The life of a modern-day manager is an increasingly bizarre vocation. In the past, a manager’s reputation was built almost solely on his ability to extrapolate every ounce of talent from his players in an attempt to deliver victories and eventually trophies. This is no longer the case. In today’s environment, where the sport is as much about gaining commercial revenue as it is about the glory of success, a manager’s role has mutated. If you look at managers like Jürgen Klopp or Jose Mourinho it is clear that their reputations have been built upon their charisma, on their unfailing tendency to captivate press rooms with a calculated blend of humorous quips and engaging soundbites, as much as it is on any of their on-field geniuses. However, to assume that the rise of the personality manager is a recent development would be to neglect the past. Long before Mourinho, all seater stadiums and even the formation of the Premier League (I know it’s strange to consider football as an entity pre-1992) there were managers who had an almost supernatural talent that forced people to gravitate towards them, the starkest examples would have been Brian Clough and his long-time adversary Don Revie.
When you consider the operating procedures of the two men, they could not have been more different. Polar opposites, Revie was famous for cultivating a warm, almost fatherly bond with his players. An all-encompassing shield around the squad that afforded the protection needed to allow the players the freedom to play. This strategy was made all the easier by the fact that his Leeds side was so greatly despised across the width and breadth of the country for their Machiavellian style –the moniker “Dirty Leeds” endures to this day. This allowed Revie to hunker down and conduct his business under the guise of the now clichéd “siege mentality”.
Clough, on the other hand, operated with a much greater degree of autonomy. He viewed his players, from a cool distance, as little more than employees. Men who, when it came to an understanding of the game, were lightyears behind him. He said as much when he described how democratic his processes were, saying, “we talk about it for twenty minutes and then we decide I was right”.
Both of these men could have operated without friction in the same ecosystem if there was a great disparity in quality between their sides. Unfortunately for the two, a clash was inevitable, giving rise to a rivalry that defined the era and forever altered the manner in which a manager was seen.
Like a true classic, heavyweight boxing match the two rivals each enjoyed moments of glory, swapping dominance at regular intervals. When the two men clashed for the title in the 1971/72 season, (Clough at Derby County and Revie at Leeds), a huge amount of preparation had already gone into the respective infrastructures. Leeds legend Johnny Giles sums up just how extraordinary Revie’s work was, saying, “What Don did at Leeds was unbelievable. Don didn’t revitalise a team. Leeds had no history. So, he had to create it from nothing. It was a rugby league area. For my first match, when we were in the Second Division, there were 15,000 people there”.
Clough too had galvanised a club that, at best, had a modest history. Under his tutelage, Derby had soared from the first division and became regular battlers for top level trophies. It is important to bear in mind that the winners of any given league title were not selected from an elite cabal of Superclubs (and Leicester) as it is today. In that era, to claim the top prize it would require a season long war of attrition, against multiple adversaries. To demonstrate just how difficult it was to win the league, the fact that no club had managed to retain the trophy between 1959 (Wolves) and 1977 (Liverpool), startles in the extreme.
This crushing level of intensity was always going to cause friction, and in the years spent in a perpetual series of one-upmanship, wounds were inflicted and allowed to have a debilitating effect. Leeds’s robust playing style was always remarked upon by Clough, who even went as far as to suggest an enforced relegation for their poor disciplinary record.
The pair’s relationship reached its most intense, and indeed most infamous, stage in 1974, when Don Revie was awarded the English National Team job. After a thirteen-year stint at Elland Road, where two League Titles, an FA Cup and a League Cup, as well as numerous runners-up finishes, ensured that Revie was sent off with nothing but the best of wishes from the Yorkshire club. Indeed, if it was not for one of the most bafflingly one-sided refereeing performances in the 1973 European Cup Winners Cup Final loss to AC Milan, then there would have been an even greater degree of love.
Much to the chagrin of many Leeds players and Revie himself, Clough was unveiled as gaffer. Revie felt that his successor should have been selected from within. On more than one occasion he made it clear that he wished to see his captain, Johnny Giles, take up his mantle. In the same way Manchester United are struggling to adapt to post Sir Alex Ferguson life, Leeds also struggled. After such an elongated time bending to the wishes of one man, many of the players found it difficult to move to another’s tune.
The tenure of Brian Clough at Leeds has been covered ad nauseam in a string of books, as well as the film ‘The Damned United’.
Things could not have got off to a poorer start for Clough. In an attempt to establish his dominance, his opening gambit to the battle-hardened centre-half, Norman ‘Bite-yer-legs’ Hunter, has gone down in history, “Hunter, you’re a dirty bastard and everyone hates you. I know everyone likes to be loved, and you’d like to be loved too, wouldn’t you?”. Hunter’s reply, “Actually I couldn’t give a fuck”, shows just how poorly Clough had gauged his new charges. For a manager that prided himself in being able to decipher a squad’s mentality it was an early blow that he would be unable to recover from.
After a dismal forty-four days at the helm of Leeds, Clough was shown the exit.
Life was far from a morning stroll on the beach for Revie. He too finding it difficult to cultivate a life in the shadow of a legend. Hired to replace the outgoing Alf Ramsey, who was still basking in the glow of winning the World Cup eight years earlier, Revie was struggling to impose his stamp onto international football. Revie’s time leading the nation was characterised by a failure to pin down a consistent starting line-up, while a revolving door of new players spun perpetually. A Home Nations triumph was a scant return for failing to qualify for the 1976 European Championships and 1978 World Cup. Sensing that the sun was about to set on his regime, Revie set into action a series of events that would forever tarnish his legacy. His decision to sit out a trip to South America in favour of negotiating a lucrative position coaching the United Arab Emirates was frowned upon. A feeling compounded by falsely claiming he was on a scouting trip of upcoming opponents Italy. A ten-year ban was soon issued when he prematurely announced his new role without fully informing the FA, a punishment later abolished.
In the late 1970s a number of allocations of bribery and corruption were thrown into Don’s direction earning him the derisory nickname ‘Don Readies’. Although the majority of these claims were rebuked, mud sticks and Revie’s legacy was forever tarnished to the point that when his untimely funeral came around in 1986, not a single member of the FA made an appearance. An act that should still cause embarrassment.
While Revie was gradually brought back down to earth with his series of misdemeanours, Clough saw his star shine brighter than ever. The burn felt after his swift dismissal at Leeds was soon soothed with his appointment at Nottingham Forest. There, he solidified his own assertions that he was the best manager in the country. A league triumph and a League Cup were welcome, yet it was the back to back European Cup successes in 1980 and 1981, against Malmo and Hamburg that solidified Clough’s reputation as an elite level manager.
As his tenure at the City Ground wore on the trophies began to dry up, yet the stories that added to his mystique piled up. Violent outbursts that included (but not limited to) wading into a sea of Queens Park Rangers fans and planting a couple of decent shot onto dissenting jaws and decking the notorious hard-man Roy Keane, while the Irishman was starting his career, stand out. The career of Clough petered out in a manner that did not truly match the illuminative style in which he conducted the rest of his life. Relegation in 1992 was followed swiftly by his resignation.
Clough and Revie both operated at a time when tactics and styles of player were far more homogenised than they are today, and as such their teams required far more galvanising if they were to ensnare major honours. Their ability to draw upon the vast recesses of their personalities and influence the lives of so many is what sets them apart from the plethora of managers conducting business at the time.
Revie’s gruff, almost cartoonish depiction of masculinity, balanced with his homely, kind-hearted warmth earnt him the respect from all who played under him. Clough, flash and vocally dexterous, with a tongue so laden in silver it was a wonder he was able to move it at such blurry speeds, was the perfect counterpoint. Well-matched, mirror images that shared almost nothing in common other than a boundless love for the game and the glories it offered.
Before Fergie and Wenger and the rise of prominence of the personality manager, there was Clough and Revie, a rivalry that we may never see matched.