If the fact that Nigel Clough had been publicly challenging Steve Davies to step up and become a 20-goal striker next season is anything to go by, it’s fair to say that the striker’s decision to turn down a three-year contract extension in favour of a summer transfer was something of a surprise to the club.
Clough and his staff clearly thought that, having stood by the player despite his terrible injury record and given him a platform to finally prove himself in the Championship next season, they would now be in a position to reap the benefits and tie down a striker with many strings to his bow – technique, passing, heading, shooting from range, hold-up play, free kicks, a great penalty-taker. Granted, he lacks pace and isn’t the most powerful striker in the division, but there is no reason why he can’t become one of the best number nines at this level – fitness allowing.
My best initial guess was that he might move to Blackpool or Bolton Wanderers. Firstly, the most obvious ‘family reason’ to reject an extension would be to live nearer to his native Liverpool. Secondly, unless he’s just desperate to leave, you would have thought he would only move if better wages were on offer and both Blackpool and Bolton will be in receipt of parachute payments next season.
Thirdly, his career appearance record is so patchy that any club bringing him in couldn’t realistically bank on more than 30 appearances from him next season. You might think, therefore, that the sort of club who’d take a punt on him would be a promotion-chaser, with money to spend on extra strikers to come off the bench, ensuring that momentum isn’t lost if a mainline centre forward gets injured.
The early clubs who’ve been linked – Leeds United, Ipswich Town, Bristol City – don’t quite seem to fit the bill. Bristol are stragglers; all doesn’t seem overly well with the finances at Ken Bates’ Leeds (they have reportedly dropped out of the race to sign Joel Ward for £450,000), while Ipswich manager Paul Jewell, having previously enjoyed the backing of owner Marcus Evans in the transfer market, has been preaching austerity in the press for the past few weeks.
We all know how good Steve is on his day. I did a quick straw poll on the Derby County Blog facebook page, asking whether fans agreed with Clough when he said that Davies and Theo Robinson both had the ability to become 20-goal strikers next season. Of the 11 people who responded, eight said they believed Steve could, only one said Theo could, with two suggesting that neither was good enough.
The abilities are there for all to see. But Davies never put it together for a whole season at Derby. That makes me wonder how much of a fee we will be able to demand for him, as other clubs can quite reasonably argue that they are not buying a dead cert. Ultimately, it could be that he is not quite durable enough to be a top player and with that in mind, it might not be such a bad thing that he is leaving. His goal return was better than one in three appearances this season, but it was only 12 goals from 21 starts and six sub appearances.
Clough has said that his spending this summer will be ‘neutral’, meaning that whatever he raises, he can have. Hence the desire to move as many as five or six players out, even though there is very little fat left to trim from a playing squad which could most generously be described as ‘lean’. But as Roger Davies has pointed out, most of the players currently on the transfer list are not ones you’d expect to generate a large fee. Addison hasn’t played very much for a good while, Croft’s career has completely stalled, we’ll certainly take a loss on Maguire, Bailey only has 12 months left on his contract – so we’re not talking about megabucks here.
Only if Jason Shackell goes will we see any major signing, but then the major signing would have to be a centre back to replace him, rendering the exercise pointless. Frankly, we are highly unlikely to be able to recruit better than the excellent Shackell, a player so good, I can’t quite believe we’ve got him.
As for Steve Davies, it’s sad, but hopefully he’s making the right decision and more importantly, I sincerely hope that we will be able to replace his goals straight away. He is a genuine talent and I’ll never forget the penalty he scored at the City Ground, when we beat Forest at a canter on a sunny day in February 2009 (as pictured in the banner of this website).
He is a gifted player, but never became a Derby hero and will go down in the history books as one who might have been. Whether his career continues on a similar path, or his next club find themselves with a real player on their hands, remains to be seen.
Steve’s best moments
September 2008 – Derby County 1 Birmingham City 1 A last-gasp Steve D header retrieves a point from a game that seemed lost. His first goal for Derby, one of four in his first season.
February 2009 – Nottingham Forest 1 Derby County 3 Starting on the left wing, Davies contributed a nerveless penalty in front of the away fans to make it 3-0, as the Rams won easily. Ended the game as an emergency left back, after Jay McEveley went off injured with all three substitutions already made.
March 2011 – Derby County 2 Swansea City 1 Nods home what proved to be the winner from a corner, as the Rams are made to work hard for a crucial victory against the Swans, who were ultimately promoted via the play-offs.
August 2011 – Watford 0 Derby County 1 / Blackpool 0 Derby County 1 A decidedly average away performance at Vicarage Road is converted into a victory when Davies receives a throw-in on the edge of the box, turns and lashes a devastating volley past Scott Loach. Three days later, an exceptional away performance at Bloomfield Road is converted into a victory after Davies’ low, drilled free kick is too strong for Matt Gilks to hold, leaving Craig Bryson with the easy task of converting the rebound.
March 2012 – Derby County 2 Blackpool 1 A Davies brace – the first a deflected free kick, the second a header after he was unaccountably left unmarked six yards out – sees off the Seasiders for a deserved Rams league double.
STEVE DAVIES’ RAMS RECORD
2008/9 APPS 10 (13 as sub) GOALS 4
2009/10 APPS 10 (13) GOALS 2
2010/11 APPS 14 (7) GOALS 5
2011/12 APPS 21 (6) GOALS 12
TOTAL STARTS 55
(Sub appearances 39)