.

The brutal reality of Mourinho existing in the world of dictator Abramovich is that failure to emulate his previous achievements will see this latest chapter end in tears and acrimony. There is still time to repair the damage, but the aura of invincibility has already been blown away.