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Cocu feeling the pinch of Derby's dire start - Interview
Tuesday, 3rd Nov 2020 17:25 by Clive Whittingham

Speculation about the future of Derby manager Phillip Cocu mounts, with just one win all season, ahead of a crucial week of home games against QPR and Barnsley. The always excellent Ollie Wright from Derby County Blog gave us the latest.

Not the start Derby would have wanted, what's been the problem?

We weren’t ready for the season to start, basically. The team for the first game was missing too many attackers and too heavily reliant on teenagers to have any chance of being effective. Plan A at that stage was to build a team around academy starlets Louie Sibley and Max Bird in a 4-2-3-1, but Derby junked that out of necessity after losing the first three games 8-1 on aggregate, to Reading, Luton and Blackburn.

Phillip Cocu changed to a back three, recalling veteran defensive leader Curtis Davies to shore things up. The goals against flood has slowed to a trickle as a result, but Derby simply cannot score enough to make any progress, with only five goals netted in nine league games. Three of them have been superb free kicks, leaving only two from open play (one of which came in the aftermath of a free kick struck into the wall).

Key men have started to return and extra players have been added to the squad since then, but it’s been a gradual process of feeding them in and getting them match-fit, with games coming remorselessly quickly all the while. Martyn Waghorn and Tom Lawrence have worked their way back to fitness, but Wayne Rooney’s season has been disrupted by an enforced period of self-isolation. New signing Jordon Ibe was brought in on the understanding that it would take him a couple of months to get fit after being missing from action for so long. Last season’s marquee buy Krystian Bielik is hopefully on the verge of a return after an ACL injury.

Derby tried to bring in a striker to replace Chris Martin - Charlie Austin was among the reported targets, although they were most heavily linked with a target man from the German second division, Serdar Dursun - but these efforts failed and they were left scrambling around close to the deadline, before eventually doing a short-term deal for the veteran Colin Kazim-Richards - who most of us, I’m sure, had completely forgotten about. Kazim has so far only featured in short cameos from the bench.

Derby’s league results so far…
Derby 0-2 Reading Joao 40, Ejaria 45
Luton 2-1 Derby Berry 34, Clark 87 – Marriott 52
Derby 0-4 Blackburn Dolan 11, Johnson 12, 15, Armstrong 77
Norwich 0-1 Derby Rooney 87
Derby 0-1 Watford Pedro 76
Huddersfield 1-0 Derby Bacuna 53
Forest 1-1 Derby Taylor 64 – Waghorn 30
Derby 1-1 Cardiff Waghorn 24 – Moore 77
Bournemouth 1-1 Derby Riquelme 81 – Shinnie 13

Regular speculation about Cocu's job - how much pressure is he under, do you want him to stay or go?

Cocu is under immense pressure due to the way the season has started. A creditable performance at Forest bought him a little more time, but with two leads having been chucked in the following two games, it seems now that patience in the fanbase is wearing more than a little thin.

He has been extremely hard done-by in his time at Derby, having had to deal with all manner of off-field nonsense, which I won’t go into again here. (Ollie very kindly went in depth on Derby’s off field horrors in this column last season.) He’s also applied himself to the task of developing the young players, with Sibley, Bird, Jason Knight and Lee Buchanan all now integrated into the first-team squad. But there comes a time when you either start to see the fruits of the labour in results, or change becomes inevitable. We desperately need to beat QPR and ideally Barnsley on Saturday, too.

It seems just assumed Rooney would get the job if he goes, is that the case and would it be a good idea?

It is very much assumed by certain tabloid journalists, one of whom even reported that Rooney was considered future management material by Mel Morris in the days after he signed as a player (the ‘coach’ element of his player-coach role has never quite been defined). However, the fans I speak to are all dead against the idea and that opposition was only cemented when an article came out suggesting that Rooney could be partnered by an older head in John Gregory - formerly of both our parishes, of course, but that was a very, very long time ago.

The benefit would be that Rooney is already on the payroll - paying off Cocu and co would be extremely expensive - but it would obviously be a gamble and he would need an experienced bootroom of coaches around him, if he is to do a Lampard and start his managerial career with us.

Much in these takeover stories?

It seems so, yes, but the same guy has attempted to take over both Liverpool and Newcastle United in a blaze of publicity and in neither case managed to do the deal. The difference here is that the Bin Zayed Group have not made a public statement as yet, with local media taking their briefings from the club. The key sources such as BBC Radio Derby and the Telegraph’s John Percy are reporting that the deal is merely pending EFL approval.

Derby will clearly be a much cheaper option that either of the two big clubs Sheikh Khaled tilted at previously, even if he opts to purchase the stadium too (Morris having infamously yet legally paid the club £81m for Pride Park a couple of years ago).

At this point in time, we know little about Sheikh Khaled, other than that he is a distant cousin of Sheikh Mansour, who is not involved in the political administration of Abu Dhabi, having gone into business in Dubai after studying in the United States. There were some silly tweets about him being worth £100bn+ when the name was first bandied about, but anybody expecting another Manchester City is going to be disappointed, I think. Assuming it actually happens.

How did your transfer window go in the end?

You know what, it wasn’t too bad, actually. Very little movement was possible until two academy products, Jayden Bogle and Max Lowe, were sold to Sheffield United - that was another factor in the slow start. Bringing that cash in allowed Cocu to sign his long-term target Kamil Jozwiak, a Poland international winger from Lech Poznan. Bogle was quickly replaced by Nathan Byrne, who does exactly the same job of raiding from right wing back and has instantly caught the eye of supporters with his pace and directness. Lowe was allowed to leave because his replacement, Buchanan, was already in the building. David Marshall came in as a much-needed experienced goalie. Last year’s player of the season Matt Clarke returned on loan from Brighton. And once Ibe is up and running, assuming he’s relocated his mojo, he could be a big player for us. It’s just a shame the Serdar Dursun deal couldn’t be completed, but it’s being suggested to me that he’ll sign in January.

Ins >>> Kamil Jozwiak, 22, LW, Lech Poznan, £3.8m >>> Nathan Byrne, 28, RB, Wigan, Undisclosed >>> Mike te Wierik, 28, CB, Groningen, Free >>> David Marshall, 35, GK, Wigan, Free >>> Emmanuel Idem, 21, GK, Canvey Island, Free >>> Jordan Ibe, 24, RW, Bournemouth, Free >>> Matt Clarke, 23, CB. Brighton, Loan

Outs >>> Max Lowe, 23, LB, Sheff Utd, £10m* >>> Jayden Bogle, 20, RB, Sheff Utd, £10m* Mason Bennett, 24, AM, Millwall, Undisclosed >>> Chris Martin, 31, CF, Bristol City, Free Scott Malone, 29, LB, Millwall, Loan >>> Jonathan Mitchell, 25, GK, Northampton, Loan >>> Florian Jozefzoon, 29, RW, Rotherham, Loan >>> Henrich Ravas, 23, GK, Hartlepool, Loan >>> Jack Marriott, 29, CF, Sheff Wed, Loan >>> Ikechi Anya, 32, LM, Released >>> Tom Huddleston, 33, DM, Released

Where is the team strong and where is it weak?

The bare facts of results and goals tell you we’ve been poor at both ends of the pitch. However, things have tightened up considerably since October, with a 1-0 win at Norwich followed by 1-0 defeats to Watford and Huddersfield, then three consecutive 1-1 draws against Forest, Cardiff and Bournemouth. There have been some encouraging signs in all of the last five games, always followed by periods where we lost control, but overall, we’ve been in the last few games for most of the time and are not as bad as the league table suggests. Waghorn’s return has made a significant difference up front, while Jozwiak, Lawrence, Ibe once he’s fit and Rooney (from a set piece or two) are all going to start creating and scoring goals eventually. Shout outs need also to go to Scottish terrier Graeme Shinnie, emerging box-to-box man Jason Knight (AKA the Dublin Dynamo), who is Derby’s only ever-present this season. And huge credit to the 35 year-old Curtis Davies, who seemed to have been cast aside but has made a massive difference since Cocu recalled him at the back.

How do you think you'll do this season?

If the frontline could just click and start taking their chances, we could start to see a vast improvement. I’m sure we will eventually pull well clear of the relegation zone, but any chance of reaching the play-offs has already gone, in my opinion. In back-of-a-fag-packet terms, we’d now be looking at maintaining something close to automatic promotion form for the rest of the season to catch up to the top six and that’s not something we can reasonably expect.

Of course, predictions are hard to make when we could be looking at a Middle Eastern takeover, which could well lead to a change of management and more money being spent on players. But as a bare minimum, I will say we’ll be fine in mid-table by the end of the season.

Links >>> Official Website >>> Derby Telegraph – Local Press >>> Derby County Blog – Contributor’s blog >>> DCFCFans – Forum

The Twitter @loftforwords, @DerbyCountyBlog

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TacticalR added 20:27 - Nov 3
Thanks to Ollie.

Not a brilliant start to the season for Derby, although they recently been getting points on the board. Maybe a bit of schizophrenia too, if after all Morris' infusions of cash they are now having to sell players. We know all too well it's not easy to downsize.

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