I’m ‘special’ - and ‘player power’ got me sacked.

Published: Saturday, 16 February 2019

Before you read on - watch the following.  Watch it all and listen to it carefully. Listen to Cloughie tell us he’s ‘special’ - and how neither he nor Don Revie disputed the suggestion that ‘player power’ cost Cloughie his job at Leeds back in 1974.....  

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=iTiIdbDBmZc 

Fantastic isn’t it? And what about the end when Austin Mitchell asks Clough ‘who would touch you with a barge pole now?’.  As we all know - Forest did, where Clough created both a dynasty and went on to fulfil his ambition of winning the European Cup - twice. 

Jimmy Armfield replaced Clough at Leeds. He was a popular choice with the players and he was in charge as they made their way to the European Cup Final in 1975. I’ve phrased it that way on purpose. He was ‘popular’ but he was only nominally in charge. The very same dressing room that had seen Clough off was now playing for ‘itself’. Giles, Bremner, Hunter, Lorimer - they were doing what came naturally under Revie. Anyone with a memory of the 1975 final knows they were robbed - but let’s concentrate on domestic matters. 

Leeds finished 9th that season. A pattern of disappointment followed - 5th, 10th, 9th, 5th 11th, 9th - and finally relegation. All this as Clough took charge at Forest and started to break up the old order again. He got them out of League 2 - won the First Division title the following season - seemed to win the League Cup every season - and the European Cup twice. 

Why does any of this matter now? Because history has a habit of repeating itself and I can see it doing so at Manchester United. 

To be fair - Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has done a fantastic job since taking over from Mourinho. No-one can dispute that. But - the Spurs game aside - if he could’ve hand picked his own fixtures he wouldn’t have chosen much differently. Then came last Tuesday night - when United were blown away - at Old Trafford - by a team so much better than they were - and a team missing two of its star names. 

It was embarrassing. At the very least it was a reality check for United fans. How do I know?  Because my son is one! 

It underlined how far away United are from the top table now. Isn’t this what Mourinho had been saying? Look - like everyone else I’d tired of his games at United and I was amongst those advocating change so I can’t argue differently now. He master-minded his exit brilliantly. Do you remember me saying that months ago and my ‘friends’ at the Daily Mail jumping all over me? I said Mourinho was asking to get the sack. Anyone disagree now? It was funny how the down table subs at The Mail changed their tune when their top writers started saying the same thing 😂🤷‍♂️

Mourinho was with us at beINSPORTS some little time after United sacked him. He was great company. He took criticism as well as demanding acclaim! Mind you, I do wish that I’d had the freedom that Austin Mitchell enjoyed with Clough and Revie - in an era when no-one had thought about ‘gagging orders’. There was a lot Mourinho told us that I can’t share with you - which is a shame. A great shame. 

But as I watched the other night I started to think about what he’d said regarding that second-placed finish the season before - ‘one of my greatest achievements with that group’ he’s argued. More and more I think he’s right. The truth is United aren’t very good are they? And without the talisman from the previous season - Ibrahimovic - there wasn’t a big enough character at the club to demand dressing room discipline. 

Solskjaer might yet deliver top 4. He could even deliver a trophy (at the time of writing they haven’t played Chelsea) but is he going to be the right man to take United forward from here? Can he attract the big names required to make them better? Is he strong enough to upset his big stars - something that he hasn’t had to do yet? 

I’m not for a moment suggesting United are in the same kind of terminal decline that Leeds found themselves in - but the days when their fans could expect a trophy or two from every season are gone. Their era of total dominance is over. 

Chief Exec Ed Woodward has got a massive decision to make now - and it could end up being his last. If he gets it wrong again he’ll have to go and there are plenty of candidates circling wanting his job - van der Sar, Schmeichel and inevitably Gary Neville. 

These are fascinating times at Old Trafford. Before you start tweeting your aggressive replies to the above - pause. Lay aside your deep bias. Just think for a moment. Consider this. What is it that history can teach us? Correct - that we should never forget the lessons that history can teach us.