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Derby Seek Full Value in Rebuild
DET Column
Thursday, May 21 2009
There is a new mood of prudence at Pride Park Stadium as Derby County endeavours to usher in the new era under Nigel Clough - with ‘value for money’ being the watchwords.

Clough has started weeding out unwanted squad members from a compliment of almost 40 first team players, after the two previous management incumbents practised a hit-and-miss policy in player recruitment. We’ve witnessed so many poor contributions or players marginalized due to the competition for places, alongside managerial instability, poor form and more than our fair share of injury problems.

The manager, along with new Academy coach Darren Wassall, answered questions at a Rams Club members’ forum at Pride Park recently and was forthright about what they were looking for in players and how they had appraised the current squad.

There won’t be a transfer frenzy with lavish spending in Championship terms. Clough declared that the £40m spent on players and wages over the last two years won’t be repeated - ‘because it hasn’t worked’.

Some of the deals done by the two previous managers were poor value indeed and there may even be pay-offs to detach some well-rewarded but unwanted characters from the club. £3m spent on Claude Davis, £3.5 on Earnshaw, and numerous other substantial fees paid for marginal players on long contracts leave the manager with the task of trying to move several players on even without a fee; cutting the wage bill is required just as much as a defence that can stop goals going into our net!

Clough assured fans that newcomers would add first-team quality; he will choose players that can do their jobs properly when stepping in and who are always ready and able to play. Now, it is more about building a blend and cultivating a compact squad mentality to replace the destabilising activity of adding dozens of players, to then see which ones fit in and which ones sit it out.

The club doesn’t have to sell players - though they will take the money if fees are offered for players that don’t want to play for Derby or have no future at the club, whilst the Rams will resist any approaches for players deemed to be the building blocks of the Clough team.

“Every player has his price, here, or Manchester United, or anywhere,” Clough said, regarding possible interest in such as Commons, Addison and others. But they would only move on for ‘silly money’ and he is very much hoping to keep his favoured nucleus together.

Some fans worry about players that Clough wants falling short of the quality required for a push towards the top of the Championship, though Clough sought to allay fears that DCFC would field a team of Conference or lower league ‘improvers’. “There will be 3 or 4 of them, that’s all”, he said. These could include Jake Buxton, and others linked to the club like Ilkeston Town midfielder Ben Pringle, Grimsby’s centre-back Ryan Bennett and John Brayford of Crewe Alexandra.

All are promising or imposing players in their current teams and Clough wants to see that hunger, commitment and consistency running throughout the first team squad and the whole club. Some recruits will assist the development of the (largely) under-21 reserve ‘development’ side as well as having the chance to break through to first team level. The era of costly, contract-hopping players putting in occasional appearances between indifferent form and frequent injury absences is hopefully behind us.

Paul Jewell did unearth some promising players that have made the step up, Green and Connolly being good examples; and if they sign for Derby, Blackpool’s Shaun Barker (with the Rams having an initial £400k bid rejected for him) and Exeter’s Dean Moxey may be the next to make the step up.

Clough isn’t chasing household names or ex-Premier League ‘stars’ on their last lucrative contract haggle, though he does hope to spice up the squad through the loan system. Some proven Championship quality in players such as winger Lee Croft from relegated Norwich City can slot straight into the squad. Serving crosses and chances up to Rob Hulse and Chris Porter, or whichever strike pair Clough deploys, is paramount to improving the club’s points’ haul and position, once the defence is successfully rebuilt.

Recruiting raw talent from Derby and the Midlands has become a priority, with the scouting network now including representatives in Derby itself (it’s disappointing that this potential had been totally ignored in recent years, especially with the superb Moor Farm facilities on offer to attract trainees) and there are now scouts in close-to-home regions such as Eire, instead of a variegated network of largely unproductive international links everywhere else.

If successful, Nigel Clough will have fans eating out of the palm of his hand - but we may still not see a tearaway start to the 2009-10 Championship season as Clough’s new team finds its feet. Patience will be forthcoming for the most part although supporters would be unlikely to tolerate another basement struggle with the team spluttering towards the 50 points mark when Easter comes around again. Fans have had enough of relegation dogfights in the past decade.

Once progress is established on the field and the team is heading for promotion, there will be a need for the GSE consortium’s alleged spending power and bigger commitment to come to the fore in order to finance players with proven quality at the highest level. For now, the current Moor Farm misfits are being sorted out and the expectation is for a committed, efficient and entertaining team to emerge in the next year or two.

President and Chief Executive Tom Glick and his boardroom colleagues claim to have stabilised the club’s operations and finances and Derby County are expecting to show a small operating profit. Building for long-term success is a key phrase with the current board; the commercial and operational aspects of the club are geared to filling the stadium and maximising interest in the club from the whole community.

“It’s not about annual profits and dividends, it is about running a better business and building the business and investing that back in the asset. That for us means back into the playing side and back into our stadium”, said Glick.

Sponsorship income has doubled in the past year, which is quite an achievement after such an emphatic relegation and such poor fayre on the field of play. In the context of the current economic climate it is remarkable and Glick has built a specialised commercial team dedicated to increasing the penetration and take-up of support in ticket sales and sponsorship throughout Derbyshire.

Season ticket sales are expected to at least match the 2008-09 mark and circa 23,000 fans will give Derby their loyal commitment again. The Rams topped the home attendance averages by a distance at 29,400 and if Clough’s side impress the city, Pride Park Stadium may well sell out again on a dozen or more occasions.

In Championship terms, the outlook bodes well for a brighter future. Derby County do not look destined for decline in the manner of some clubs. Southampton, Charlton Athletic, Leeds United or Nottingham Forest piled another relegation disaster on top of their failure to climb back promptly to the Premier League after their ‘parachute payments’ dried up; budgets got cut as income declined whilst the crowds dwindled.

As ever, it’s now all about the next Derby County team, the players, the manager, the results. It will be a long three months now, during the close season, just waiting to see how it all comes together in August!
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