It was the late Brian Clough that said “players lose you games, not tactics. There’s so much crap talked about tactics by people who barely know how to win at dominoes”. And who am I to argue with the great man? Mind you, the odds on Clough succeeding in this day and age would be remote, according to betting experts in a recent article.

When it came to the beautiful game, Clough preferred to keep things simple. He liked to sign good players and play in a manner that suited them. His trusty assistant Peter Taylor had an eye for a player and pulled them in, while Clough’s unique man-management style got them playing. He knew which players needed to be wound-up, and those that needed an arm around their shoulder. He had half his dressing room hating his guts, wanting to prove him wrong, and the other half wanting to do anything for him. And it worked.

There are many that say that Clough’s methods wouldn’t work in the modern-day game, and in some respects, that may be true. But something else is true, and it’s the opposite of that first line of that famous Brian Clough quote above; while he was right that players and not tactics lose you games, they also win you games.

In recent times, there has been an almost obsessive focus on systems and tactics. 442 is the formation of the dinosaur…we must play with wing-backs…what about a diamond?…let’s go for 4231…

But whichever system a manager chooses, it’s the players that will make it work, and this is equally true from the top of the game to the bottom.

I am the Vice-Chairman of a semi-pro club and a few years back, we had a manager that tried to play using a system and tactics that are the polar opposite of the way successful teams at our level play. He tried to use a 352 formation and play out from the back, despite the fact that he didn’t have the players to make it a success. At Christmas we were bottom of the table with just 5 points and the manager was sacked. The team that won the league played 442, had a strong, experienced spine, and worked hard, methods that continue to work at our level every year.

When Nathan Jones left Luton Town to become manager of Stoke City a couple of years back, he imported the methods and approach that had seen him achieve such great success at Kenilworth Road. He utilised the diamond formation or used wing-backs, despite not having the players at his disposal that make those systems work. When Jones was sacked, new Potters manager Michael O’Neill immediately reverted to a system that suited the players he had and played them in their natural positions. Results immediately improved.

So when people get to talking about tactics, don’t forget that old truism from Brian Clough. Football doesn’t necessarily have to be complicated.