RamsWeek 36 - Time Will Tell
Sunday, 4th Sep 2011 23:22 by Paul Mortimer
The international break gave Derby County breathing space, with time out after a successful start to their Championship campaign. Fans held their breath in anticipation of transfer activity as the summer ‘window’ closed.
With the Rams’ first-team squad taking a break in Spain, goalkeeper Frank Fielding was soon re-packing his case to return home - as he’d been called up for Fabio Capello’s full England squad after West Ham’s Robert Green had withdrawn.
It is 11 years since a current Ram was selected for the full England squad; that’s going back to 2000, when Seth Johnson was called up.
Disappointment came for Kevin Kilbane, though, as a back injury forced his withdrawal from the Republic of Ireland squad, which broke his 66-game sequence of international appearances. Jeff Hendrick remained on the substitute’s bench as the R o I Under-21s beat Hungary 2-1 in Sligo.
Back home, young striker Callum Ball bagged another couple of goals for the Rams reserves as they won 3-2 at Chesterfield in the reserves’ League Cup. Callum is well on the goal trail again this season already, and hopes to progress to the first team during this season.
The kick-off for Derby’s away game at Leicester City’s daftly-renamed King Power Stadium on October 1st has been moved back to 5.20 pm for the convenience of Sky Sports armchair viewers.
Holding breath on transfer deadline day proved an unwise option for Rams fans; the message from the club was that surplus players needed to leave before further recruits arrived.
As media pages buzzed with transfer updates, the name of Derby County was conspicuous by its absence amongst all the fervid activity. Time passed silently and told its own story at Pride Park Stadium.
The BBC online sports pages invited us to watch all the deadline day activity in their “continuous coverage of one of the most exciting days on the footballing calendar.” Well of course such as Chelsea, the Manchester clubs, Liverpool, Arsenal, Spurs and most other top-flight clubs were laying down serious money to strengthen their squads. It sure was drab in lil’ ole Derby, though!
Championship outfits were getting in on the act but on a more modest scale. Apart from Leicester City, that is, who were willing to spend a reported £6.5m on Glasgow Rangers’ Croatian striker Nikica Jelavic but had the bid rejected.
Then the Foxes spent £4m on Everton’s Jermaine Beckford before allowing Derby transfer target Martyn Waghorn go on loan to Hull City. Later in the week, Waghorn scored a 30-yard cracker on his debut for England U-21s as they thrashed Azerbaijan 6-0. C’est la vie!
Birmingham, Blackpool, Brighton, Burnley, Coventry and Posh have made new signings; so did Millwall, Scunthorpe, Portsmouth and Watford. Ex-Rams’ loanee Gilles Sunu has slunk back to France, returning to Lrient. The fondly remembered rent-a-centre-forward-for-a-month-or-two Shefki Kuqi left Newcastle United for Oldham Athletic.
Conversely, Mr Glick’s deadline-day treat for Rams fans was to remind us again about ‘responsible governance’ and the ‘financial fair play rules’ which are due to come into play in 2012.
Things took a dramatic turn at the City Ground, Nothingham after deadline day passed at Forest without new signings; new boss Steve McLaren held crisis talks with Forest officials over his disappointment with the lack of transfer activity. McLaren spent £2m on players during summer. He’s staying put, though, as Mac and the Forest regime try to sort out their ‘teething troubles’.
With Leicester putting the Rams (and Trees) in the shade in terms of outlay and ambition, it all felt pretty remote on 31st August from a fan’s point of view. Is it another case of smoke and mirrors at Pride Park Stadium? The club will point to the glut of transfer activity as soon as last season finished, with a flurry of signings including the two Scots, Jason Shackell and goalkeeper Fielding.
Some fans voice a nagging worry that, when the winter comes, inexperience and a persistent lack of strength in depth in the squad could cause a fade-out as it did last season, when key loanees departed and the club failed to replace Hulse, Moxey and Commons.
Derby later spent ‘big’ (by their standards) on Jason Shackell but has received some £2m in transfer fees from selling Hulse, Moxey, Commons and Varney. Wage savings from those departees and then (especially) from Robbie Savage’s retirement were significant in controlling Derby’s wage bill.
An excellent start to this season and the emergence of O’Brien and Hendrick are developments that have masked evident gaps in the team. We have been without a recognised centre-forward for a year now, apart from the effective loan cameo from Shefki Kuqi.
Failure to recruit new players in several key positions - midfield anchor, full back cover, and a target man to strengthen Derby’s ability to retain the ball up front remain pressing concerns to supporters.
During the course of a football club’s history, there are often key statements and phrases from senior club officials that gather significance and tap into the mood of fans. They can become turning points in the perception of the club, to inform the level of belief and trust that supporters have in owners, directors and managers.
Of course we could recall some past examples from (for example) Sam Longson, Lionel Pickering, or Jeremy Keith. Perhaps the recall of Tom Glick’s comments earlier this summer, promising a top six spot after a vastly disappointing 2010-11 season will become the watchwords for this season -and this week brought more words of wisdom from the Rams’ CEO:
“We know people are not as excited as we want them to be. They want a better squad, we expect a better squad and we are not satisfied." OK, Mr Glick…then please do something about it!
Brighton didn’t hang about; top of the Championship, a £2.5m striker landed in the summertime, are perhaps on a Norwich-like roll for back-to-back promotions. They just signed out-of-contract Spanish international Vincente Rodriguez. Seagulls’ manager Gus Poyet called him ‘that special player we wanted’.
Time will tell if Derby will also cast the net wider to secure imaginative signings that add extra sparkle. Brighton won’t spend time waiting for the loan window to open.
Fans might sound ungrateful in expressing a disaffected view after a flurry of summer signings and a great start to 2011-12. DJ chose that classic Jagger/Richards song (You Can’t Always Get What You Want) for his RamZone article earlier this week, discussing the transfer deadline.
No doubt another Stones title is being echoed by supporters who feel that key positions haven’t been filled and too little has been invested in the squad. Cue song: “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.”
Mr Glick agrees that we need better players and made his declarations for 2011-12. We have obtained some better players - Shackell, Fielding, Bryson, maybe Tyson - (Ty should make a difference when fit) - but it’s by no means certain that the Rams will sustain their current lofty position when it matters most.
GSE continue to gambled with fans’ loyalty, as Mr Glick toughs it out. Supporters dread another feeble fade-out when the going gets tough. Dissatisfaction shouldn’t be on the agenda after such a good opening to the season - but there’s no doubt that it is! The January transfer window was a disaster for Derby and the summer one has ended like a soggy firework on a wet November night.
Fans generally know more about football than finance - whatever; they just aren’t yet convinced that Derby can finish in the Championship’s top six. Gates do reflect this, as a few thousand have stopped away so far this season, even if Derby’s home attendances are excellent in comparison to rivals and the gates still regularly register as the weekend’s best attendance.
Higher prices for away fans also conspire to ensure lower attendances - they simply cannot pay rising prices today. Rams fans buying a ticket for Derby’s next fixture, the away game at Coventry City’s under-populated Ricoh Arena, could benefit from a BOGOFF offer - buy one ticket, get another one free.
That’s symptomatic of the desperation to attract gates - which in this case will be depleted by the TV screening of the game on Sky Sports.
After what has been witnessed and endured in financial terms during Derby County’s recent history, Rams fans do retain a fair measure of common sense and level-headedness about football’s fiscal concerns.
They do acknowledge that prudent control has been necessary and that stricter turnover-to-expenditure controls will ultimately contribute to sensible club governance.
However, they also see several top-flight clubs with smaller fan bases and less illustrious histories than Derby County retain their Premier League status and take their team-building beyond consolidation and survival. Many now seriously wonder if Derby County will ever re-join (or replace) these clubs.
Messrs Glick and Appleby, and the super-rich ownership consortium behind Derby County should not be surprised that fans want to see outlay on proven, experienced players who will propel the club into the Premier League. The club is still badly lagging behind its potential - and every year’s delay will see it become more difficult to reach the elite division, then consolidate and grow.
I’m also concerned that the Rams haven’t yet managed to offload well-paid but unwanted players like Dean Leacock and Stephen Bywater. These players have fallen from grace, no doubt - but do possess experience that would be useful to many clubs, even if they may not enjoy such a good an environment or reward package in future.
To me, the failure to shift these players temporarily or permanently in four months shows the club to be pretty tardy. It is impeding squad-building. The football networking at DCFC is pretty weak, evidently; the club said so, and admitted it needed strengthening - but that still hasn’t happened.
Derby announced months ago it was beefing up its football strategy and development capabilities. The club has yet to secure a so-called ‘technical director’; no-one has been employed to assist the process of player movement or widening the scouting horizons.
There’s no doubt that wins at Coventry and Forest would displace any residual grumbling from fans to a later date. On the other hand, a run of defeats would feed disbelief. As ever time will tell if the cautious, low-cost strategy will succeed or not. Failure on the pitch this season is not an option - and failure by Mr Glick’s stated parameters would be to finish outside the top six.
August transfer inactivity has reinforced two significant pressure points on the club: the first is for the team to sustain their good form and stay at the top of the table to suppress latent dissatisfaction. The second is for some impressive loan business to be done soon to excite the fans and add a little strength and spice to the team to promote more confidence and optimism.
Premier League sides must now submit their 25-man squad lists and there will be many good but displaced players. The ‘cut’ will encourage top-flight clubs to put those players out on loan - then there will be a chase for them as ‘emergency loanees’ for Football League clubs in a few days when the loan system is active.
The Rams claim they intend to capitalise on loan player availability - but must secure good players that will improve the squad, not just grab some residual injury rehabs, contract-hoppers and wasters. Rival clubs will queue up to win the best loanees, so Derby must follow through or other clubs will benefit. Deeds, not words please, when it comes to ensuring adequate squad strength.
The weekend saw a heavy programme of international games for the Euro 2012 qualifiers and England won comfortably against Bulgaria, coming away from Sofia with a 3-0 win. Wayne Rooney scored twice to move joint 8th in the all-time England goalscoring chart on 28 goals with the legendary Steve Bloomer.
Steve took just 23 games to amass that tally; Rooney has played more than 70 internationals though of course defenders are rather better these days!
England remains on course to qualify for Euro 2012; they are clear at the top of their group with easily the best goal difference. Rams’ keeper Frank Fielding was not selected in Capello’s 18-man squad for the game, as Ipswich Town’s David Stockdale was on the bench to understudy Joe Hart.
Tuesday evening will see the return Group G fixture, as England take on bottom team Wales at Wembley, which promises to be a feisty affair! How will the Three Lions fare in the tournament finals next summer?
In RamsWeek 36 last year it was a case of “listen to what the man said” as Rams’ CEO Tom Glick explained the sale of top scorer and Player of the Year Rob Hulse to QPR.
Glick told fans that the club was focussing on players that were the future of the club, whilst taking on board a loanee - Spanish forward Alberto Bueno - who would spend 2010-11 with Derby.
The impermanence was to be a feature of the season, although it was stated that the now fit Kris Commons was keen to stay and secure a new deal with the Rams. The CEO also said that Derby would pay more ‘Shaun Barker-type fees’ for players if it was deemed appropriate.
The Rams didn’t trouble the top half of the season, though - and no permanent ‘marquee’ signings were made. At that time Mr Glick recounted the signings made as proof of his team-building efforts: Anderson, Bailey, Brayford, Cywka, Martin, Roberts, Doyle, Bueno (loan).
Well, Brayford and Bailey have lasted the course into this season, anyway!
Photo: Action Images
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