DAVID PRENTICE: Was Brian Clough the greatest manager Everton never had?

By David Prentice on Mar 27, 09 12:00 PM in Journalists

IT'S Brian Clough week. The release of the film, The Damned United, has given every newspaper, TV channel and media outlet the opportunity to indulge in some unashamed nostalgia.

And with such a compelling and charismatic character, why not?

All the old nicknames have been rolled out. Cloughie, Old Big 'Ead, God.

But 'the greatest manager Everton never had?'

That's one which never stuck.

But there are yellowing newspaper headlines out there which show Cloughie as odds-on for the Goodison hot-seat in the summer of 1977, together with quotes from the man himself saying how he'd like the job - and messageboard anecdotes about Clough apparently telling associates that he'd have loved to have managed Everton "but they bottled it."

We're unlikely to ever know the truth.

But watch the DVD of Everton's 1985 European Cup Winners Cup success and listen to Clough's commentary.

The admiration is obvious, and when he talks of English clubs winning European trophies, he said: "Nobody has done it better than Everton" - just seven years after he had taken two of his own sides to European Cup triumphs.

But back in 1977 Everton was still very much establishment.

Sir John Moores was an influential director and chairman Philip Carter was a Football League President in-waiting.

Everton were never going to appoint a maverick like Clough as manager - even such a gifted one. But they still missed out.

In the summer of 1977 Everton missed out on the greatest manager they never had - a man they amazingly approached FOUR times to become Blues boss; a man who actually accepted once, but still never picked an Everton starting XI.

In his 1998 autobiography an Englishman abroad, Bobby Robson writes.

"In 1977 I had gone up to Merseyside to meet the president Sir John Moores and chairman Philip Carter.

"We agreed what was then a monumental 10-year deal. It was the original offer I couldn't refuse - and I didn't. All I asked was 24 hours grace before the deal became public to tell my chairman John Cobbold.

"He had been so good that I simply didn't want him to learn second hand.

"Sir John had given me a rather large cheque as a gesture of goodwill and intent. But within a day I had torn it up and thrown away a fortune because when I opened the Daily Express the next morning I saw a shocking headline screaming back at me. 'Robson Goes To Everton.'

"How could I accept a job with a club where they had let me down on the very first day?"

Whether Everton actually did let Robson down is unclear.

Whether the Blues were simply the victim of some excellent sports reporting we'll never know.

Perhaps Robson never fancied the job all along and found a convenient excuse.

Whatever the reasons, Robson stayed at Ipswich to craft one of the classiest, most cultured and visionary football teams it has ever been my good fortune to witness. But that wasn't the end of Everton's bid to bring Robson to Goodison Park.

"Illness had forced Harry Catterick to retire and they came looking in my direction in 1973, the first of several attempts over the years," he added.

"It was all very tempting, but the Cobbold brothers stepped in with a staggering offer and I stayed."

In 1994 Everton tried again.

"It is amazing to think that three times in my career a club as big as Everton had come knocking on my door and I had turned them down each time," Robson said. "By the time I was booted out of Sporting Lisbon Everton were a long way down in their negotiations with Mike Walker and an appointment was imminent. Had they come in for me then I probably would have joined them.

"Timing is everything."

Indeed. Three years later, after Joe Royle had been mutually consented, another Everton delegation approached Robson at Barcelona.

"I felt I was the wrong age to take on a task like that," he explained. "Had I been younger I might have been more tempted. Let's face it, Everton are a magnificent club, every bit as big as neighbours Liverpool and success would elevate it to the stars. The club is one of the gems in the English crown and Howard Kendall knew that better than anyone when he went back."

Four times Everton tried to land the greatest manager they never had. Four times they failed.

Billy Bingham, Gordon Lee, Mike Walker and Howard Kendall's ill-fated third term were the men who stepped in.

When middle-aged misty-eyed men tell you about the chance England missed by not appointing Brian Clough as manager in 1977, Evertonians can offer a counter tale of missed opportunities..

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