42 per cent of more than 800 voters said they were unsatisfied with Mel Morris’ performance as Derby County owner, in a recent Twitter poll.
A further 40 per cent of voters said they were ‘on the fence’, while 18 per cent said that they were satisfied.
The poll was conducted using the hashtags #dcfc and #dcfcfans and with 806 people having responded, the overall picture is one of deep reservations and serious concerns over the future direction of Derby County, rather than of a happy camp.
And this is no surprise, with Nigel Pearson’s inevitable departure from the iPro Stadium having finally been confirmed. The first report from a national newspaper – filed at exactly the same time as the club’s official announcement – claimed that Chris Powell will now be appointed until the end of the season.
Powell would certainly be a huge upgrade on last season’s stopgap head coach, Darren Wassall, but inherits a much more difficult situation. The Rams’ start to the season has been appalling. Chris Martin is gone and linchpin midfielder George Thorne remains sidelined. Supporters have endured five home league games with only one goal, leading to nervous tension and negativity around the iPro Stadium. Next up is a visit from the Damned United – which could end in cathartic relief, or a bit of a nightmare – and then a trip to the division’s surprise package, Huddersfield Town, top of the league under Jürgen Klopp’s former assistant David Wagner.
On the plus side for Morris, 40 per cent of voters remain ‘on the fence’ about his stewardship of the club and 18 per cent declared that they are satisfied with how he has done. Doubtless, these loyal fans are mindful of Mel’s proven financial commitment, which has built up the club’s infrastructure and its Category One academy – even if the cash lavished on new players did not have the expected immediate impact.
However, on the whole, the wild positivity which accompanied the local lad Morris into Derby just 18 months ago has since been replaced with deep nervousness about the long-term direction of the club.
The main problems:-
Turnover of managers
Paul Clement’s dismissal followed a relatively iffy run of results, but still came as a shock. A simple explanation was recently offered by Clement’s brother Neil: –
Listen facts are under my bro you where top at xmas and slipped to 4th in Jan. And your chairman had a panic up cos he’s a nugget… And that was because the season before you slipped up under mclaren toward the end of the season.
But if Neil Clement is right and Morris thought that promotion was slipping away again, then that leaves the question of why he didn’t look to appoint an experienced hand straight away – and then we come back to Mel’s infamous statement that promotion was not the main aim…
…And then we end up going back down the rabbit hole.
Whatever the reason, we ended up with Wassall until the end of last season – with a never-fully explained role invented for Harry Redknapp, after the shameful 3-3 draw at Rotherham. This was a bit of a shambles all round and there was a general feeling that a golden opportunity to go up had been wasted.
Pearson’s appointment this summer was met with sage nods from the pundits and the majority of supporters, but it was always clear that it would mean a fundamental shift of emphasis – from the passing football we’d come to know, love and sometimes moan about when clubs frustrated us with a deep-lying defensive blob, to something more functional. Pearson spoke stirringly about playing good football ‘when possible’.
From the outside, it seems to me that well-run clubs have an identity and a clear vision in place for the type of manager (or head coach) they want and that this ensures continuity of appointments. Swansea and particularly Southampton spring to mind – whoever is in charge, they seem to put out neat, passing teams, remain fundamentally stable and progress incrementally up the football pyramid, recruiting well to replace those players who are pinched by bigger clubs. And if the club wants to play a certain type of football, then it needs a manager who will buy into that.
Unless Powell is appointed and makes a real go of it, long-term, the club might now looking for somebody who is more of a continental-style head coach – possibly a foreign appointment – and certainly somebody who plays football in ‘the right way’. For example, at the time, his reputation was at a low ebb, following his sacking by Everton but it’s unquestionably the case that Roberto Martínez would have been a better fit for the current squad than Pearson was (although it may not have gone down well with Steve Nicholson!)
To put it bluntly, the money put in to strengthen the squad since Mel took over has not translated into improved performances. Chris Evans’ tenure as Head of Football Operations resulted in a slew of underwhelming signings and it is only recently that new Directors of Recruitment have been brought on board. Unfortunately, the money has already been spent and Financial Fair Play constraints are undoubtedly a factor.
The new manager, whether it’s Powell or somebody else, will not have access to a blank chequebook and will probably have to sell before he buys, or rely on the loan market. That is not necessarily a disaster, as there is a good squad of players in place and one or two loanees, hopefully with the impact of a Jordon Ibe or a George Thorne, could be just the boost we need in January. Derby are a club that can attract the top young prospects from the elite clubs and this is a market we can profit from.
Also, Will Hughes’ contract situation is one that will become more pressing as the days tick down. At the moment, I can see no reason why he would pen an extension and that might force the club to cash in, at some stage. It would be awful to lose him – but unless the player can see a clear direction and vision for progress, leading to the opportunity to play in the Premier League, then why would he stay?
Things have got a bit weird of late. The club refused to allow Chris Powell, or anybody else, to speak to BBC Radio Derby after the Reading game and since Radio Derby tweeted this, there has been no further mention of the incident, as far as I am aware. Presumably, things will be back to normal for the Leeds game next Saturday, but it was a very unusual thing for the club to do, to say the least.
I’ve seen it suggested that this was because Owen Bradley introduced his coverage of the game with the line: “The Derby County soap opera continues…” and if it is really the case that this mild and objectively reasonable comment led to a ‘power play’ from the club, then that seems like an incredibly heavy-handed response. Subscribers to Rams Player may also have noted that the Radio Derby commentary, which used to be overdubbed onto the match footage, is no longer played on ‘Full 90’ videos. I don’t think that this is a coincidence.
For what it’s worth, although I will never understand why Morris’ sacked Clement, I don’t disagree with him on this one. Pearson was in place very early in the summer and had plenty of time to assess the squad, both through video analysis and then during pre-season. He decided that the players he’d inherited would be able to play his way and that no changes were required – a policy reversed only in the dying moments of the August transfer window, by which time, it was abundantly clear that we were in a spot of bother. Morris watched all this unfold, watched the team die on its arse against Blackburn and then in the aftermath, whatever happened, happened.
In an interview with the Derby Telegraph this week, Richard Keogh seemed to make it pretty plain that the squad were not exactly devastated to see Pearson go. “Our season started against Cardiff”, he said, adding that it was clear that 4-3-3 (or 4-1-4-1, if we must call it that) “probably does suit us a lot more [than 4-4-2]. We’re getting our ball players higher up the pitch and they can affect games more.” Hallelujah.
But while I don’t disagree with Morris’ latest decision, that doesn’t mean that I am prepared to defend an owner who has now appointed and then sacked two managers in such a short space of time. It is undignified and unsettling for everyone who cares about the club – some people will have voted ‘unsatisfied’ in my poll precisely because they disagreed with Pearson’s sacking – and without doubt, unsettling for the players as well. It’s been pointed out to me that if Powell is appointed until the end of the season, then the Rams could be in a position of a new man coming in next summer as the club’s sixth manager in two years. Even by the standards of today’s trigger-happy game, that is insane.
What happens next is far more important than knowing the gory details of why Pearson has gone. But it cannot be denied that having another manager depart so swiftly is another black mark against the owner. It is hard to think why any promising, highly-rated manager would risk coming to Derby now – and also hard to see how the club could afford to pay compensation for an in-work coach, given that pay-offs for Clement and Pearson have been added to the wagebill.
I think it’s fair to say that the majority of Rams fans are still willing Mel to succeed with Derby County, but are desperately keen for him to bring the stability we need in order to progress. We all want to talk about performances on the field, not rows behind the scenes – and points on the board, not rumblings in the boardroom.