Clough times at Derby
Derby County manager Nigel Clough paused and momentarily collected his thoughts before commenting on the arrival of former England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson as director of football at nearby Notts County.
"I hope Ian McParland is happy with it because after all he is the manager," Clough eventually told me as we talked football in the comfortable surrounds of his office at his club's Moor Farm training facility.
"I would like to see Sven at Accrington Stanley on a Tuesday night, see if he fancies going up there to watch his team."
It has been a busy summer at the Nottingham end of the A52 - what with an intrigued media trailing in the wake of Eriksson's arrival, while Nottingham Forest boss Billy Davies has been spending like Montgomery Brewster as he remoulds his squad.
What has happened over the summer at the other end of The Brian Clough Way might be far less spectacular but to my thinking is no less fascinating.
Clough was appointed Derby boss on 6 January, sparking inevitable comparisons with his father Brian's successful tenure at the club from 1967-73. It was a great story that generated huge interest but Nigel is a very different character to his father and is managing in a different era. So what has he done since taking over at a club that was struggling to avoid relegation to League One?
Firstly it must be pointed out that Clough achieved his critical aim of avoiding the drop - but there is much more to it than that. It seems to me that he quickly concluded after arriving through the doors at Pride Park in January that he had taken over a bloated club.
Since then Derby County have been on a crash diet.
Clough estimates that he inherited 39 professionals and a huge scouting network. Split training sessions were held to accommodate all the players and the manager, used to working with a tight but trim squad in the region of 19 at Burton, found it difficult to work out his best team.
"It was different to what we anticipated," said Clough diplomatically of what he found upon arrival. "There was a very fractured group of players, with 28 of them unhappy as soon as we put the team up for the weekend."
It was the legacy of years of instability, of spending to try to scramble back to the Premier League and then to paper over the widening cracks.
"It was not sustainable," argued Clough, who might not possess his late father Brian's charisma but exudes a calm, thoughtful intelligence.
"The size of the squad, the wage bill and the amount spent on transfers - money was spent and it did not work so now we start again."
By March, Clough had worked out who he wanted to keep - and who he didn't. Since the end of the season the pruning has been brutal.
The likes of Andy Todd, Paris Simmons, Nathan Ellington, Mile Sterjovski, Tyrone Mears, Przemyslaw Kazierczak, John Eustace, Nacer Barazite, Barry Bannan, Liam Dickinson and Tito Villa have all gone (though as several people have pointed out below some were at the club on loan).
I saw goalkeeper Roy Carroll wandering around the corridors at the training ground but he has been told he won't play first-team football again at Derby and is looking elsewhere. The same applies to Jordan Stewart and Martin Albrechtsen. Furthermore, Derby hope to soon sort out a settlement with defender Claude Davis, who I've heard might end up wearing a Crystal Palace shirt this coming season.
The scouting network has also been scaled right back, with Clough and his backroom staff busy taking in games to monitor prospective signings.
Someone asked me after I met Clough whether I thought he was tough enough to manage in the Championship. Clough does seem to be a slightly unassuming individual, especially when compared to his father. But that does not mean to say he will not make tough decisions to achieve his aims. His radical overhaul of his squad speaks for itself.
There is also a slight but unmistakable steel to Clough when he discusses what makes a successful professional.
It was fascinating to hear him explain how he has found that lots of players can do similar things on a football pitch - what separates them is knowing when to do what at the appropriate time.
"The mental strength to keep doing the right thing day after day, match after match, is a major difference," he said.
Not long after he took over at Derby he travelled to Blackpool to watch them play Birmingham. At half-time an old man approached him and asked Clough how he was finding his new job. After a few brief pleasantries the man said to Clough: "They don't work as hard, do they." The Derby boss was momentarily confused but soon realised the old man was referring to Championship players compared with professionals from the lower divisions.
"The willingness to work is much greater but without the same quality," said Clough of the contrast between managing Derby and his former club Burton. "At Burton there was far more enthusiasm and a better work ethic. We are trying to get that willingness to work but with the required quality."
Quite simply, Clough is trying to construct a team rather than a collection of individuals. He illustrates his point by referring to an article he recently read in the Non-League Paper.
The piece was about last season's team of the season - there were no Burton players in the XI named and yet the Brewers had won the Blue Square Premier.
"That article summed it up - we did not have the best individual players at Burton but we had the best team and that goes a long way," commented the Rams boss.
Clough has trimmed down his squad and wants to operate on a pool of about 20 professionals with several potential loan signings in mind that he can try to bring to the club in the event of injuries. He is working hard with his squad to get to the stage where everything is second nature, repeating the same things over and over on the training ground.
There is now a blend in the squad between youth and experience, with an increasing emphasis on young, hungry players. Clough points to Wolves and Burnley as examples of what a club can achieve when a squad is built around the right type of young player. The Clarets cropped up several times during our conversation as Clough stressed that spending money guarantees nothing.
"If you can get a tighter squad it is easier to build team spirit because they are involved all the time," he said. "I don't think you need a much bigger squad in the Championship than the Blue Square Premier, it is a matter of keeping them fit mentally and physically. It gives you a continuity of putting out roughly the same side every week."
Winger Lee Croft, 24, has arrived on a free transfer from Norwich, 26-year-old defender Shaun Barker recently signed for £900,000 from Blackpool, while left-sided Dean Moxey, 23, has arrived from Exeter. Clough has also brought in defender Jake Buxton, 24, from Burton and is close to signing keeper Saul Deeney from the same club. Ben Pringle has also arrived and Clough is waiting to hear from a couple of Premier League clubs about season-long loan deals.
Looking around some Derby messageboards it is obvious that some supporters seemed a little under-whelmed with the summer signings, especially when contrasted with the outlay at rivals Forest.
But there is no doubt that Clough has been thorough in his research. I mentioned to him that I saw Moxey's last game for Exeter, at Rotherham on the final day of last season. Clough replied that he had him watched that day and the defender did not lose a header throughout the entire match.
Clough can see more hunger in his squad now and is hopeful that Barker and Miles Addison will provide some missing steel in defence. He is also confident that Croft and Gary Teale will provide plenty of crosses from out wide for strikers Chris Porter and Rob Hulse.
But as Clough assesses Derby's pre-season so far he confesses to only being relatively happy, with injuries the chief cause for concern. Hulse is not back after an operation, Kris Commons has yet to kick a ball while Porter and Dean Leacock have not played much football as they return from injury.
Burnley, it is worth noting, enjoyed a relatively injury-free season as they won promotion to the top flight last term - and it is a point that is not lost on Clough.
I asked Clough if he felt that at Derby he would be given the time and opportunity to see through the rebuilding job he has undertaken. His response was to laugh before he added "that would be nice".
He knows that his surname brings with it expectations. Having lived in Derby for most of his life he also understands the club and the fans. If anything, he said, it makes him more determined because if it goes wrong he cannot just disappear home up the motorway. But Clough is adamant that somebody - hopefully him - needs to be at the club for a period of time, to bring a sense of stability back to Pride Park.
So what would represent success during the forthcoming season, which starts with a fixture against Darren Ferguson's Peterborough?
Clough points out that of the 10 seasons he spent at Burton the club failed only once to improve on the position they achieved the previous campaign.
"We will just try to improve every season, there are no timescales" said Clough with characteristic common sense. "We are looking for some signs that we have got a team coming together.
"I think sustained success is built like that."