Optimism – The last hope of the defeated?

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Derby County are an old club, with a fair amount of history to their name. One of the founder members of the Football League, and with an FA Cup, two League Championships and a controversial European Cup semi final under its belt, The Rams are a club with experience of playing some of the best football the world has ever seen, and at the very highest level. Regrettably, tragically, and, dare I say it, deservedly, they have in recent years garnered something of a reputation for playing some of the worst.

However, with around a week to go now until the start of the 2011-2012 season, anticipation is high for what I’m sure we all know will go down in history as one of the greatest seasons the club has ever known; potentially eclipsing even that of the ’72 First Division win.  You have to be optimistic as a Derby fan…

Last season’s dismal 19th place finish has unfortunately done absolutely nothing to challenge this conception amongst the footballing naive, but this shall change. It must.

It remains to be seen just what can be done to turn it all around at Pride Park. With twenty-three losses last season, more than any club outside the relegation zone, and with 71 goals given away overall, serious changes are needed on the pitch if we intend to challenge even for an unambitious top half finish, let alone a play-off position or automatic promotion spot. We’re now pretty sound financially, so if a push is gonna come, it’s gotta come now.

With regard to changes at Pride Park this season, it might be worth mentioning first the decision by Tom Glick, the CEO and hereafter known as the Chief, to try and appoint a new Director of Football. Specifically what he hopes to achieve by this he unfortunately hasn’t elaborated on, but it would be reasonable to assume that it would be to aid Cloughie in the acquisition of new players, and maybe to oversee and help implement the changes on the field which are clearly required. It might even help smooth the traditionally taut relationship between team and club management, something which Cloughie’s Dad knew and understood well, despite being something he constantly railed at.

Glick announced this roughly a month after he first came out and stated that he was looking to invest in players this summer, along with that unashamedly capitalist technique of offering a ‘money back guarantee’ to season ticket holders who weren’t happy with the purchases that had been made by the start of the season. Who said football wasn’t a business? However, it seems to have gone all quiet on the DoF front, with no appointment made at the time of writing, and so it might be prudent to now take a look at the transfers already made and attempt to glean what we can about the strategy they intend to implement at Derby this season, and what kind of a team they are building.

There’ve been a few Outs at Derby this summer, but perhaps the one which has generated the most noise this summer has been the retirement and therefore departure of captain Robbie Savage, one of the very few men in modern football whose reputation genuinely does precede him. Robbie Savage started playing football decades ago, and for the vast majority of that time, I, along with what appears to be most of the footballing world, have hated him with a passion. As is often the case with players like this, we change our minds when they join our clubs but the impact of his presence on the field in a Championship game could never be overstated, and the wealth of experience he undoubtedly brought to the dressing room is something I imagine will be sorely missed.

Miles Addison, who, having been unfortunately beset by injury for most of the past two years, returned to match fitness for the last few month of the 2010-2011 season, has been released on loan to Barnsley. Although this might not sound like a massive vote of confidence, the Chief says he remains part of Derby’s long term plans with the loan move designed to get him back to required level of sharpness, a statement that it might be wise not to completely dismiss out of hand, especially in light of his recent 2 year contract extension to take him up to 2013. But he’s a lad with some promise, and at 6ft 3in is a veritable mountain of a man who I’m sure would grace many a back line. Would it be too cynical to suggest that if we receive a good enough offer for him, it’s bye-bye Miles?  We’ll see.

Of the others to have left Pride Park this season, such as Luke Varney who spent last season on loan at Blackpool, as well as Greg Mills, Chris Porter, Arnaud Mendy and Ben Pringle, it is unlikely any of them will be particularly sorely missed in the long run, but what is perhaps more surprising is that we’ve raised precisely £0 and 0p from outgoing transfers. Nothing worth selling, or are the more valuable players simply too valuable to us? You be the judge.

So now we get to the all-important crux of the matter. Who have we bought, what impact will they have, and will it be sufficient to avoid fans exercising that notorious guarantee.

The acquisition of experienced striker Nathan Tyson, whose contract with Forest expired this summer, should definitely bring something to the squad. Whether this something will actually be something worth having, considering his titanic tally of 2 goals from 32 league appearances last season, remains to be seen.

A signing which appears to have excited the Chief is that of the apparently quite sought-after defender Jason Shackell, formerly of Barnsley FC. Although the final fee remains undisclosed (this appears to standard practice now, but it does make attempting to assess the merits of the purchase notably more difficult), it is rumoured to be between £750,000 and £1m. This is a hefty whack of cash, but since Cloughie was keen on signing him too, I think this one could prove to be a decent bit of business. As always time will tell.

Jamie Ward, a loanee who’s been with us since February, has now joined us on a two year contract, not unsurprising since the Blades, his old club, took the plunge. I’ve a friend who waxes lyrical about this guy, but since he’s played a few games for us now, I’m sure you all have your own opinions on him and his ability. However, having scored a few goals in his relatively short time here, I’d argue he clearly has the potential to contribute something to the team.

Of the others to have joined the club this summer, such as Theo Robinson, another retained loanee, and Frank Fielding, a promising youngish keeper who’s made a few U21 appearances for England, and who Cloughie has stated will be the first choice goalkeeper this season. We paid £400k for him, which has the potential to be a modest sum if he can really shine, which I think he just might do. Adam Legzdins, a Latvian who’s recently joined us from Burton, will be his backup.

Finally, another two who I remain on the fence about are the Scots Craig Bryson and Chris Maguire. I’m told Bryson can be quite dynamic in midfield, and should adapt well to Championship -level football. Maguire I’m told is a trier. Take from that what you will.

Overall, there’s been some interesting activity over the past few months, and not what I’d call overly ambitious. The purchases perhaps would be best described as considered, rather than outwardly excellent, but I, as always, remain optimistic.

Winning with players that people have never heard is something that Derby have traditionally done quite well indeed, although less so in recent years. At this stage it’s hard to call, but Cloughie seems to have built a team he’s more satisfied with than any he has before, and although he’s taken some stick recently, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt at least until the effects of these changes begin to play out.

Written by Tom Cruse, We Are Going Up’s Derby County Blogger

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