Let me start by saying most of this was written prior to the defeat at Wolves. Luckily I held off finishing it until after the full time whistle. Darren Wassall has done an outstanding job with the academy over the years. He’s quite rightly highly regarded within the club and was the perfect man, in the short term, to oversee the first team. By short term I mean a game or two. Appointing him until the end of the season was, and still is, a ridiculous decision. It’s not his fault he’s got the job, I wouldn’t expect him to say no. The man clearly doesn’t lack self-confidence, but from the outset it was clear he was out of his depth.
Initially, most fans were underwhelmed at the thought of Wassall taking over until May, but they were no doubt, like me, clinging on to the hope it could all be a smoke screen, with a new head coach waiting in the wings. How wrong we were. Confidence was pretty low when he took over, therefore a person described as the best motivator in the club was the ideal person to take over, raise spirits and put smiles back on faces.
The decision to reappoint Richard Keogh as captain was a good move, the captaincy has been like a game of pass the parcel for most of this season. One of the criticisms by Mel Morris of Paul Clement was that he didn’t bring through enough youth players into the first team. Wassall immediately rectified this by bringing in Jamie Hanson, a more natural replacement for George Thorne than others in the squad. After training all week Thorne was back in the starting line-up for the game at Wolves. I’m not sure he was fit enough, lasting less than an hour. I thought we’d learnt our lesson from last season when it came to rushing players back too soon.
I wanted to give Wassall a bit of leeway at the beginning as he adjusted from managing the academy to managing the first team. He’s well suited to the academy, an environment without scrutiny and pressure, where non-stop positivity and enthusiasm are the way to go. It’s also a place where results don’t really matter. Motivators, and I see Wassall as one, are only ever a short term fix. They’ll only take you so far, and will get found out eventually. He’s shown an awful lot of passion and positivity, but that hasn’t clouded my judgement when assessing how good the performances were. Let’s remember, Mel Morris said it’s not about results, it’s about performances.
I appreciate Darren is trying to make a good impression on people, but it’s clear he’s trying too hard. His lack of experience leaves him exposed, especially when speaking to the media. I don’t think he comes across well at all. His interviews are awkward, full of soundbites, sarcasm and observations nobody else sees. Derby fans aren’t stupid, it appears as if he’s been watching a different game to most of us. For me, his post-match celebrations after the win at Brentford portrayed a relieved man rather than a passionate one.
He keeps emphasising that the dressing room is together, along with how pleased he is with every single player. Therefore, I find it odd that Stephen Warnock appears to have been frozen out altogether. He’s an experienced professional, who’s been outstanding this season, and was captain until recently. If the squad is as together as he claims then surely, even just for his experience around the group, it would’ve been beneficial for Warnock to travel with the squad to Brentford. The subject of Warnock was mentioned after the Brentford win but in the euphoria it was swept under the carpet. The omission of Darren Bent from today’s squad was a strange one too. He would’ve started against Blackburn if he hadn’t been ill, yet doesn’t even make the bench today. Yes, these things aren’t as important as tactics, but team spirit has been, and perhaps still is, and issue.
All the signs from the club were that it’s Darren Wassall’s job to lose at the moment. The thought of him here long term terrifies me. Why would I, as a long-term season ticket holder, want to invest my money and renew for next season? The number of renewals will be down, for sure. I feel our support and loyalty are being taken for granted. I’m not even convinced that a significant drop in numbers would act as a wake-up call to the owner. I was very critical of Mel Morris during the week of the Paul Clement’s sacking. I stand by what I said. The fact he’s a local man, a Derby fan, and has invested significant money, doesn’t cloud my judgement when analysing the decisions he makes and the way he conducts himself.
The bookies odds haven’t changed much since the day Paul Clement was sacked. There are a number of experienced managers on the list, Nigel Pearson, David Moyes and Garry Monk are there, along with Wassall, and Birmingham City boss Gary Rowett. I’m a big admirer of Rowett, and initially he was my choice, but after much thought I’ve changed my mind. We need an experienced man, who’s tactically sound, with a backbone, to stand up to Mel Morris, so it’s either David Moyes or Nigel Pearson, for me. Failure to make a change will result in our season being allowed to drift. Bringing in a new head coach will result in Wassall returning to the academy and continuing his good work there. Mel’s already shown he’s not afraid to make the big brutal decisions, but will he have the bottle to sack his friend?