OF all Roy McFarland’s achievements in football, his brief stint in joint charge of Bolton Wanderers does not rank among the most memorable.
The club, riding high from the Bruce Rioch years, would come down to earth with a thump in their first Premier League season.
McFarland would last just 28 games, bringing just two league wins, before his sacking on New Year’s Day 1996 left his former Derby County partner Colin Todd to take the managerial reins alone.
Despite describing his time in dual charge as a “failed experiment” the Liverpudlian insists he does not regret a second of his time at Bolton.
And while his time at Burnden Park was a blemish on an otherwise solid managerial record, which also saw success at Bradford, Derby, Cambridge United and Burton Albion, the 66-year-old has happy memories of his time in the North West.
“Bruce Rioch had moved on to Arsenal but what he left at Bolton was a team spirit,” he told The Bolton News. “I know things didn’t go how we wanted them to but I genuinely cannot say anything bad about that group of players because they gave me everything.
“We went through some tough times and didn’t deserve some of the results that came our way – but when I looked round at people like John McGinlay and Owen Coyle, they weren’t hiding anywhere.”
Todd would, of course, drop into the First Division with the Whites before leading them to a record-breaking season 12 months later.
But there is no hint of bitterness on McFarland’s behalf as he summed up what went wrong.
“We’re still good pals and I wish him well at the moment as he gets over his surgery,” he said of Todd, who underwent a heart bypass in Denmark a couple of months ago.
“I didn’t want to leave, I wanted to see it through, but there were certain decisions that were difficult to make with two people in charge. Maybe the balance wasn’t right but I can’t fault the effort we both put into Bolton at the time.
“It didn’t work out but I knew that Colin would bring them back into the Premier League.
“He made one or two changes but held the squad together and they were a joy to watch that following season.”
SASA CURCIC WAS SUCH A WASTE OF A SPECIAL TALENT
THE name Sasa Curcic conjures child-like glee and frustration in equal measure for a generation of Wanderers fans – but Roy McFarland reckons he came close to making the Serbian superstar into a more complete player.
Arriving for a massive £1.5million from Partizan, the mercurial playmaker quickly became a terrace favourite with his silky skills on the ball.
But in a Wanderers career that lasted less than a year, Curcic became equally well-known for his lack of work-rate in a season in which the club tumbled tamely out of the Premier League.
McFarland recalls his experience of Curcic was very different, and that had he spent more time out of the limelight before his £4m move to Aston Villa the following season, he could have been one of Bolton’s greats.
“Sasa just wanted the ball – it was like watching a child in the playground at times,” he said.
“Sometimes I think you’ve got to accept that you are not going to get the perfect player and just harness what he is really good at. And Sasa could do some wonderful things with a football.
“We worked really, really hard with him to get his work-rate up and I think he did improve but we’re all looking for perfection right away and that would have taken time.
“It worked out financially in the end for Bolton but he was a player who had fans on the edge of their seats for the short time he was there, so I don’t think anyone who watched him would think any less of him.”
Curcic flopped at Villa before spending a short spell at Crystal Palace and retiring at the early age of 29.
McFarland blamed English football’s failure to embrace foreign culture in the early Premier League days for the Serbian’s lack of success.
“English football has still got that physical side to it, there is a zest about it that foreign players don’t always get used to,” he said.
“In Italy, Spain or Germany the pace of the game is slower – and it was that intensity that Sasa had to adapt to.
“Nowadays, foreign players are adapting much more quickly because clubs understand that more – you look at Luis Suarez at Liverpool, all his problems, but now they have a great asset.
“Sasa went through that phase of having problems but the understanding maybe wasn’t there, he didn’t adjust and then fell by the wayside, which was a terrific waste of talent.”
BRIAN CLOUGH'S SALES PITCH TO THE YOUNG McFARLAND LED TO AN ENDURING, SUCCESSFUL PARTNERSHIP
WHEN Brian Clough pitched the idea that unfashionable Second Division Derby County were going to rule English football to a teenage Roy McFarland, he didn’t have a chance to question the logic.
It was the Summer of Love, 1967, and McFarland had broken into the professional game with Tranmere Rovers just 12 months earlier.
Promotion and a first international cap for England followed quickly, and by 1972 the Rams had done the impossible by lifting the First Division title.
“From the first moment I met him, I knew he wasn’t going to take ‘no’ for an answer,” admitted the former Wanderers boss, who went on to forge a lifelong bond with the man attempting to make him his second signing at the Baseball Ground.
“He pitched everything that was going to happen, where the club was going, and it all went exactly as he and Peter Taylor had said.
“Brian knew what he wanted and took Derby by the scruff of the neck, created exactly the kind of squad he wanted, and after getting promotion we just started to evolve as a team.”
McFarland’s early Derby career was equally moulded by the influence of another legendary leader in Dave Mackay, who had been converted from a fearless midfielder into a formidable centre-half by Clough and Taylor.
But when Mackay finished his distinguished service at Derby it was McFarland who was entrusted to pick up the reins as his captain, taking the club to their greatest-ever season.
Playing alongside the man who later co-managed Wanderers with him, Colin Todd, Derby pipped giants Liverpool and Leeds to the title.
McFarland recalls how Clough had knitted the squad together using some unpredictable coaching techniques.
“You never knew what was going to happen,” he told The Bolton News. “Sometimes you’d turn up for training and he’d send you home, tell you to turn up again with your suitcase at 5pm because we’d be going to Blackpool or Scarborough.
“Other times you’d find yourself training in warmer places like Majorca to get a bit of sun on your back.
“He once took me to one side and asked what I was doing on Thursday night. I replied ‘going to the cinema with my girlfriend.’ But you could see he was concerned and questioned ‘do you think that’s a good thing to be doing?’ “It made me think – should I be sat in a cramped cinema that close to a game? Probably not. But it was the kind of little detail that he’d always have an eye out for.”
Clough took Derby into Europe the following season before quitting in controversial circumstances after a fall-out with the board.
He moved on to rivals Nottingham Forest and enjoyed even greater success but it would be at the City Ground where his battle against the booze would begin.
McFarland remained close and tried to intervene as his mentor failed to escape the grip of his alcohol addiction, which led to a liver transplant in 2003, 18 months before he passed away. “I lived in the same village as Brian, Quarndon, and you’d hear stories about what he had been up to, but everyone was very protective towards him,” he said.
“I’ve known neighbours turn down a lot of money from the press for stories about him and it was the same with the staff at Nottingham Forest.
“I know it was stomach cancer that killed him but you’d have to think that the alcohol would have been a contributing factor somewhere down the line. Regardless, I know it impaired his character and that was part of what made him such a great manager.
“You look at what he did at Derby and at Forest, great, great rivals, and we tried to intervene, as I have detailed in my book, but sadly he didn’t take people’s advice. And I think that it was a loss to football that he didn’t.”
McFarland’s first job in management came at Bradford City – and it would be Clough who would give him his first words of advice.
“When I took over as player-manager at Bradford City the first call I got was from Brian Clough, and he just said ‘Roy, good luck, you’ll need it. Ta-ra.’ “It was a reminder that it wasn’t going to be plain sailing and I know now that he was absolutely right.”
*Roy McFarland Clough’s Champion is available now, RRP £16.99, Trinity Mirror Sport Media