Winless when he arrived, Mansfield Town have now won five in a row and find themselves just five points outside the Play-Offs in Sky Bet League Two. Speaking to Mark Clemmit on the Official EFL Podcast, Nigel Clough opens up on his return to management.
“When I took the job somebody asked me, ‘why?’ I turned around to him and said, ‘why not?’”
Never one to shy away from a challenge, Clough took the job at Mansfield in November, with the side winless in Sky Bet League Two. On Saturday, victory over Southend United was the Stags’ fifth win in a row and seventh in 13 games since the former Burton Albion manager's appointment.
“This is a great club, it’s got good potential and good owners, why wouldn’t I take the job here?” he said. “It’s a new challenge that we’re very much enjoying and looking forward to the future.”
Following the suspended League One season in March 2020 due to the outbreak of coronavirus, Clough made the tough - and selfless - decision to walk away from Burton Albion - a club where he had spent 15 years in the dugout across two managerial spells, during which his success included guiding the club to the Championship for the first time in their history.
With the league season temporarily suspended, Clough sacrificed his job so that others could keep theirs.
“Everyone was very concerned last year with when fans were going to return,” he admitted.
“We had no commercial income at the time and no one knew what was going to happen, so I felt it was a necessary decision for me to take for the good of the club and to try and keep some of my colleagues at the football club in work.”
Clough guided Burton Albion to the Championship for the first time in the club’s 71-year history, a moment Burton fans will no doubt never forget. He also led the club on an historic cup run in the 2018/19 campaign, as the Brewers reached the Semi-Finals of the Carabao Cup that season, only to be knocked out by eventual winners, Manchester City.
“There are no guarantees when you leave a football club where and when you’re going to get back in, or if,” Clough admitted to Clemmit on the Official EFL Podcast.
“That made the decision to leave Burton even harder. We applied for jobs all over, I thought about going up to Scotland at one point and we just applied for whatever vacancies there were available.
“Then all of a sudden Mansfield Town popped up. I had an initial chat with David Sharpe who was very impressive and we just went from there really.”
But it wasn’t an easy task, despite Clough so far making it look so. The Stags were winless in League Two when he took to the dugout, but he’s soon turned things around and with seven wins from their last 13 - including winning their last five in a row - Mansfield are on the up.
“I don’t think the perfect club exists, each one is different and as a manager you’ve to to go in and do the best job that you can, but I see real potential at Mansfield. I think with the current owners and David as Chief Executive there’s real potential for the future.
“It was a bit strange at first because my first game was actually a game that I wasn’t in charge of. We went to watch a game first, managed to speak to the players before the game and at half-time briefly, but we were only watching so it wasn’t until the following week that we properly got involved at the training ground and met everyone.
“The first surprise for the players was when I opened the door and actually let the dog into the training ground, so in the first meeting that I had with the players they met the dog. I obviously explained to them that those who liked the dog were more likely to get in the team than those who didn’t!”
With half a season still to go and momentum on their side, is it too soon to be talking about a Play-Off push?
“Well we definitely need to keep the momentum going as much as we can," Clough continued. “Why not? But we’re also very aware that it’s pretty fragile in football in general. We’re on a great run but if you lose a couple of games all of a sudden you’re looking over your shoulder again.
“We always said if we can just get safe as soon as we can, then we can start enjoying to play a little bit more, so that’s still the aim but the players are enjoying it, I’m enjoying it and they’re working really hard, as they have done since day one.”
It’s hard not to talk to Clough without touching on his father Brian’s memorable days in football. He joked how his dad used to tease him that he’d never beat him at anything, but with more than 1,000 games in management under his belt, he might do him on longevity.
“It’s the only thing that I can beat him on, let’s be realistic! He always used to tease me that I would never beat him at anything. I was definitely never going to score as many goals as him, he told me that from day one. With his management record and trophies, I won’t beat that either so if I can hang on in there in management for longer than him, it’s something!”