The Characteristics And Traits Of Brian Clough’s Leadership

Categories: Football

This Essay will discuss Brian Clough as a Charismatic leader and how his leadership style influenced those around him and will focus on his managerial reign at Nottingham Forest between 1975 and 1980. Charismatic Leadership is defined as the ability to inspire and motivate followers to perform at high levels and be committed to the organization of the cause. “Charisma is a sparkle in people that money can’t buy. It’s an invisible energy with visible effects “(Marianne Williamson). “I wouldn’t say I was the best manager in the business but I was in the top one” (Brian Clough).

Brian Clough as a Charismatic leader inspired those around him having already led Derby County from the bottom of English second division to their first and only Top flight league championship in 1972 he became Nottingham Forest manager in 1975. Positive traits of a Charismatic Leader are Confidence, communication, vision, and Determination all of which will be mentioned in this essay.

Brian Clough joined Nottingham Forest in January 1975 and sitting in the bottom half of the English Second Division.

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Nottingham Forest was a small provincial club very similar to Derby County and an ideal choice for Clough. On his arrival at Forest Clough Recognized the club already had some really talented players whom were simply underachieving. Brian Clough also used a varied Leadership style to fit the situation. He knew when to put the Boot in and when to put an arm around a players shoulder. Current players like Tony Woodcock, Ian Bowyer, Martin O Neill, Viv Anderson and John Robertson Benefited greatly with Brian Cloughs excellent Man Management.

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Brian Clough wasn’t afraid to delegate tasks and his Assistant Manager Peter Taylor was Trusted with both talent spotting and recruitment. Without spending a large amount of money Taylor and Clough brought in a group of players who again were underachieving at their clubs but were clearly talented. Players such as Frank Clarke, John McGovern, Larry Lloyd, John O hare were followed by Kenny Burns and Archie Gemill. Not big on tactics Clough believed a strong back four and a good goalkeeper were the building blocks of a good side. “Players lose Games not tactics” being a visionary Clough set clear goals for his team and each player assigned an individual roll. He used a Master Apprentice approach with mutual Respect a must. He also wanted his team to play football the way he felt it is played.” If God wanted football to be played in the clouds he would have put grass up there”. It was a simple formula Work hard Play and enjoy. Training was unpredictable, 5 a side or go for a walk, sprints through nettles to improve speed, the players were never bored. Brien Clough was a big believer in time off and rest and would fine his player if they trained on days off. He didn’t believe in diets and never over trained his players. Nottingham Forest wore promoted in May 1977 to The English first Division finishing third in the second division table.

Nottingham forests first game of the 1977-78 Season in the Top Flight was away to Everton and going a goal down early on in the first half the team spirit that Clough had instilled showed threw as Forest went on to win 3-1.This was the beginning of a run that saw Forest only lose once in 59 games. An example of Cloughs Excellent Player phycology was after the Everton Game he brought the legendary former Liverpool Manager in to the dressing game to give the players a rollicking, with Shankley telling the Forest players that the season ahead was a marathon not a sprint. Again Clough trusted his assistant manager Peter Taylors judgment in spotting players with Forest signing young goalkeepers Peter Shilton and Chris woods whom both would go on to have very successful English international careers. Brian Clough felt the signing of Shilton was the final piece of the puzzle. Another example of Brian Clough’s charisma was his use of the “us against them” mentality and in particular a newspaper heading stating “when will Forests bubble burst “. He kept his team talks simple by asking his players” if the bubble would burst today” and this seemed to bring the best out of the team. Forest went on to win the First Division title and the English league cup that year. Clough Had built a team based on individual player trust and a group that were totally united and “who would die for a team mate”.

Forest took the confidence instilled into them into the 1978-79 season with clear goals of European glory set for them by Brian Clough and” with a squad full of character’s and full of comradely “(Martin o Neill). Forest would play European cup holders Liverpool in the first Round and with Forest heavy underdogs he settled his players by telling them “we will have to play Liverpool at some stage lads so it might as well be now rather than the final”. This belief that his team were going to final anyway calmed his team and they beat Liverpool to advance to the second round. Brian Clough Charismatic and unorthodox leadership style showed the night before Forest were to play in the league cup final when he brought his team out drinking till the early hours to de stress and relax them believing they were fit enough and better than the opposition and that a hangover wasn’t going to stop them winning. The following day Forest won the league cup for the second year in a row. This was an example of the team spirit Clough had brought to the players. He had the ability with just the tone of his voice to make a player feel a foot taller or make a player shrink into his boots. “He could live with people miss controlling a pass or not hitting the target when shooting but would not tolerate with players not giving their lot”. Clough always insisted his players did the right thing and this was crucial during the next few games in the European cup as Forest had to travel to very hostile stadiums against Aek Athens and Grasshoppers of Zurich. Clough demanded his team would always play with sportsmanship and always respect the opposition the referee and the referee’s decisions. Forest advanced to the semi-final to play cologne and with victory would play Malmo in the final.

Another example of his charismatic behavior was the signing of Striker Trevor Francis for A world Record 1 million pounds .Clough wanted to show the world that his Forest side were a force that could attract top players. This signing proved crucial as Francis scored the goal in the final to win the European Cup. The following season 1979-80 Cloughs Forest team would once again reach the European Cup final. Clough’s charismatic leadership again showed as he sent his team to Majorca for a week prior to the match with instructions that the players would incur no training, no curfews and were to enjoy themselves and relax. “Focus was on the needs of the players. They were his frontline staff. There the ones under pressure. There the ones who deliver so you have to meet their needs whatever it takes”. (Prof Stefan Szymanski) Nottingham Forest and Brian Clough beat Hamburg FC in the European Cup to become the only English club to win that trophy two years in a row. They also won the European super Cup that season Beating Barcelona in the final.

In conclusion Brian Cloughs Charismatic Leadership was a perfect fit for Nottingham Forest and in particular the group of players he assembled at the club. 6 Major Trophy’s in that 5 year Period was an unbelievable accomplishment for a small Provincial club like Nottingham Forest. There are certainly many positive things that can be learned by his leadership. His style of Man Management was years ahead of its time but it is the author’s opinion that his style would not be suited to Modern football and certainly not to one of the bigger English football clubs. Brian Clough has been known as the “greatest English Manager never to manage the National team” and it’s this author view that this is because of his Charismatic outspoken and unorthodox approach to Football Management.

Updated: Feb 02, 2024
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The Characteristics And Traits Of Brian Clough’s Leadership. (2024, Feb 02). Retrieved from

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