Derby County v the EFL – A football finance BlogCast special (with Kieran Maguire)

Mel fought the law, will the law win?

With Derby County due to take their appeal against EFL charges to an independent tribunal for a ruling – which could see a points deduction imposed, if the Rams lose the case – I was extremely grateful to the football finance specialist Kieran Maguire for speaking to me, to break down exactly how serious the situation is and what, in his assessment, is likely to happen next.

Kieran features on an excellent podcast of his own and has just published a book – both entitled the Price of Football, so there is nobody better to explain the issues surrounding the sale of Pride Park and the unique way in which the club ‘amortises’ the value of its players (he has posted a handy explainer about amortisation and how Derby do it differently to his website, which is well worth a read too).

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Philling the gaps – a plan for Derby County’s January transfer window

Wayne Rooney is coming to Pride Park very soon.  But while some fans have been getting excited about the possibility of him playing in as many as three different positions – up-front, as a number ten, or even the very unlikely shout of him playing in midfield – the fact remains that there is only one of him and Phillip Cocu has problems all over the pitch to address.

Derby’s recruitment in the summer let Cocu down and the situation was far from ideal, even before injuries deprived the manager of key players in Matt Clarke, Tom Huddlestone and Graeme Shinnie, with Krystian Bielik also struggling for fitness.  Now, the club are faced with a salvage operation of a January window, during which, they need to add sufficient quality to allow Cocu to field a competitive side and steer clear of trouble. 

Several positions in the squad need fixing urgently and even with investment from the Swiss financier Henry Gabay reportedly incoming, there will only be a limited pot of money to spend.  The football finance don Kieran Maguire recently explained to media including BBC Radio Derby that if Gabay is buying shares in Derby, a maximum of £8m of this type of capital can be counted towards the club’s profit and sustainability (FFP) calculations.  So, there will be some cash for Cocu, but with problems to address from front to back, how do we prioritise the spending?  

An overarching consideration for all of Derby’s plans has to be the club’s stated aim to develop academy players into first-teamers where possible.  Jason Knight is now pretty much there, with Morgan Whittaker and Louie Sibley the next closest to forcing their way in – and all three deserve opportunities to play.  At the same time, being put into the team is not necessarily the same thing as being given the platform to thrive and it would be both unwise and unfair to rely on a trio of 18 year-olds to consistently come up with the goods.

With so much to discuss ahead of a crucial month of transfer activity, I knew we needed to use the December episode of the Derby County BlogCast to get a word with Ram Srinivas, who, since his debut appearance on the podcast with us back in July, has begun forging his career as a professional scout, through the new consultancy he has co-founded – MRKT Insights.  

After talking it over with Ram and Chris Smith (Ramspace) and thinking on it some more, here is the ‘pecking order’, as I perceive it, for where the club’s immediate priorities should lie:-

1) Winger
2) Central midfielder
3) Centre back
4) Winger 

Those four additions plus Rooney should allow Cocu to at least guide the Rams to a respectable season, while also continuing the important work of offering the best young players opportunities as they try to cement their places in the squad for next season.|

The squad is in need of such a major overhaul that it is impossible to complete the job in one window – what we need to do in January is stabilise, ahead of another busy window of ins and outs next summer.  There will be much more work to do in the summer, not least signing a new goalkeeper. And things could change, of course, if the club receives a hefty bid for Jayden Bogle, or decides to part with Jack Marriott.

It should be emphasised that there is very little margin for error here.  This time, with the squad currently in a weak state, the signings will need to be successes, because we simply cannot afford another batch of players of the ilk of Dowell, Evans, Jozefzoon and Paterson. 


  1. Wide / attacking midfield

This is the area which I believe to be in the most urgent in need of reinforcement.  When we reviewed the squad in the BlogCast, we couldn’t really nominate anybody who could could be relied upon to be consistently effective on either wing, which is an astonishing position for any manager to be left in. 

As Ryan Conway has reported, Derby failed to sign their preferred right-wing target on the summer deadline day and instead, loaned Paterson in a last-second panic.  It didn’t work out (although there is definitely an argument to be made that Paterson maybe deserved more opportunities to start ahead of Tom Lawrence in his preferred number ten slot).  Dowell is another player who is probably best suited to playing as a number ten and has struggled to affect games from a deeper midfield position. Elsewhere, Jozefzoon has, unfortunately, turned out to be an entire waste of money and Mason Bennett is yet again out through injury, as his contract ticks down towards expiry. 

How much is through choice and how much through necessity is open to debate, but it’s undeniably true that Cocu has relied much too heavily on Lawrence – who is simply not capable of carrying a Championship team on his back – while shoehorning square pegs into round holes in other attacking midfield slots and hoping for the best.  Martyn Waghorn has been doing his best out of position on either wing and such is the paucity of options that now even young Knight is being pressed into service as a makeshift wideman. 

With Lawrence more likely to get booked than to score or assist a goal and Whittaker still only at the ‘baby steps’ phase of his first-team career, Derby just do not have enough Championship-standard quality in wide areas, which is reflected in the Rams’ worryingly low key pass and shot counts for the season.

In an ideal world, Derby would recruit two new wingers and balance this by offloading Jozefzoon, Paterson (who is widely expected to return to Bristol City on January 1) and Dowell (who would probably leap at the chance of a loan termination).  These transfers would provide Cocu with fresh options, while ensuring that Whittaker and Sibley get opportunities to play, without having too much expected from them at this stage of their development.

2) Central midfield

Everything looked OK, briefly, when Shinnie – ignored by Cocu for the first two months of the season, to widespread bemusement – finally fought his way into the side, alongside Bielik.  However, Shinnie’s serious hamstring injury, on top of Tom Huddlestone’s serious hamstring injury, has left Derby dangerously light in this area, particularly as Bielik has been less than 100 per cent fit.  The inconsequential George Evans was drafted in as a midfield deputy, playing alongside little Duane Holmes – but even he is now injured. 

Even if Bielik can stay fit and Huddlestone returns early in the new year, it’s really important for Derby to recruit another senior midfielder, even if only on loan.  Cocu clearly values Huddlestone’s technique and will doubtless play him once he’s available again, but nevertheless, another experienced option – I would prefer a player in the box-to-box mould, though Chris suggested a creative ‘number eight’ – would be an enormous help.  Knight is improving all the time and should get chances to play, but it is too vital an area to leave as light as we currently are.

3) Centre back

Matt Clarke will hopefully return to the side very soon, but nevertheless, centre back is an area which needs bolstering.  Firstly in terms of sheer numbers – without Richard Keogh, Derby now only have two specialist senior central defenders and have been left with Craig Forsyth filling in for Clarke.  Andre Wisdom is, in theory, another option, but hasn’t been used as a centre back in a back four by Cocu to date.

Secondly, Cocu’s preferred style, as we know, is a short passing game.  This is why Clarke was recruited to partner Keogh, with Curtis Davies left out of favour.  The veteran is doing his best to adapt his game, but bringing the ball out of defence, as Keogh did, is not at all natural to him.  

And while thinking of the immediate situation, we should also consider the fact that with Davies unlikely to receive an extension to his current deal and Clarke only on loan, at the time of writing, Derby have no senior centre backs under contract for the 2020/21 season.  Bringing a defender who suits Cocu’s preferred style in now to compete with Davies and Clarke is essential. If it is to be a loan, in the shape of Leicester City’s Filip Benković, then that will at least plug the gap for now, before a long-term answer is sought in the summer. Ram is well behind the rumoured target Rob Dickie, whom he rates among the best defenders in League One this season.

4) Goalkeeper

This has been a bone of contention ever since Wembley, when Kelle Roos made one of the costliest mistakes in the club’s history.  The 27 year-old has much to recommend him, but his indecision under high balls is a fatal flaw in his game, which, by the end, left him the target both of opponents and, very sadly, many of Derby’s own fans, whose frustration boiled over into open derision. 

Derby did bring in a (presumably budget) back-up loan signing on the August deadline day – Ben Hamer.  The 32 year-old has played in all four divisions, clocking up hundreds of appearances at clubs including Charlton, Brentford and Leicester.  While Hamer is hardly a household name, signing him was not exactly the same as when Nigel Clough signed Michael Boulding, or when Dean Holdsworth ended up playing up-front for us in the dark days of Philip Brown.  He is a competent player at this level. 

In the BlogCast, Ram suggested that Charlton’s Dillon Phillips would be a good signing, but unless Derby can sign a player of his ilk, who is good enough to be part of the club’s longer-term rebuild, it hardly seems worth committing precious funds to another goalkeeper at this stage. One for the summer.

5) Striker

The arrival of Rooney boosts Derby’s strikeforce to four options, with the England legend joining three very different players in Waghorn, Jack Marriott and Chris Martin.  Martin has been a useful option since returning to the fold from his unsuccessful loan season at Hull, but Rooney is likely, in Ram’s words, to “do the Martin role, better than Martin”. 

Waghorn’s form has been up and down and Marriott continues to be a source of mystery and disappointment.  If only he was fully fit / had a manager who really believed in him … delete as applicable, according to your beliefs.  Whatever the truth of the situation, Cocu has joined Frank Lampard in declining to select Marriott consistently and there is only likely to be a regular slot in the team for him if the manager decides to use a two-striker system. 

It doesn’t seem impossible that another Championship club might make a cheeky bid for Marriott and if so, that Cocu might entertain it.  If that’s the case, then Marriott would need directly replacing with another forward, given that Martin and Rooney are unlikely to be named in the starting XI together.

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New episode: The Derby County BlogCast – January transfer window preview

Phillip Cocu is in a spot of bother.

Injuries have ravaged a squad which wasn’t strong in any case, but is now looking so threadbare that goals, even chances are drying up alarmingly. We were limping towards January and ‘waiting for Wazza’ – now, we’re not even limping.

Away games against Reading and Wigan, followed by Charlton at home, are all to come before we welcome Rooney into the set-up. Those games don’t look fearsome on paper, but the Rams have been so poor of late that nothing can be taken for granted. And as Cocu has himself warned, simply expecting the England legend to fix everything on his own is not a sensible idea. We need players, pronto.

With that in mind, there was only one guest I wanted for this month’s Derby County BlogCast.

Soon after a season preview, in which he recommended that the Rams try to sign Krystian Bielik and Matt Clarke, while also warning that a goalkeeper was required and that selling a player to Brentford (Max Lowe) was never a wise idea, Ram starting scouting for Swansea City and became the co-founder of a new recruitment agency, MRKT Insights.

It was really kind of Ram to offer another hour of his time to go through the gory details of where things are going wrong for Cocu and, more importantly, what should happen next. Goalkeeper, defender, midfielder, or attacker – where do we start in terms of recruiting our way out of this mess? And beneath the rhetoric, how serious are Derby in reality about the goal of youth development?

Plus there’s a wonderfully-focused, comprehensive assessment of the pros and cons of Cocu’s time at the club thanks to my long-serving/suffering podcast accomplice, Chris Smith.

Enjoy the podcast and have a brilliant Christmas.


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Derby County 1 Queens Park Rangers 1

It is hard to try to point out Nigel Clough’s positive legacy – Clough signings are still playing for Derby to this day and completely dominated Ryan Conway’s recent suggested Rams team of the decade – without having it thrown back at you that he was always mid-table Nige. Yes, he was, but had he ever been given £25m to spend, then we would not have ended up signing Camara, Butterfield, Blackman and Johnson. Each manager we’ve tried in recent years have had their different strengths and weaknesses. They were only human, after all.

Craig Bryson was recently interviewed by Steve Bloomer’s Washing and said that his ideal Derby manager would have been a mixture of Clough’s man-management, Steve McClaren’s coaching skills and Frank Lampard, for how much he enjoyed the experience. That makes sense to me. Clough to identify and develop players, McClaren to set a style of play, then Lampard to get everybody revved up and bouncing.

However, finding one person who combines all of those elements, would be little short of miraculous – and Phillip Cocu definitely isn’t that mythical creature.

He doesn’t have Lampard’s charm (doubtless picked up from his Uncle ‘Arry) and he is yet to hit on a playing style which lights the blue touchpaper, as McClaren did so quickly. But Cocu certainly has a sincere commitment to the club’s youngsters and, bit by bit, is promoting them into his set-up above more senior players. Morgan Whittaker, to give the most notable current example, has jumped above Florian Jozefzoon, Jamie Paterson and Kieran Dowell in the pecking order. If they have the talent, Cocu will be give them the opportunities. To throw a 19 year-old into a game in which the Rams needed to find a way through, as first change, was a brave decision from a manager who could hardly have been blamed for turning to a more experienced forward in his moment of need.

That is undoubtedly a positive. And here’s some mitigation for what was overall a very disappointing performance against QPR. The starting XI featured the back-up goalkeeper – brought in after a chicken / egg situation in which the first-choice ‘keeper became subject to fan derision and lost form – one defender making his first start of the season, two more who were third and fourth-choice centre backs (if that) at the start of the season and a midfield shorn of three players Cocu would have selected if they were available.

Cocu was criticised for making a lot of changes for this game, which I can’t really understand, because we were awful at Fulham and it would have made no sense to send the same team out. Then Krystian Bielik then pulled out in the warm-up, to be replaced by a much less commanding player in George Evans, left Cocu’s gameplan seriously disrupted. Without him, Graeme Shinnie or Tom Huddlestone available, Duane Holmes and George Evans were left to struggle, particularly during the first half, to provide an effective screen for the defence – none of whom were particularly suited to playing the passing game which Cocu favours.

Within ten minutes, Cocu had pulled Waghorn to the touchline and ordered a change of shape. Suddenly, Bogle was playing as a right winger, with Waggy on the left and fulfilling considerable extra defensive duties – with unfortunate consequences.

In short, this felt like a truly makeshift team. Cocu is struggling to get a tune out of the squad and the lack of consistency in performance levels and team selection is frustrating, but – at the risk of sounding like a broken record – this random mob was signed by many different managers for very different reasons. It is hard to expect cohesion in these circumstances, particularly given the loss of key players through injury.

This was far from the worst performance of the season, but it was yet another game in which the Rams were not dominant against opposition who were not very good. And in the 80th minute, Cocu made a decision which I will not defend him for, because I felt it was a misjudgement.

Derby had actually improved in the second half and managed to work the ball through the lines neatly on several occasions, Holmes becoming ever-more influential in carrying the ball towards the QPR area. Jayden Bogle could easily have reinstated the lead from Jack Marriott’s cross and his replacement, Whittaker, showed glimmers of his obvious potential. A league start is probably not far away for him now.

With the game grinding into its final stages, QPR’s threat became more sporadic as they hunkered down. Momentum threatened to build for the home side. Marriott seemed to have the bit between his teeth and was fizzing around the penalty area with menace – so when Chris Martin was introduced, I thought that would be perfect – a CM9 flick-on could provide Jack with the sight of goal he needed to turn the game in our favour.

So I was horrified when it turned out Martin was coming on for Marriott, while Waghorn was also withdrawn for a midfielder in Jason Knight. Given Tom Lawrence’s severe allergy to the penalty area, it was a decision which left Martin with nobody to run past him and which, in my opinion, let the Hoops off the hook. Two points dropped.

But let’s focus on the positives, because it’s easy to forget amid the doom and gloom that there are some. Derby have still only lost one home game all season and, despite the daft penalty – clumsily conceded by Waghorn in his eagerness to help the defence – the Rams have only let in seven goals at Pride Park, which is among the best defensive home records in the division. There were more minutes for Whittaker, who still looks physically slight for a Championship player, but demonstrated an excellent first touch, vision and passing range, which will make him an asset this season. Whittaker’s emergence could yet allow at least one loanee to be sent back to his parent club – hopefully facilitating another signing for one of the other areas of the squad which needs reinforcement.

And we have been told that the much-mooted investment deal, which will bring extra funds into the club while leaving Mel Morris in control, has moved a stage closer and could be finalised this month. That could be good news – depending on who it is and what this consortium’s intentions are.

Morris may have been the ‘local boy made good’, who simply wanted to plough money into his club for the love of it, but much like ideal managers, such unicorns are in scant supply. Major investments of the type needed to turn around loss-making football clubs will not come without strings attached. Certainly, there have been positive examples of people coming into clubs and doing great work, but there are plenty of horror stories to tell, too. If Mel has managed to find a genuinely respectable partner who can finally help to propel this club out of its twenty-year second division stagnation, then that will be a sensational development. I can’t help wonder, though – while remaining in the dark about the new investors’ motivations – whether Cocu’s long-term schemes and a prospective external partner’s Premier League dreams might leave Derby with yet another circle to square.

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Derby County v QPR preview, for Loft for Words

One of my annual blogging tasks is to face a proper grilling from QPR stalwart Clive Whittingham – I felt the Q & A was worthy of a re-post here, as the questions are always wide-ranging and encourage an in-depth response.

Loft for Words: How would you assess Derby’s start to the season?

Derby County Blog: I don’t really need to assess it, beyond reciting the results to you. Won 6 Drawn 6 Lost 6. It is the number not only of the beast, but also of sheer mediocrity.

We don’t have enough creativity in the squad to score a lot of goals and we aren’t solid enough defensively to grind out a run of results either. We are mid-table and we don’t deserve anything better than that, unless things change dramatically at both ends of the pitch.

Injuries are biting, while notorious and lamentable off-field shenanigans have ended Richard Keogh’s Derby career. I usually consider talk of ‘transition’ to be bullshit, but in this case, after the short-term high of the Frank Lampard Effect, following on from the rollercoaster of spending and sackings since Mel Morris bought the club in 2014, we are being left to stare at the tab, cut our cloth and nurse a metaphorical hangover while we’re at it. 

The hope is that Phillip Cocu is able to string together enough results to keep the wolves at bay while he implements a long-term project to bring through our best academy players, while shipping out the remaining holdovers from various past regimes who are still hanging around and not really doing it.

LFW: You’re on a pretty stark run of form at the moment – you win your home games to nil and you lose your away games without scoring. Why?

DCB: In truth, there has been an element of luck to the (excellent) home run. Birmingham outshot us 17-7, yet we won 3-2: Luton were beaten by two fluke goals; Wigan succumbed to a goal we scarcely deserved in injury time. On the other hand, there have been few positives in the away performances. We deserved a point at Forest and were unlucky to get done late on at Hull, but the other defeats in the sequence have been embarrassing.

So, despite significantly better performances in recent wins against Middlesbrough (2-0) and Preston (1-0), the indications I can see only point to the home run stuttering a little before the away run gets significantly better. I can’t help but feel a little pessimistic at the moment – for the short-term, at least.

LFW: Cocu a slightly left-field appointment in the summer – how did you feel about it then and how’s he done so far?

DCB: The vast majority of fans welcomed the appointment and I looked at it positively, given his impressive record at PSV. He has won a lot more titles as a manager than Lampard, put it that way. Amazingly, Cocu is the first foreign manager in the club’s history and his stature in the game, as a Barcelona stalwart and Netherlands centurion, is high.

Our owner Mel Morris said that he was hiring Cocu to try to establish continuity in approach after Lampard left, but as it turns out, the two men are polar opposites. Lampard was the Flash ‘Arry, media-friendly, bounce-starting extrovert who chased glory in the cups and brought in stellar loan signings on mates rates to try to get promoted, whereas Cocu is a serious, brooding presence, who recently gave the club’s RamsTV channel a 20-minute interview to discuss the club’s ‘philosophy’, the long-term plan for the youth products and cognitive training exercises. The ‘P’ word was not mentioned once. 

Personally, I think that if he’s granted time, Cocu could have a positive effect on a squad which needs rebuilding from the ground up. However, a stumbling block for him in this day and age is that he simply does not have the charisma of a Lampard, which unfortunately makes him much more difficult to warm to.

LFW: What business was done over the summer and how did the club do in the transfer market? The team was always going to change with the three high profile Prem loans going back in the summer, but how has the style, shape and pattern of play changed under the new manager?

DCB: It was impossible to hope to recruit players as good as Mount, Tomori and Wilson again, so an element of backsliding was inevitable, whether fans liked it or not. The only player who joined for a fee was Krystian Bielik, who is a potential monster of a midfielder.

You may also be aware that we agreed to sign Wayne Rooney at the end of his MLS contract, but this created a problem, in that it used up the club’s resources and budget for the season on a player who wouldn’t be able to join until January. We have been ‘waiting for Wazza’ ever since and with the team struggling, the club are now wheeling Rooney out for his grand unveiling as a Ram on Saturday. Lucky old you lot get to spend the afternoon in his presence (but you will not be permitted to touch the hem of his 32Red-emblazoned garment). You also get a chance to ruin the party, which, let’s face it, has happened before…

In pre-season, Cocu spoke about using a 4-3-3 formation, but 4-2-3-1 is currently his default setting, with Tom Lawrence playing as a number ten in recent weeks. Cocu has pursued a possession-based approach, as you would expect of a Dutch coach, but his side have struggled to turn passes into chances on a regular basis. That lack of creativity was flagged up early on by the stattos and has, inevitably, begun to seriously bite us – Derby have now scored only four goals in their last seven matches and we can’t really say that we deserved a lot more than that – perhaps one at Forest and another one against Preston, but that’s about it.

The xG crowd hated Lampard’s Derby and kept predicting that we would ‘revert to the mean’ and slip down the table, but the difference then was, we had Wilson. Without his goals, we have looked very, very plain and almost laughably easy to play against when we leave the safety of Pride Park.

LFW: Stand-out players and weak links in the side?

DCB: I don’t think there are any genuine stand-out players in this team. Put it this way – in a recent episode of my podcast, I asked the panel (which included BBC Radio Derby’s Chris Coles) to pick the first name on the team sheet – we all struggled to nominate one.

We depend on Lawrence quite a lot, but my criticism of him is that he shoots from distance far too often. He has a lethal shot, but he doesn’t get close enough to goal to make it count regularly. Harry Wilson really could score from anywhere, but Lawrence isn’t as good as his compatriot, which is reflected in his consistently middling goals tally.

Bielik is an important presence in midfield, Chris Martin is a clever striker who annoys opponents, while 19 year-old full back Jayden Bogle is one of our best players and one who might well attract Premier League bidders next summer. The veteran Curtis Davies has stepped up to lead the defence in the absence of Keogh. All of the above are good Championship players, but there is nobody there you would back to consistently turn a game in your favour.

The weakest link at Fulham was goalkeeper Kelle Roos, who was at least partially to blame for all three goals. Unfortunately, Roos has become a figure of derision and has been jeered at Pride Park for his lack of ability to catch a cross. There were murmurings about him pretty much as soon as he replaced the popular Scott Carson last season and that only intensified after his dreadful howler at Wembley. With many fans writing him off in that moment, Roos has been vulnerable to the boo boys ever since. I think there has been an air of self-fulfilling prophecy about this situation for the past few months – mock a player, stand there waiting for him to make a mistake, jeer him some more when he inevitably does – but at this stage, it seems inevitable that Roos will be dropped for Ben Hamer, an experienced journeyman who joined as cover this summer, on loan from (checks notes) Huddersfield.

LFW: Let’s crack into this one then… the Tom Lawrence/Mason Bennett incident, to an outsider, reflected horrendously on Derby. Firstly, the incident itself. Secondly the way the pair of them were just put straight back into the team within a week or so. And thirdly the cynical sacking of Keogh, who wasn’t driving but got injured for 18 months, while the two lads who were driving but remain sellable assets keep their jobs. Is there any case for the defence? Are you comfortable with them continuing to play for Derby? Has the initial crowd reaction to Lawrence died away because he’s scored a couple of goals?

DCB: Derby fans were as horrified about the incident as anyone and in the immediate aftermath, plenty of supporters called for Lawrence and Bennett to be sacked on the spot.

Lawrence is a player who had, for some time prior to his offence, cut a frustrated and petulant figure on the field and was not popular with supporters as a result. Something which had not been publicised prior to the incident was that his mother died earlier this year and part of the mitigation offered by his legal team in court was that he had become ‘dependent’ on alcohol following his bereavement. Having recently read a moving account of the effect that losing a parent at a young age can have on a person’s mental health, I am more inclined to give Lawrence a second chance.

What they did was inexcusable, but I don’t believe sacking them would have been proportionate – certainly, many other high-profile players have been caught drink-driving in recent times (including Rooney, of course) and none of them were dismissed by their clubs, to my knowledge. 

My personal opinion is that Lawrence and Bennett should not have been considered for selection in the period between the incident and the court case – this would have been effectively a three-match suspension, to go on top of the punishments which were issued by the club and the courts.

Both players were fined six weeks’ wages, issued statements of apology and admitted their guilt. As unacceptable as the whole fiasco was, it would have blown over more quickly – had Keogh not subsequently been dismissed.

I entirely agree with you that this was a cynical decision motivated chiefly by money, but I also don’t believe that Keogh deserves any sympathy whatsoever. The question which Keogh has not yet been able to answer is what the hell he was doing in that car. That was an appalling decision from a player who was, as club captain, in a position of seniority. It might be hopelessly naive of me, but I would have expected him to do much better in that situation, even to try to dissuade his younger teammates from endangering themselves and others in such a reckless manner – instead of involving himself in the whole sorry mess with disastrous consequences.

There is no doubt in my mind that Keogh deserved to be punished just as heavily as Lawrence and Bennett for his part in the incident. However, Morris has obviously asked himself why he should be on the hook for Keogh’s wages for 18 months, when the player won’t be available due to his own stupidity. The trouble with that of course is that Keogh has been treated entirely differently to the other two players, whose punishments were softened with promises of rehabilitation and support – he has, in my view, blatantly been discriminated against because of the injury.

It’s such a hideous mess. My guess is that it will end in some form of financial settlement, which will have the effect of maybe saving the club a few quid, providing Keogh with some measure of compensation and hopefully drawing a line under the whole sorry episode.

LFW: Currently kicking around in thirteenth, what are the realistic expectations for the rest of the season?

DCB: The only way this squad does any better than mid-table is if Rooney comes in and absolutely galvanises us. Cocu has already indicated that there won’t be many more other additions in January, so it’s all on Wayne, basically.

LFW: If promotion isn’t achieved, which doesn’t look that likely this season, how long before FFP becomes an issue again? Can only sell the ground once…

DCB: For the record, I think the stadium sale was out of order and none of the clubs involved should have been allowed to do it. It bothers me that Derby are now renting their own stadium, even if it is from Mel. What happens after Morris is gone? Will he gift it back to the club? Or will his estate sell it to the highest bidder? Nobody else seems to worry about this, however – there is a very strong ‘in Mel we Trust’ vibe these days, particularly helped by the fact that he has finally stopped sacking a manager every season.

It’s hard to know for sure whether FFP will become a problem in the near future, as the available financial figures are always a year behind and it’s difficult to second-guess what Morris will do next. The wagebill ballooned to £40.5m in 2018, which is wholly unsustainable, but a lot of senior players have left since then and even if Rooney is on a huge packet, the overall wage bill will have come down somewhat, while another group of well-paid veterans are at the end of their contracts next summer.

I think we will be OK for the next couple of seasons, so long as wages are controlled tightly from now on and the EFL don’t suddenly decide that the stadium sale – which they blithely waved through at the time, along with all the other clubs who used the same trick – is no longer kosher. That would presumably cause an immediate and hefty points deduction and transfer embargo and as such, I’m sure that Morris would fight it tooth and nail, in the same way that QPR contested their FFP punishment from way back when.

If FFP does bite, that’s when Cocu’s “long-term plan” will really be tested. We’re already seeing England under-19 attacking midfielder Morgan Whittaker preferred to loanee Jamie Paterson, who is reportedly returning to Bristol City in January, while a number of other promising youngsters are representing their countries at age group level and have been on the edge of the team this season.

It could be that we are laying the groundwork for dealing with a future embargo, or simply planning to avoid one – whatever, it is good sense for the club to actually start promoting the products of an academy which has been lavishly funded by Morris and whose Under-18s were champions of England last season (and have powered through the early stages of this season’s Europa Youth League with ease).

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