The quotes themselves can fill a book (and probably have). “I wouldn’t say I was the best manager in the business. But I was in the top one." “Rome wasn’t built in a day. But I wasn’t on that particular job." “We (players disagreeing with him) talk about it for 20 minutes and then we decide I was right." “If a chairman sacks the manager he initially appointed, he should go as well."

Those are the quotes of Brian Clough, possibly the most colourful, if egotistical, manager in British football—and no, it’s not Jose Mourinho. Three decades before Mourinho landed in Chelsea from Porto—a relatively small Portuguese club that had just won the Champions League—and announced himself as “the special one", Clough was creating a storm in the then First Division. Like Mourinho, Clough had shaken up the traditional English footballing elite by turning unfashionable, middling provincial clubs into champions. In the case of Nottingham Forest, champions of Europe two years on the trot.

Clough was a player of repute—a phenomenal goalscorer in the 1950s—before injury ended his career at 29 and he turned to management. His first success was with Derby County, with whom he won the First Division title; today’s equivalent would be Leicester City winning the Premier League. The next three years, though, were turbulent (with Clough engineering much of the heavy wind); he quit Derby after a series of run-ins with his board, then spent 44 days at Leeds United, the country’s top side. His high-octane stint—well documented in the book and film The Damned United—was doomed to fail; he had spent much of the past few years publicly castigating Leeds and their physical style of football, and the players there were less than impressed when he became their boss.

And so to Nottingham Forest, another provincial side then languishing in the second tier. In three years, from 1977, Forest went from the second division to winning the European Cup (the precursor to today’s Champions League); in the fourth year, just for good measure, they were European champions. All this with a team of mavericks, cast-offs, wizened old pros and a couple of established stars. And Clough at the helm, strewing his pearls of wisdom before a public that didn’t quite know what to make of him. There’s one famous interview from that era, by a very young (and visibly intimidated) John Motson, where Clough lists what a manager needs to win the league: endurance, talent, strength, psychology. And “you’ve got to be a little bit daft".

In the days and years that followed, English football had its share of characters and dominant personalities. Alex Ferguson was the biggest of them all but his persona was that of a benevolent despot, with not a sign of a possible screw loose; Arsène Wenger is professorial, with little humour in his public persona; Mourinho has the ego but has shown too much of the dark side and not enough of the required grace. None of them had the zaniness that made Clough such fun.

Those days, though, are back, in more ways than one. That Europe-dominating Forest side is the subject of a film, I Believe In Miracles, due out sometime soon, celebrating the implausible events of those times. More currently, though, the Premier League has a manager who has Clough’s ego and persona—and also his penchant for bizarre statements. Jürgen Klopp, who has taken over as Liverpool’s manager, brings with him a career as the underdog, managing Borussia Dortmund to consecutive league wins in 2011 and 2012, beating off the might of Bayern Munich. He is the quintessential rock-star manager, with his designer stubble and alternative/progressive look backed up by a self-deprecating wit (not something you would find in Mourinho, Wenger or Ferguson). Once, asked to compare himself with Wenger, he offered this: “He likes having the ball, playing football, passes. It’s like an orchestra. But it’s a silent song. I like heavy metal."

At his introduction to the English media a fortnight ago, Klopp called himself “the normal one"—a reference to Mourinho, who at his first press conference as Chelsea manager in 2004 referred to himself as the Special One. It was a pointed—if not really accurate—description that at once took a swipe at the big money and big egos of the big clubs and also tapped into Liverpool’s love of the underdog. A charismatic manager in a city that wears its heart on its sleeve, Klopp is guaranteed to win over the Kop. Even more if he becomes an alchemist and turns heavy metal into silver ware.

Jayaditya Gupta is the executive editor of Espncricinfo.

Close