Following the sacking of Derby County manager Nigel Clough, many fans were outraged at the decision given that the manager was part of a ‘long-term project’ at Pride Park. This raises the debate over what is a long-term project? How long is long-term? What is the project?
Nigel Clough was appointed manager of Derby County in January 2009 following the sacking of Paul Jewell. After great success at Burton Albion from 1998 to 2009, leading them up the footballing pyramid from the dark days of relegation battles in the Southern League to Conference table-toppers, Clough was approached by The Rams to take over. Clough had built his success upon stability at Burton, with the rise of the Brewers taking over ten years. He remained loyal to the club, and things didn’t always go to plan, but the club stuck by him, and with time the club reaped the rewards.
Clough Jnr joined Derby following their dismal one season spell in the Premier League which saw them pick up a record low points tally of 11 points. The club were languishing in the lower regions of The Championship at Christmas time when they turned to Clough in the new year. It was hoped that the son of one of the most famous managers of all time would build a legacy at Derby similar to that of his father’s time at Derby, but on a lower scale. Rams fans were told that the appointment was part of a long-term project, that would see stability and youth as key to getting Derby County back into the Premier League.
Clough steered them to safety in his first season in charge, before the usual summer clearout of staff and players enabled to him to put his mark on the squad. In his first full season in charge he guided the club to a comfortable 14th place finish, which was seen as the building blocks to the future. The project suffered a blip in the following season when Derby finished 18th in the division, but the club stuck by the manager and they remained positive about the plan and its slow long-term progression. The following season saw a great improvement with the club recording a top half finish of 12th, and this would be improved on in the 2012-13 season when the Rams finished 10th. All the signs were there of a long term project based on loyalty and slow progression year after year, much like that of his spell at Burton.
It would come as a great shock to the Pride Park faithful that after just a few games of the 2013-14 Championship season, Nigel Clough was sacked as they lay 14th in the table. The board said it was time to move onto the next level. Fans reacted disgustingly to the news, calling it outrageous, and asking what he was supposed to have achieved with no money given to invest in the squad.
Clough took over a club that was in a state and stabilised them. He reduced the wage budget by half, and has given young players a chance during his reign, with three current stars Will Hughes, Jeff Hendrick and Craig Bryson likely to move on for big money. But the progress was seen as too slow for the owners. This raises the question, how long is a long-term project, two years? Three? 10? Who knows. In the modern day owners want instant success, and instant results and don’t have the patience to give time to managers to build something. More understandable in the cases of Manchester City and Chelsea where money is thrown at the manager to produce the goods straight away, but at a club like Derby where he has no money to spend, how can you expect quick success?
Maybe the Derby owners were right, we don’t know what goes on behind closed doors. Were Derby improving or were they treading water? Or was it just the nature of a tight division that each year they finished a couple of places higher? Were they ever going to reach the top end of the division without any money? We don’t know. How long is a long-term project? Your guess is as good as mine.