When life long Derby County fan and Candy Crush mega-mogul Mel Morris took over the reigns of the DCFC board room, I think it’s fair to say there were very few fans who were not overjoyed. After all, in these modern times of moneybags football, don’t all successful teams require a treasure trove of cash to make it at the top level? Doesn’t The Championship, this most competitive and inescapable labyrinth of leagues, require a squad of 20+ top players to climb out of?
With accumulation comes speculation, and Derby were quickly linked with more players of the year than a Page 3 model. Suddenly, we were watching fans of opposing teams e-squeal in anguish as we poached the likes of Bradley Johnson and Jacob Butterfield, in one of the greatest deadline days in our club’s history. What a difference half a season makes…
Fast forward from the sparkling Summer to a wistful Winter, and Derby are managerless, directionless, and some would say hopeless. 8 league games without a win, hammerings from the likes of Birmingham and Burnley, one sacked manager, a nation’s sporting media guffawing at our “way”…how can such a promising situation devolve into such a shower of shalackings and a south stand of boos?
One might just point the finger at the new signings that we heralded with such excitement. Amongst the dreary football and passionless displays, one recent bright spark has been the re-emergence of one Craig(y) Bryson. His utter peach of a goal against Fulham summed up not only what he offers, but what Derby have been lacking: players willing to gamble, midfielders willing to close the gap to Chris(sy) Martin, someone playing for something other than a pay cheque. If his football didn’t remind us why we always loved him, his post match words certainly did:
This reminder of the passion the old boys have for the club served only to highlight the fact that there’s so many new faces in the first team who haven’t yet had the chance to develop that kind of bond. This in turn got me thinking the unthinkable: did the players who have dropped out of the squad really need replacing to begin with?
We have seen Bryson’s quality and dedication. What about the likes of Jeff Hendrick, Johnny Russell and Jake Buxton?
Hendrick, for my money, is perhaps the most confident and expressive player Derby have on the books. He has the ability to skin a man, slide in a finish and drive the play forward from midfield. Does he do this on a regular basis? Perhaps not, but when something doesn’t come off for him he doesn’t tend to let his head drop in the way Tom Ince has recently. Capped regularly at international level, some experience at this Summer’s European Championships in France may well be the top-level exposure he needs to become a star.
Russell is in and out of the team, and this may go some way to explaining his slightly patchy form. However he is always most deadly when cutting inside the opposing full back, and letting an offensive minded left back bomb past him. He had developed a solid understanding with fellow Scot Craig Forsyth that has been unfortunately hampered by injury. With Stephen Warnock not offering the kind of offensive runs and crossing prowess that Forsyth can, Russell’s potency dwindled. Can the arrival of the far more direct Marcus Olsson rectify this situation?
We haven’t had the opportunity to look at Jake Buxton in some time. However, with Derby’s early defensive stability shattered in recent weeks, perhaps his passion, commitment and vocal leadership would benefit the squad, even if only for a game or two, to give Shackell and Keogh the boot they may need.
Too much first team instability breeds inconsistency. If Derby have their mind on the Premier League, perhaps they should turn their eyes there also. Last season, Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea romped to the league title with the most consistently used first 11 in the league. This season, Leicester City are shredding the rule book and dominating the league by doing the same thing. Meanwhile the likes of Manchester United and Aston Villa are far below where they would like to be, playing differing 11s week in, week out.
I’m not suggesting that the newer signings are useless or that we should ship them out. Squad depth is indeed important and Bradley Johnson in particular looks like a decent player (for the love of God though Darren/Mel/whoever: play him wide left), but maybe they aren’t the upgrades to those they replaced that we thought they were. Maybe some of those players didn’t need replacing at all. Yes, we fell staggeringly short at the end of last season, but the added depth along with the additions of Shackell, Carson, a fully fit George Thorne and several young players with an extra year of maturity under their belt may have been enough to rectify that.
During the best days of McClaren, we knew who would be playing every week before the team sheet was announced. Under Clement and now Wassall, we are all eagerly checking social media to see who is in favour this week. Perhaps the coaching staff should look to the players who so nearly took us to the promised land before, who shed tears with us when we fell so agonisingly short at the playoff final, who know each other’s games and styles of play, and might even know a little something about that esoteric Derby Way.