Clough was a true stalwart at Nottingham Forest under his father's management, the legendary Brian. Nigel made 400 appearances and scored 130 goals in his first spell at the club 1984-1993. As Forest were relegated and his father resigned Nigel moved to Liverpool in 1993. He made one of the best debuts in Liverpool's history, scoring two goals on the opening day of the season against Sheffield Wednesday at Anfield. Despite his performance the Times was not so convinced by Liverpool's new number seven: "Clough has neither the pace or purposefulness of Keegan nor the presence of Dalglish, Liverpool's most revered former No 7s, but an intuitiveness which has rarely been fully exploited by club or country. After a season battling in vain to save his father's job at Nottingham Forest, Clough already seems reinvigorated. His two goals on Saturday were celebrated by a man who appeared content with his new responsibilities. It remains to be seen, however, whether Souness will get the best out of him." Clough added two more goals in August as Liverpool won four out of their opening five Premier League games and went top. Things went pear-shaped after that for Souness' Liverpool and the Scotsman was sacked mid-season with Roy Evans coming in. Clough had struggled to make an impact with subdued performances, on occasion shining like against Manchester United when he was instrumental in turning a 3-0 loss into a 3-3 draw with two great goals. Clough wasn't the type of striker whom you depended on for goals and the presence of the legendary Ian Rush and the up-and-coming Robbie Fowler should have suited him perfectly, playing behind and feeding them with passes. However, Clough only made ten starts in two years under Roy Evans and halfway through the 1995/96 season he was offloaded to Manchester City. He settled for a £1,500-a-week reduction in salary to give himself the chance of Premiership football. City boss Alan Ball was impressed: "The lad has been very sensible. He's come down and it's extremely admirable of him to do that. It shows he is prepared to sacrifice something to play first-team football, which is marvellous."
Clough played in all of City's remaining Premier League matches in the 1995/96 season but City were relegated and injury meant that he lost his place in the team at the start of the following season. He was sent out on loan to Nottingham Forest, where he added 13 games and one goal to his Forest total, but his old club didn't want his services once his loan period expired. He was loaned to Sheffield Wednesday in September 1997 where he featured in one Premier League game as well as once in the League Cup during his four-week loan. Clough returned to City who were relegated to Football League 2 at the end of the 1997/98 season. Cough hadn't featured at all for City during that campaign and he was paid the remaining nine months of his contract and given a free transfer, effectively ending his League career at the age of 32. In October 1998 Clough accepted the post of player-manager at Burton Albion, then in the Premier Division of the Southern League. Burton moved into the Northern Premier League and, as champions of that division in 2002, were promoted to the Conference. Seven years later they won the Conference title and so became a Football League club for the first time. However, by the time promotion had been achieved, Clough had replaced Paul Jewell as the manager of Derby County. His arrival brought improvement in results and the club was able to stave off the threat of relegation. After finishing in fourteenth place in 2009/10, Derby rose to fourth position in the Championship table in November 2010, but the team had an alarming slump in form and eventually finished in nineteenth place with 49 points, seven points clear of danger. There were no similar fears about relegation in 2011/12 because County won their opening four matches in the Championship and by the end of September had moved into second place in the table. But during this period there were strong rumours that Clough, linked with a move back to Burton Albion in the summer, would leave Derby and move to another of his former employers, Nottingham Forest. But these rumours were quashed when Nigel signed a new three-year deal with the Pride Park club that would take him up to 2015. Derby's form dipped soon after the manager had signed this new contract and they slipped out of the play-off places, eventually finishing the season in twelfth position.
Clough was dismissed as Derby County manager on 28 September 2013 but less than a month later was appointed to replace David Weir as the manager of Sheffield United, leading them clear of the relegation places to the brink of the play offs as well as the semi final of the FA Cup. In 2014-15 he guided his side to the semi finals of the League Cup but a failure to gain promotion cost him his job and he left by mutual consent at the end of the season.