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Brian Clough

Brian Clough was open to working in NASL if offered job

Brian Clough United States

Brian Clough, one of the most legendary soccer managers of all time, could have coached in the United States.

During the past few months, mentions of Brian Clough have increased as Nottingham Forest are playing in the Premier League for the first time in 23 years.

Brian Clough’s legacy as one of the best

Subsequently, it reminds us of the honors that Clough achieved as a manager. For instance, it includes two European Cup trophies (the predecessor to the UEFA Champions League). Similarly, he has the distinction of being one of only four managers to have won the English league while managing two different clubs. Overall, though, the fact that Clough won many of the honors for provincial clubs such as Nottingham Forest and Derby County is what separates him from the rest.

Incredibly, though, Cloughie could have gone on to coach in the United States.

World soccer legends in the United States

During the late 1970s with NASL’s rise in popularity, many of the best players in the world played in the United States. For example, Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, Carlos Alberto, Johan Cruyff, Eusebio, Gerd Müller, Geoff Hurst, Bobby Moore and Giorgio Chinaglia were just some of the stars.

Moreover, the NASL was an ideal destination for European soccer players to play during the summer months. English footballers, in particular, played in the United States in the summer and then returned to their clubs in time for the new season. The list of these players is too long to mention, but consider the names of just a few of these stars who played in the United States: Alan Ball, Peter Beardsley, and Trevor Francis.

Francis, in particular, is where the story starts with Clough’s interest in the United States.

In April 1978, when Francis was loaned to Detroit Express from Birmingham City, Clough was just weeks away from taking his Nottingham Forest team to the heights of English football, winning the 1977-78 English top-flight league.

Less than twelve months later, Francis and Clough made history.

Record-breaking transfer

In February 1979, Trevor Francis made history as the first British million-pound player, joining Nottingham Forest from Birmingham. Just a few months later, Francis engraved his name in the folklore of Forest when he scored the winning goal to win the European Cup final. That was May 30, 1979. Less than three weeks later, Francis was playing for Detroit Express again during his “summer break.”

Wanting to protest his £1,000,000 asset, Clough wanted to put an end to Francis playing in the United States, where he risked injury and fatigue.

“Eventually, if football takes off as we expect it to take off in America, then not only players, but managers, coaches and everybody would finish up in the American league,” said Clough in a television interview (see above video).

“I would go to America overnight if I was offered a length of contract to suit me, of course.”

Unfortunately for soccer fans, Clough was never offered a chance to coach in the United States. At the same time, the sport of club soccer never reached the heights that Clough imagined. After the collapse of the NASL, minor leagues continued to exist throughout the United States. And even with the creation of Major League Soccer, club soccer has never equaled the boom of NASL’s glory days in the United States in the late 1970s.

Ultimately, Clough continued managing Nottingham Forest until 1993 when he retired from football management. In hindsight, Clough leaving us his legacy at Forest was the better choice for the manager. But, oh, what a pleasure it would have been to see him in the United States.

Photo credit: Imago

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  1. Jeff

    September 13, 2022 at 3:33 pm

    “And even with the creation of Major League Soccer, club soccer has never equaled the boom of NASL’s glory days in the United States in the late 1970s.”

    Are you serious? This is completely laughable. I was around during the days of the Cosmos and went to many games. It was great, but MLS is miles ahead of where the NASL was in terms of finances, attendance and infrastructure. Your anti-MLS bias is legendary but this is so beyond the pale, I do not see how you can say this with a straight face, nor do I see how anyone takes you seriously going forward with regard to this subject.

    • Roberto

      September 13, 2022 at 3:45 pm

      Jeff, bullseye!

      Below I said I liked the article which was mostly good but wish the Chris above comment was left off.

  2. Roberto

    September 4, 2022 at 3:51 pm

    Very nice article. With Forest back in the big time Clough is being remembered after all these years. My years as a Seattle Sounders season tickets holder meant that I saw all the great players you mentioned. There was a strong Seattle and Derby County connection. Alan Hinton played for Derby County and Forest, I believe under Clough. In my travels to England for EFL games, I never saw Forest play

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