“A founder member of the league and twice champions of England, Derby County have fallen on hard times since their relegation from the Premier League in 2008. The road back to the top has proved to be a difficult one, but under Dutch coach Philip Cocu, they may be primed for a return to the big time.”
Let’s face facts here, Derby since the early noughties have spent the majority of their time playing second tier football. Since relegation from The Premier League in 2001/02 Derby have only featured in the English football’s top tier for one year, the ill-fated 07/08 season. “The Rams” then spent multiple uninspiring but steady seasons under the stewardship of Nigel Clough. Clough’s main task was trying to trim down an unsustainable wage budget and overly large playing squad. In September 2013 Clough was sacked and replaced by former England manager Steve McClaren. Derby shot up the table eventually finishing in 3rd with a squad comprised of players mainly assembled by Clough over the course of his tenure, Craig Bryson, Richard Keogh, Chris Martin, Lee Grant, John Brayford and many more the season ended with play-off heartbreak (a common theme) against QPR, the devastating blow, a last minute Bobby Zamora goal.
Whilst Derby then went on to contest the play-offs on 3 more occasions in the next 5 seasons the common thought is that we missed the boat in 2013/14.
When Mel Morris completed his takeover of the club in 2015 the club spent an unprecedented amount of money in the preceding transfer windows. Managers and players alike came and went and while many came close (some closer than others) all failed to get the club back to the promised land of The Premier League.
In June 2019 Dutch footballing legend Phillip Cocu took the reigns in the crazy East Midlands. He came in to an extremely challenging situation, one which continued to get more and more complicated as the season went on. Cocu was provided with club-record signing Krystian Bielik, highly touted premier league loanee Matt Clarke and most amazingly of all English record goalscorer Wayne Rooney to come in January. Some fans were predicting a play-off push, some predicted a mid-table finish. Nobody could have predicted what was to come on and off the field over the course of the coming season.
A car crash which caused the loss through injury and eventual sacking of club captain Richard Keogh, a day in front of a judge for attacking players Tom Lawrence and Mason Bennett, an EFL charge for financial irregularities, the emergence of some exciting youngsters, reemergence of old faces and the small matter of a 3 month interruption in the season due to a pandemic. At the end of a season which ended almost a whole year after it began Derby finished in 10th place after dreams of a late play-off run were quenched by an unforgiving run-in.
Everybody seemed to be in agreement Cocu had so far done a good job in extremely challenging circumstances. Now with a transfer window in which he was able to shift out some deadwood and bring in some players more to his taste. It was plainly obvious Derby needed pacy wide players, Polish international Kamil Jozwiak, and free agent Jordan Ibe were added to the ranks, Dutch centre back Mike Te Wierik joined on a free transfer, last seasons player of the season Matt Clarke returned on a second loan, Wigan duo David Marshall and Nathan Byrne coming in to bolster the goalkeeping and right back positions respectively. Whilst the previous season’s top scorer Chris Martin and the club failed to agree terms on a new deal the fans remained optimistic of the season ahead.
Derby have begun the season slowly losing five out of 6 league games conceding Nine goals and scoring only two. Their solitary win coming in a battling away victory against promotion favourites Norwich.
This warrior-like and dogged performance rubbishes the opinion that Cocu has “lost the dressing room” players not playing for the manager will not throw their bodies on the line like that. I do not believe that sacking Cocu will bring anything other than more financial burden to a club currently living outside its means and trying to cut costs.
I went into much larger detail on Nigel Clough’s time at Derby earlier in the piece as I believe that Cocu may not be the man that will eventually take this club back to the Premier League but I do believe he will be the unsung hero of such a return. He is laying a foundation for someone to succeed in the coming future. Whether that is the former PSV manager or not remains to be seen.
In conclusion I believe that if Derby press the reset button again and sack Cocu they will do a lot more harm than good. He needs time and patience, two things that are as rare as hens teeth in modern day football.