It’s well worth pausing at the turn of the year to congratulate the team and Steve McClaren for the miraculous way in which they’ve turned the season around. The Rams’ form in the last couple of months has been exceptional – so much so that a GIF sent to me in October to use ‘when things haven’t gone so well’ was never relevant for the rest of 2016.
In honour of the non-performance at Norwich and Jacob Butterfield’s rather brainless dismissal, here it is, finally making an appearance a full two months after it was originally delivered:-
As we praise the team for their sterling efforts in recent times, the dawning of 2017 is also a fitting moment to look forward and consider what happens next. Here are a few resolutions which I imagine will be pinned up on a board somewhere at DCFC HQ.
Work some magic in the transfer market
Every transfer window is important, but this one feels particularly so. Even with players to come back from injury and suspension, the squad needs strengthening if it is to have a real chance of maintaining what, only a few weeks ago, seemed an implausible play-off push.
There is added pressure on the new (old) recruitment team to deliver, as the Directors of Recruitment brought in for Pearson have been elbowed aside for their sake and because Chris Evans’ record in his last spell contained at least one Ryan Shotton for every Alex Pearce. Meanwhile, the new Chief Scout – Steve’s son Joe – will always be open to accusations that he did not get where he is on merit.
Hopefully, Julien De Sart will fill the George Thorne niche well and it was encouraging to see Derby come out of the blocks early this January with a promising loan signing, especially given the short-term midfield issues. Now, with Weimann and Camara unable to force their way into the team, another wide attacker must surely be a top priority, while sharing the lone striker load between Darren Bent and Matej Vydra has led to the pair scoring four goals between them in the 16 games since Pearson’s departure (three for Bent, one for Vydra).
Which leads on to the next resolution…
Get Chris Martin back
Despite the vitriol aimed at him by a vocal minority of fans who can’t stand him, there is a dire need to retrieve Martin from his purgatory at Fulham. Unless, of course, the Rams can find another 15-20 goal Championship centre forward for less than £10m elsewhere.
As soon as it became clear that there was no recall clause in the deal rushed through in August – and that Fulham had absolutely no intention of converting Martin’s loan into a permanent deal in January – Derby had a big problem, because they had neither the player, nor the money he was worth.
The increasingly intricate structure of Financial Fair Play regulations make it hard to know for sure – and we still haven’t seen the club’s accounts for last season – but I wonder whether Derby, even if Mel wants to, could ‘break the bank’ on a serious new striker without also breaking the new spending limits (with permitted losses now capped at £39m over three seasons). That becomes almost irrelevant if you get promoted, but if you don’t make it, the Football League now have the power to decide to hammer you with a points deduction, let alone a transfer embargo.
New contract for Will Hughes
Two of the more positive stories this season have been contract extensions for players who have done really well – Max Lowe and Scott Carson. While reinforcements are of course required during the window, it would also be a huge boost to everyone associated with the club if Hughes committed to an extension at this stage.
With his current agreement ticking down to its last 18 months, now is the time to get a new one inked. However, after all the upheaval and play-off heartache he has experienced at PP, Hughes could not be blamed if he decides to wait until the summer, see if Derby get promoted and then reassess his situation.
Finish in the top six
If Derby managed to get promoted after giving the rest of the division such a head start, it would be little short of miraculous. That said, with order and pride now restored by McClaren, another tilt at Wembley glory must now be the aim. There is a decent challenging pack, but nothing to be unduly afraid of and a successful January window, followed by a bit of luck with injuries, could see the season extended yet again – and even a different outcome this time…
Don’t sack Steve McClaren
… Nevertheless, we have to accept the very real possibility that Derby will be facing yet another season in the Championship come August. It would be nice to think that we would be doing so with the same manager in post, because for now, the ship is back on an even keel – and that is not nothing, given the scale of the slump under Nigel Pearson.
The club will only tread water at best if there is constant upheaval. Even by modern standards, Mel’s attitude towards managers has been alarmingly casual – but by now, even Massimo Cellino himself finally seems to have learned that chopping and changing is a recipe for disaster.
The owner is determined to make this club successful, but even he will finally have to acknowledge that Rome wasn’t built in a day (and the only man who could have pulled off that particular feat is sadly no longer with us).
Which leads onto a final resolution which seems to be occupying Mel’s mind at the minute!
One of the more interesting off-the-field stories of the season has been Mel’s decision to challenge the Football League over what he deems to be an unacceptable TV rights deal for the 72 clubs. This week, he summoned all of the clubs to his Citadel to discuss what should be done next and it was subsequently reported by Owen Bradley that Morris ‘will be involved’ in the next set of negotiations, adding that the FL clubs are ‘impressed by Morris and his vision’.
So, the point Mel is making is assuredly valid. However, I sincerely hope that his wheeze of a ‘friendly’ against Leeds United, of all clubs, doesn’t go ahead in March. The idea is theoretically sound, because there is a clear tone of misery and despair among English football fans during every international break (certainly there is ’round my house, anyway) and a ravenous appetite for televised domestic football on any given Saturday (hell, on any given evening). It’s also worth remembering that the Premier League have always opposed the idea of a winter break, pointing out that far from allowing their superstars to put their feet up, the megaclubs would simply take themselves off, Harlem Globetrotters-style, to play hyper-lucrative friendlies around the world instead.
Decent ticket prices – maybe even freebies to reward loyal season ticket holders – and family-friendly offers will make for a buzzing stadium and a good day out for supporters. But the idea of staging a friendly purely to prove a point, at a time when the players should be in the midsts of a dogfight for the top six if all goes to plan, is laden with risk. Once you sell TV rights to the thing, you’ve got to play the first eleven and they have to try a leg, as well. That’s not to mention the historic rivalry between the two clubs, which further rules out a cozy kickabout. While Wednesday, Huddersfield, Reading and the rest are enjoying a Saturday off to recharge tired players’ batteries ahead of the final push, our lads will be out there risking injury in a meaningless game, which, OK, could be relatively lucrative if Mel is right, but ultimately only a sideshow. The players have looked very tired in recent weeks, labouring to a victory against Birmingham before running out of gas against Wigan and Norwich. Proof that regular breathers through a punishing season are a necessity. A penny for Steve McClaren’s thoughts on this particular plan….
Happy New Year to all Rams fans, here’s to a belting 2017!