With the window closed, it’s become pretty clear that the club did make some surplus cash available for Clough to spend, on top of what he was able to generate through player sales – not millions, but enough to bring in a couple of valuable extra bodies. By my rough calculations, we spent a total of about £2.85m during this window, recouping around £2m.
New players like Paul Coutts and James O’Connor are already proving their worth, while Richard Keogh is a good replacement for Shaun Barker – if the skipper can return to fitness next season, the two of them could make a redoubtable pairing.
It’s worth remembering that supposed moneybags Cardiff City were seriously interested in Keogh, so signing him has to go down as something of a coup for Derby. As well as meeting with Clough, Keogh was also introduced to Barker and some of the owners, so it’s pretty clear that the club went to great lengths to persuade him that Pride Park was the right place to come.
Presumably, the Conor Sammon fee, reported at £1.2m, will be paid to Wigan in instalments, perhaps (at a wild guess) £300,000 per year over the course of his four-year contract. Nevertheless, it’s a meaningful investment and his barnstorming goal against Watford shows that he could be a real player for Derby County in seasons to come. He will be a handful at this level and it’s just a shame we weren’t able to bring him in when Clough originally wanted him from Kilmarnock. He’d have bagged a hatful for us by now – and we would have saved a good chunk of money, to boot.
Clough seems to be having some success in the transfer market by moving for players who, for whatever reason, are available at a cut rate. Ward (£400K) had fallen out with his manager at Sheffield United, as had Coutts (£150K) at Preston. O’Connor (a seemingly genuinely undisclosed, but ‘small’ fee) was frozen out by Dean Saunders at Doncaster, having been a victim of last season’s bizarre transfer ‘experiment’, which had such disastrous results.
Coutts has done well since joining from Preston North End and I see him essentially as an upgrade on Ben Davies. Not terribly quick, but tenacious and technically good, with the ability to cross the ball well from open play or dead ball situations, Coutts seems to be what Clough hoped Davies would turn out to be, plus he is considerably younger. Certainly, he is a better option to play right midfield than Paul Green was and doubtless came in on a lower wage.
Another point worth making is that Derby have benefited from concluding their transfer business well ahead of the closing of the window on August 31. The day before they came to Pride Park, Watford had parted with their main centre back, Martin Taylor, as well as bringing in half-a-dozen foreign loanees, whom the manager couldn’t really be expected to select at such short notice. We also arguably caught Wolves at a good time. They had just lost Matt Jarvis, while Steven Fletcher was left out ahead of his move to Sunderland. In both cases, our opponents were still trying to reorganise their squads with the season underway, while our deals were already done.
This sort of last minute chaos is undoubtedly a cause of genuine disruption, as Derby have found themselves to their detriment in previous seasons. The abrupt sale of Shackell so early in the window came as a real shock to supporters, but it did allow Derby sufficient time and financial room to manoeuvre in the window. The club promised they would replace Shackell and sign extra players to strengthen the squad and ultimately, that’s exactly what they did.
That said, it would be very interesting to know who the next name down on the list was, if we hadn’t been able to get Keogh…
Frank Fielding, John Brayford, Richard Keogh, Gareth Roberts, Paul Coutts and Craig Bryson have all started every game in league and cup to date. Nigel Clough has been able to choose from an almost injury-free squad so far this season and long may that continue.
My pessimistic pre-season prediction of a lower mid-table finish for Derby this season, made before Sammon signed, was based mostly on the assumption that a number of first-teamers would be missing at various points throughout the season (the Scunthorpe disaster also prompted a kneejerk downgrade of a couple of places). However, the results and performances to date show that if everyone is fit, we can be a match for pretty much anybody in the Championship.
Direct Goal Involvement
Yes, I’ve decided to stick with my daft pet invention – DGI. This baseball-inspired stat adds a player’s number of goals to his assists, then divides the sum by the total number of goals the club has scored in the season. So, if a player either scored or assisted every goal his club had scored, his DGI would be 1.000.
For example, Robin van Persie scored 30 goals in the Premier League last season, plus nine assists, out of total of 74 goals for Arsenal. This gave him a DGI score of .527 (39/74).
1. Jamie Ward .385
2= Paul Coutts .308
2= Michael Jacobs .308
4. Jake Buxton .231
5= four players on .154
Before the Watford game, most fans seemed to think that Theo Robinson should be preferred to Ward up front, but Ward showed us all why Clough wanted to use him in an essentially free role behind Sammon. He chipped in a deserved goal, but more importantly, a hat-trick of assists.
Ward is clearly not an orthodox striker, but when allowed the license to drift around, he becomes difficult to mark and therefore dangerous. He is a player with something about him and while he is undoubtedly effective when playing wide, it could be that freeing him from the need to track back, a responsibility which comes with playing left midfield in a 4-4-2, will help him to flourish and contribute many more goals and assists than he did last season.
Ward only scored four goals and made six assists in 2011/2. I see that as underachievement for such a talented player and he is already well on the way to improving on both totals this season.