Derby County went into this transfer window with their priorities firmly set and consistently stated in the media. They intended to move out several surplus players, cut the wage bill and consolidate the squad. Maybe there would be a couple of loan signings, but that would be about it.
Not a sexy message to get the fans’ blood pumping, but at least it was honest.
Pretty soon, a clutch of ‘non-productive’ senior pros had disappeared. The Stephens – Pearson and Bywater – were both released, to allow them to make their respective loan moves to Bristol City and Sheffield Wednesday permanent. Dean Leacock was soon saying his goodbyes to the Derby fans on Facebook and was freed to join League One Leyton Orient as a free agent straight after. Lee Croft‘s loan move to the SPL, which effectively ends his Rams’ career, was confirmed on Twitter by his glamour model partner, to very little moaning, wailing or gnashing of teeth from the Derby end.
That these players had to be released, rather than sold, says something about the financial state of most clubs in the Football League these days. There isn’t so much easy credit sloshing around and Premier League clubs are generally spending less money, either to try to comply with the Financial Fair Play regulations or because there isn’t any, which has a knock-on effect throughout the divisions. Not many Championship clubs have been able to spend heavily this season – not that Championship clubs were signing most of our unwanted players anyway.
After this purge, the England U’19 striker Ryan Noble was loaned in from Sunderland, for an initial month, possibly with a view to a longer stay. Nigel Clough mentioned the possibility of another loan signing coming in before the January deadline, but also admitted that this was to cover the eventuality of Paul Green being sold. Enter Tom Carroll, a pint-sized, but gifted left-footed midfield playmaker. Carroll is another England U’19 international, described by Tim Sherwood, his coach at Tottenham Hotspur, as being technically good enough to play for Barcelona.
Green’s situation divided fans. Had he left, his energy and determination would have been missed. He was an important part of the recent winning run, playing well despite being out of position on the right side of midfield.
Clough made the point that the club have ‘other priorities for the summer’, so it may still be that Green’s financial demands are not met at the end of the season, freeing up funds for other signings. Green is 28 and has given good service to Derby, but as he has now reached his peak in terms of age, this is an important contract for him. If he can get a better two or three year deal elsewhere, he can hardly be blamed for accepting it, as by the end of that time, he will be into his thirties as a player whose prime virtues have always been stamina and tenacity, rather than technique or vision.
Green’s absence against Barnsley last night clearly destabilised the team’s balance and shape. An abortive attempt to slot in Jeff Hendrick into his place on the right, with Carroll replacing James Bailey in central midfield, contributed to a disastrous first-half collapse.
In previous seasons, I’m convinced that a promotion-chasing side with loose purse-strings – Cardiff City, say, or Derby under Billy Davies – would have taken Green, even if just to add him to the squad for their tilt at the Premier League. But only Leicester really fit into that category this season and they were more interested in adding Wes Morgan to their expensively-assembled defensive unit. Clubs like Hull and Middlesbrough, who will be there or thereabouts this season, were rumoured to be interested, but ultimately either wouldn’t, or couldn’t, do the deal.
Elsewhere, Tomasz Cywka, still popular with many fans, but not with the management, was reported to be available for transfer, probably for no more than a nominal fee. A move home to Poland seemed the most likely result, with the almost-unspellable Slask Wroclaw making a bid, but a mystery Championship club – eventually unmasked as Reading – arrived on the scene with a last-minute bid. Cywka painted a somewhat dramatic picture of the deal; during a meeting at Wroclaw, his mobile went off to inform him of Reading’s interest, sending him racing to the airport for the next flight back to England.
Chris Maguire, who it’s fair to say hasn’t made the impression we all hoped, was the subject of a loan bid from Hibernian, which was knocked back, but Clough indicated that the striker would be allowed out temporarily. My guess is that the Hibs move was declined because Derby would prefer him to stay in England. Maguire could well still depart on loan after the ’emergency’ window opens and it wouldn’t be a total surprise if he disappered permanently in the summer. It’s certainly no good to leave him in the reserves, for whom he has scored 12 goals in 12 games this season.
Miles Addison returned from his prolonged spell at Barnsley, only for Clough to announce that he wasn’t in the plans at present and would be allowed to go back out on loan again this month. That he is now considered fifth choice centre back, behind Jake Buxton and Tom Naylor, shows how far his stock has fallen since his inclusion in the England U’21 team not so long ago. Injuries have taken their toll and he wasn’t able to force his way into the Barnsley team on a consistent basis, during his half-season loan spell there.
As well as the concrete developments, there was plenty of speculation for Twitter fans to enjoy. First up was Darron Gibson, who was linked with a loan move from Manchester United by The Independent. This seemed highly unlikely and Gibson signed permanently for Everton in due course.
Lewis McGugan was erroneously tipped for a move to Derby by a Nottingham Forest blogger, whether on a wind-up or not is unclear. Colin Bloomfield was quickly able to put the kibosh on this one.
Possibly the most outlandish rumour of all was a report that Sol Campbell would be joining as a player-coach for the rest of the season with a view to a long-term future as a coach. This prompted one of the time-honoured ‘my mate who works in a hotel just saw (insert name of chief exec) and (insert name of high profile player) walking through the foyer’ tweets, which made me chuckle. A tradition that will never die.
Sky Sports repeatedly ran stories linking James Bailey with a move away from Pride Park, stating that the player becomes a free agent in summer. I challenged journalist Pete O’Rourke on this, as when Bailey signed in summer 2010, it was announced by Derby as a three-year deal. This goes against what was announced on the club website when Bailey signed. O’Rourke maintains that the deal expires in summer, with an option to extend that Derby have not yet triggered, but the window closed with Bailey still a Ram, much to Tommo’s relief.
Bailey, Ward and Robinson are all contracted to 2013, the only three squad members who would seem to be in the long-term plans who haven’t yet committed to at least 2014. As long as extensions are not inked, speculation will continue. And agents will always encourage this – Jeff Hendrick being a case in point. Rumoured interest from Premier League clubs can’t have harmed negotiations over his contract extension, which, as Clough pointed out, was handled by ‘people who I’m sure are working in his best interests’.
The ones that got away (or were paid to leave…)
It’s interesting to note that of the 35 senior players Clough has parted with*, only one went to the Premier League (Tyrone Mears, to Burnley) and only 12 stayed in the Championship. The majority went to the lower leagues, or to minor leagues abroad, including the Danish Superliga, Australian A-League and the SPL.
Of the ones who stayed in England’s second tier, none went on to become stars at their new clubs. Jordan Stewart, for example, was packed off to Greece within months by Sheffield United, whilst Rob Hulse, whose move left us temporarily strikerless, was in an out for QPR last season and scored just two goals during their promotion campaign.
The players Clough allowed to leave had cost us a combined £17m, £16m of which was spent by Davies and Jewell. In moving them out, the club raised about £5m (almost a third of which was for Tito Villa), absorbing a loss of about £12m in transfer fees alone.
To date, Clough has been allowed to spend about £5.7m on 26 players, at an average of under £220,000 per player. And it’s fair to say that despite having spent less than £1m more in fees than he has recouped, he has rationalised, rejuvenated and generally improved the squad from front to back: –
- Goodbye Roy Carroll, Price and Bywater, hello Fielding and Legzdins.
- Cheerio Claude Davis, Martin Albrechtsen and Darren Powell, greetings to Shaun Barker, John Brayford and Jason Shackell.
- Fair thee well, Gary Teale, Andy Todd and Mile Sterjovski, hi to Craig Bryson, James Bailey and the youth product Jeff Hendrick.
- Balls to Villa, Nathan Ellington and Liam Dickinson, we’ll go with Theo and Jamie Ward instead. Oh and we’ll hang onto Steve Davies, thanks.
- Twelve of the senior players Clough has released were over 30 years old. The average age of the current squad is under 23.5.
Things are by no means perfect, but we have a good core of players, almost all of whom have plenty of years of football ahead of them, and we are well positioned to strengthen again, either in February or more likely in the summer.
NEXT CLUB OF SENIOR PLAYERS RELEASED BY CLOUGH
Premier League – 1
Championship – 12
League One – 6
League Two – 5
Scottish Premier League – 3
Abroad – 7^
Retired – 1
AVERAGE AGE OF SENIOR PLAYERS RELEASED = 26.95 years
(AVERAGE AGE OF CURRENT SQUAD = 23.46 years)
AVERAGE FEE GENERATED PER SENIOR PLAYER RELEASED (Estimated) = £142,850
AVERAGE LOSS SUSTAINED PER SENIOR PLAYER RELEASED (Estimated) = £344,290
(*I haven’t included youth players, chiefly because I couldn’t be arsed)
(^Figure includes season loans of Kazmierczak and Pereplotkins, terminated early)