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Arsenal column All Guns Blazing: Nottingham Forest FA Cup humiliation shows Arsene Wenger fails to understand the fall of Brian Clough

PUBLISHED: 20:47 08 January 2018 | UPDATED: 23:17 08 January 2018

The legendary Brian Clough at the South Bank Television Centre in the mid 70s

The legendary Brian Clough at the South Bank Television Centre in the mid 70s

PA Archive/PA Images

They were doing a brisk trade in Brian Clough badges outside the Nottingham Forest Sportsmans Social Club before kick-off on Sunday.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, helpless in the stands during the 4-2 loss to Forest.Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, helpless in the stands during the 4-2 loss to Forest.

The legendary Clough is still a potent icon for supporters of the club from the smallest city in Europe to have lifted the European Cup.

The atmospheric City Ground, yards from the River Trent, with its back to ignored cousin Notts County on Meadow Lane across the ice cold water, always looked towards bigger targets during ‘Old Big ‘Ead’s’ heyday.

When Forest ruled Europe - Brian Clough at the height of his powers with assistant manager Peter TaylorWhen Forest ruled Europe - Brian Clough at the height of his powers with assistant manager Peter Taylor

In the shiny club shop off the Radcliffe Road, a Stuart Broad overthrow to nearby Trent Bridge, homage is still paid to the man who revolutionised this proud club.

You could purchase European Cup memorabilia as if the pair of immortal triumphs happened yesterday.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger as his team is humiliated 4-2 by ForestArsenal manager Arsene Wenger as his team is humiliated 4-2 by Forest

Grandfathers spoke to their awed grandchildren in hushed, reverential terms of the victories in Munich, against Malmo – and 12 months later at the Bernabeu against Branko Zebec’s Hamburg – who fielded Kevin Keegan, Felix Magath, Manny Kaltz, Horst Hrubesch and all.

It may have only been a club shop – but for those who followed Forest across Europe, after conquering domestic rivals of course, nearly four decades ago – it could have been an exhibition staged to honour Clough, and by definition, Forest’s greatness.

Nottingham Forest's Eric Lichaj (centre) celebrates scoring his side's second goal against Arsenal (pic Mike Egerton/PA)Nottingham Forest's Eric Lichaj (centre) celebrates scoring his side's second goal against Arsenal (pic Mike Egerton/PA)

Yet the tragedy of Clough in footballing terms was that he stayed too long.

Nearly two decades he bossed Forest, from 1975 to 1993.

Nottingham Forest's Eric Lichaj scores his side's first goal of the game against Arsenal (pic Mike Egerton/PA)Nottingham Forest's Eric Lichaj scores his side's first goal of the game against Arsenal (pic Mike Egerton/PA)

He was a young, charismatic, hungry manager, determined to remake the face of domestic football – and succeeding for ten glorious years – as he transformed a moribund, listless club living on past glories into one of the best teams England and Europe had seen.

He could have won more trophies, yes, but his teams beguiled neutrals with their attacking flair, their unorthodox brilliance, and, through his capacity to rescue and remould players who needed a spot of tender loving care from an influential father figure they revered, transformed them into the continent’s finest.

Nottingham Forest manager Brian Clough, left, and assistant manager Peter Taylor before they played Nacional of Uruguay, the champions of South America, in Tokyo's Olympic Stadium.Nottingham Forest manager Brian Clough, left, and assistant manager Peter Taylor before they played Nacional of Uruguay, the champions of South America, in Tokyo's Olympic Stadium.

Clough in his pomp was box-office. When he spoke everyone listened.

He was ruthless, brutal with players who were surplus to his plans, but to those he needed, they would have died for him, commanding loyalty from all he encountered. Quite simply if you weren’t with him you were against him.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger saw his team lose 4-2 to ForestArsenal manager Arsene Wenger saw his team lose 4-2 to Forest

He was often one-eyed, but through a natural intelligence and a twinkle in his eye suggesting a smidgen of irony and bathos not pathos, he got away with most things. Even now some of his best lines are still recalled with a fondness and warmth upon retelling that prevents them from falling into truisms.

“We talk about it for twenty minutes and then we decide I was right” was his mantra on dealing with players who disagreed with him.

The original caption to this photo reads: Brian Clough showing contempt for the fans of Nottingham Forest, the team he manages, at City Ground, Nottingham, during their game with Arsenal when Forest fans chanted abuse at Arsenal's Charlie Nicholas who was later stretchered off after colliding with Forest goalkeeper Steve Sutton.The original caption to this photo reads: Brian Clough showing contempt for the fans of Nottingham Forest, the team he manages, at City Ground, Nottingham, during their game with Arsenal when Forest fans chanted abuse at Arsenal's Charlie Nicholas who was later stretchered off after colliding with Forest goalkeeper Steve Sutton.

But he stopped winning big games.

And started losing them instead.

Nottingham Forest manager Brian Clough in his pompNottingham Forest manager Brian Clough in his pomp

Who can forget him sitting alone and aloof, King Canute-like, on the bench at Wembley while his Forest team cried out for instruction before the 1991 FA Cup Final went to extra time as they eventually lost 2-1 to a Gazza-less Spurs?

Eventually his team stopped playing big games – before they then stopped winning full stop.

Former football manager Brian Clough shortly before he died in 2004.Former football manager Brian Clough shortly before he died in 2004.

Clough passed his sell-by date but refused to acknowledge the fact, surrounding himself with acolytes or simply refusing to take heed of the evidence.

Forest fans were split. They loved this man who walked on water, or at the least the Trent, during the late 1970s and most of the 1980s.

But for some in 1993 - despite what they’ll say now – he was a hated figure. Reviled by some, mocked by others, the respect he instantly commanded vanished.

Fans saw his sad demise through the prism of an underachieving club riven by cliques, staffed with poor signings, beset with underperformance and complacency and wanted him out.

By the time he realised it was too late.

He destroyed his own legacy.

He left a club that two decades on is still struggling to recapture a semblance of self-respect, let alone regain its rightful place at the top table of English football.

That was his real football tragedy.

The fact he brought low a club he loved through his own stubbornness and arrogance, with a hubris generated from the very same traits that made him successful.

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