Derby County – International Break Review

On 24th February 2011, things looked pretty terminal. Derby County had just suffered a depressing 1-0 defeat at home to Hull City, the Rams’ sixth defeat in a winless streak of nine games, including the sickening cup exit at Crawley. Before that disgraceful streak, we had beaten crisis club Preston North End – how bad were they at the time? – but before that, we had lost another five consecutive league games.

As nosedives go, it was pretty vertical. The goals had completely dried up, Kris Commons had, probably reasonably, decided to sod off, Alberto Bueno couldn’t get a game and  creativity had deserted us to the extent that we had scored a massive three goals in our previous 810 minutes of football.

So on 24th February, I sent the club’s press office an email laden with some fairly bluntly expressed questions, about the Rams’ immediate future and the decisions which had been made over the season. Unsurprisingly, the questions remained unanswered.

By 24th March, things looked slightly better. Eight points had been added to the tally, with a slightly less embarrassing seven goals having been scored in the past six matches. The horrific run of nine home games without a win had finally ended and with the sides below us still stuttering, survival looked far more likely than it had done in the dark days of February.

We may well be due a couple of fearful bummings in the next eight games – Cardiff and QPR away, anyone? – but overall, fingers crossed, it looks like we’ll just about be OK and can start to plan for another Championship campaign in 2011/2.

That said, I’ve been unimpressed with the PR slant emitting from the official Rams Player of late. In the Player interviews, Matt McCann and his staff keep telling players and staff that our current points tally (44) is probably enough to keep us up, which, is, in my opinion, demented. 44 points would not have kept us up in any season since 2006-7 and until this club is mathematically safe from relegation to Division Three, I want those players out there fighting tooth and nail to prevent any such disaster. Sheffield United, Crystal Palace et al are all capable of winning games, as they have proved in recent weeks.  Preston North End are the only club who look doomed and nobody will go down without a fight.

With all this in mind, I thought I’d review the questions I asked Derby County on 24th February, as the club readies itself for the last eight games of the season and prepares its transfer moves for the summer.

  • What is the club’s response to the recent lifetime ban imposed on the former investment manager Jeffrey Martinovich, given that the ban is related to malpractice involving investment made into our club?

This story was finally addressed by Ed Hill in the Derby Telegraph one month after Derby County Blog posted an article about Martinovich’s financial meltdown. The Telegraph article also revealed confusion over the future of the 10% of Derby County shares purchased by Martinovich. Where those shares end up is, at present, anybody’s guess.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the fans could purchase them?

The club’s public response to this issue has been consistent.  “Martinovich has never been a director, he was not a major investor, look at the reputation of our main players”. However, in an email to Derby County Blog techie Joe Burns, Andy Appleby revealed his exasperation with the situation saying, “the news keeps resurfacing. We’ve had to explain it 3 or 4 times”.

Martinovich has gone under, but for the forseeable future, General Sports Derby Partners LLC is going nowhere.

  • Do you accept that the debt-reduction plan the ownership embarked upon was ‘too deep, too soon’, to the point where our Championship status has now been needlessly jeopardised?

I think the board understand now that whatever the amount of money they’ve invested (Glick claims a total figure of £24m since the takeover), the squad for this season was well short of what was required, even before it was weakened by the departures of Rob Hulse and Kris Commons.

Hopefully, the experiences of the past couple of seasons have shown GSE that a) the fans’ bare minimum expectation is a winning team in home games at Championship level and b) you’re very lucky if you get away with a season of cost-cutting as radical as the one the Rams have just undergone. If you don’t go forwards in this division, you go backwards.

Glick referenced these concerns in a recent interview with Rams Player, in which PR guru Matt McCann played the role of Jeremy Paxman. Much better was Glick’s Radio Derby interview with Phil Trow, in which Glick explained that the club’s self-generated income has not been enough to cover the club’s costs, hence we are still making a loss despite additional investment from the owners and the massive wagebill cut.

Competing at the top end of the division becomes even more difficult given the bumper payments due to the three relegated teams who’ll be joining us next season. Despite this, Glick claims that the board have committed to financing a promotion push for 2011/2.

  • Would you agree that the failure to make more signings in January was a huge mistake, especially considering the departure of Kris Commons?

Glick did take responsibility on Radio Derby for Derby’s failure to sign their January targets, Martyn Waghorn (loan) and Connor Sammon (permanent). The Sammon move could have been tied up if the club had been prepared to pay a little more. Regarding Waghorn, Leicester City clearly messed Derby around, but looking in from the outside, it seemed that Clough and Glick stuck with it for far longer than they should have done.

  • Given the calibre of the recent signings, it is clear that there has been no decision to invest in the sort of proven player who would be likely to make a big impact and keep us out of the bottom three. Was there no temptation to spend money on at least one more established player, or even a gifted youngster from the Premier League, especially considering the savings that have been made by releasing Commons and Rob Hulse (plus the transfer fees)?

Calibre of signings remains an issue and one which Glick has attempted to address with his recent public pronouncements. Ben Davies has thus far bombed horribly. Theo Robinson has missed a series of sitters (but appears to have done enough to convince Clough that he’s worth keeping). On the other hand, Jamie Ward clearly has some ability and Frankie Fielding, whilst still a little raw, has the potential to be a top goalkeeper. Glick and Clough are both on record recently stating that they hope to sign the player permanently in the summer.

There’s no doubt that next season is a massive season for Nigel Clough. Clough has implemented the board’s cost-cutting measures, whilst just about keeping us afloat and rummaging in the transfer bargain bins. Now Glick says that the ownership group are prepared to stump up more money to propel us up the league. We will have to wait and see, but Glick’s ‘money back guarantee’ on season tickets is certainly a very bold move.

That said, Early Season Optimism is a legendary phenomenon amongst football supporters and one which Glick is surely banking on. Unless the only new signings are Jake Buxton and Michael Boulding, I doubt there’ll be a stream of fans marching down to Pride Park in their shirt sleeves on a glorious August afternoon, demanding a refund on their season ticket.

In the event that relegation is avoided, can we expect to see serious investment in the playing squad in summer, especially considering that Robbie Savage will no longer be on the wagebill?

What Glick doesn’t say, of course, is that the incoming transfers will, at least to some extent, be funded by fees and wage savings on outgoing players. Already, we have seen the back of Hulse and Commons and with Savage set to retire, a huge chunk of wages has been saved already. Surely joining them on the way out this summer will be Stephen Bywater, Dean Leacock, Alberto Bueno and maybe even Paul Green, who is approaching the last summer of his Rams contract.

  • Do GSE have contingency plans if the worst happens are Derby County are indeed relegated?

Of course, Glick has never publicly countenanced the possibility of relegation, but for a while there, he must have been shitting himself.

I know I was.

  • If we are relegated, will the manager’s position be reviewed?

There are plenty of Derby fans who believe that the manager’s position should be reviewed in any case. I’m not amongst them, but of course, when you go through a run of results as punishingly bad as we did earlier this year, people have every right to criticise. For me, Clough deserves at least one more season to prove the doubters wrong, especially if money is going to be made available for new players.

Even the anti-Clough brigade cannot deny that signings such as James Bailey, John Brayford and Shaun Barker were inspired. Clough also identified other good players, such as Gary Hooper and Jamie Mackie, who would have made a hell of a difference if he’d been backed sufficiently to buy them.

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