‘More with Less’ – Why Clough’s Derby County squad gets ever smaller, younger and more versatile

Dear Prudence

From what we understand, Nigel Clough was not provided with a transfer kitty this season, instead being told that he could only spend whatever he could generate through sales.

The big question is, will he be faced with the same situation next season?  Or to put it another way, have we now reached a point where GSE have put in as much money as they are prepared to?

‘More with less’ is a central tenet of capitalism.  In every field of business, the powers-that-be are always looking to cut costs wherever they can and although there are a few exceptions in football – where clubs can become a rich man’s indulgence (Chelsea), or the glittering front for a global marketing campaign (Manchester City) – GSE certainly don’t fall into the ‘sugar daddy’ category, even if they have invested £30m into the club to date.

This said, if recent comments from Tom Glick are anything to go by, there is a strategy in place to strengthen our squad in the January window – but only if Derby are in a position to genuinely threaten the top six.  So further investment is apparently not out of the question, but is dependent on Clough managing to push the team into the upper reaches of the table first.

Shadowplay

In an idle moment, I tried to pick a Derby County ‘shadow XI’ (a reserve team) and found it very difficult to do – this scratch team is pretty weak and patched together with youth teamers and senior pros out of position.  Four of this side played in the second half team that lost 2-0 at Mansfield, while Thomas is considered too young for the first-team squad.

Derby County ‘shadow XI’

GK Legzdins
RB Naylor
CB O’Brien
CB Galinski
LB O’Connor
RM B. Davies
CM Hughes
CM Doyle
LM Tyson
CF Thomas
CF Bennett

(Transfer listed players omitted)

Of course, Clough can only pick eleven men on a Saturday, but nevertheless, it is worrying that there is very little squad depth, as the club’s wagebill is cut yet again this season (as it has been every season since relegation in 2007/8).

With costs still being cut in pursuit of a balanced budget, it’s become increasingly important that the players we do have can play in more than one position.  Of this summer’s signings, James O’Connor (anywhere across the back four), Coutts (anywhere across midfield) and Jacobs (either wing and possibly off a striker) were all brought in at least partially because of their versatility – a vital quality when you can’t afford a big squad.

After a 1-0 half-time lead was turned into a 1-2 loss at Mansfield Town, with Clough making 11 changes at the interval, the manager told Rams Player:-

“The second-half team was just a little bit too weak… In principle, it’s great [to field two different teams for 45 minutes each], but you do look and think… we’ve got a decent eleven out there, maybe 15 or 16, but it’s difficult for young lads like Stefan [Galinski] to step in.”

The problem will come during a long and heavy Championship season when three or four of the ‘decent’ 15 or 16 are unavailable due to the inevitable injuries and suspensions.  The young players will be called upon at some point and if they can’t manage, we will be back to the bad old days of covering up the cracks with emergency loans.

Unless, of course, we sell one of the youth products.

In the job spec for the new Chief Executive (a position that I suspect will be filled from within the club, to save money), it states:-

“The Club’s operating philosophy is to be fiscally responsible and prudent, with a goal of being profitable in each year of operations.  Their goal for the team is to consistently compete for the playoffs, with a goal of promotion within the next four years.  They believe that the only way to achieve these two goals is by being the absolute best developers, buyers and sellers of footballers.”

We can therefore expect the Rams to continue to trade ‘neutral’ for the foreseeable future, with little room for Clough to manoeuvre in the transfer market until one of our best prospects – Hendrick, Hughes or Bennett – is the subject of a big enough offer.

As Derby put it themselves in the Chief Executive job spec: -

“The Club has made tremendous investments in its Academy over the past five years … We believe that these investments will allow us to bring up quality first-teamers that comfortably fit into our wagebill.  A secondary goal of this development focus is to create a portfolio of players that have tremendous value in the transfer market – which will ultimately allow us to make further investments in players.

The club’s commitment to ‘prudence’ also explains why Clough was so keen to sell James Bailey this summer.  The manager has decided on his first-choice partnership (assuming a 4-4-2 formation) – Hendrick and Bryson.  Moving Bailey on now would allow Clough to save his wages and reinvest whatever fee is generated on a new player, on a longer contract.  This would be another young prospect rather than an established star, but still.

If Clough keeps Bailey around as cover / competition, he loses him for a pittance in January, or for nothing next summer, whilst also missing out making a new signing who would become part of the longer-term picture.  In Bailey’s absence, cover for the central midfield position would come from Coutts and Hughes.

As the graphic above shows, Derby County’s total debt actually increased in the last set of financial figures (up to June 2011), despite the decrease in wagebill.  This was because turnover decreased sharply – no more fat parachute payments from the Premier League – and, unlike in previous seasons, GSE put in money in the shape of a loan, rather than as straight investment.

It’s not nice to see the debt rise, but a good portion of it is the ‘mortgage’ on Pride Park, which is due to be paid back over many years.  Nevertheless, being £25.5m in the red cost us £1m in interest payments over 2010/11.

On the plus side, the money from GSE was loaned in at zero per cent interest.  That’s very different to the situation at Cardiff City and Leicester City, where the ownership are essentially providing the clubs with a hefty overdraft to debt-finance a charge towards the promised land – where they plan to bathe in the froth of Murdoch’s Sky billions.

In Leicester’s case, they simply have to get promoted before the imposition of Financial Fair Play regulations, or they will be hit with a transfer embargo – or lurch into administration, should their owners decide to walk away.

In Cardiff’s case, the club has already sold out its heritage for Vincent Tan’s ‘Indecent Proposal’.  They will play their home games in red this season, with a new badge and a nickname that no longer makes any sense – all because Tan wants to be able to market the club in Asia.  A new £2m striker sounds exciting, right?  No coincidence that the player in question, Kim Bo-Kyung, is from South Korea.  Fans are at each others’ throats over the changes imposed upon their club, which is genuinely sad to see.

That’s all for now, folks.  Tune in next time… 

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