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It Almost Happened: Brian Clough Becomes England Manager

Brian Clough IMAGO / Colorsport

Welcome to a new series of articles from Last Word on Football. Over the next few weeks we will be looking at the transfers, sackings, appointments and more that almost happened in football and changing the game we all know and love.

Today we look back at the two times, when one of the greatest and most controversial managers of all time, Brian Clough almost became the boss of the Three Lions.

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It Almost Happened: Brian Clough Becomes England Manager

The late great Brian Clough was one of the most successful managers of his generation. At Derby County, he led the club to its first league title and a European Cup semi-final. He then brought trophy after trophy to Nottingham Forest, winning the league title, the League Cup four times, two European Cups and the European Super Cup amongst others. 

Clough Wanted the England Job and the Fans Wanted Him

In 1977 many fans wanted Clough as England’s manager after the Three Lions had failed to qualify for the World Cup in 1974 and 1978 plus the European Championships in 1972 and 1976. 

Following the departure of Don Revie and failure to qualify for the 1978 World Cup, England were looking for a new permanent manager. The FA had a shortlist. Brian Clough, Ron Greenwood, Lawrie McMenemy, Jack Charlton, Dave Sexton and Bobby Robson. Only Clough could boast of having won a league title.

1977: Clough Believes He Has England Job After Interview

Following his interview with the FA, Clough believed he had done enough to get his dream job. He said:  “The jobs mine. I didn’t so much walk out of the room as float. I was absolutely brilliant, I told them what I’d do and how I’d do it.” Clough was on his best behaviour that day.

“I was utterly charming” Clough added, “I walked in, introduced myself to them individually and I saw (Sir Harold) Thompson look so startled!”. Sir Harold Thompson was the chairman of the FA, and one of Clough’s biggest detractors. “I thought his glasses were going to slide off the end of his nose!

“At the end I thanked them all very much and said ‘Hey, you’re not a bad bunch!”

The powers that be at the Football Association had different ideas, appointing Ron Greenwood, who had been placed in temporary charge following Revie’s exit. By all accounts, the FA had decided on Greenwood before Clough’s interview. 

1982: Loses Out to Bobby Robson

Following the 1982 World Cup, the search for a new manager began again. Of course, Clough was the favourite amongst fans. However, he lost out again, this time to Bobby Robson. 

The former Ipswich Town boss spoke to the then FA chairman Bert Millichip early in his tenure as the Three Lions manager when fans were clamouring for Clough and said: “Bert, listen. I’m having a rough time and everybody wants Brian Clough.

“So look, forget about me, let’s think about the country. Give the job to Brian. If you give it to Brian and he’s successful, everybody’s happy. I’ll be happy, you’ll be happy, the country will be happy, the fans will be happy”

Millichip didn’t listen, keeping Robson who would lead England to a World Cup quarter-final in 1986 and a semi-final in 1990. They did however fail to qualify for the European Championships in 1984 and were knocked out after three straight defeats in 1988.

Whether the Three Lions would have had more success under Clough is up for debate; however, his reaction to Maradona’s hand of god goal in 1986 would have been priceless.

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The Greatest Manager England Never Had

Who knows how England would have faired under Clough as manager, if little else it would have been just as entertaining off the pitch as well as on it. The great man himself had a theory on why he was never given the job. He said: “The FA were frightened of me. That’s why I wasn’t England manager. They were right. 

“They thought I was going to take over the Football Association. And they were right. I hadn’t matured enough to play the politics and get the England manager’s job. I was what I was. I didn’t change”.

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