Championship

Bouncebackability under McClaren

I couldn’t resist using the phrase ‘bouncebackability’ as the title for this blog entry, a term famously (or infamously) coined by Iain Dowie and promoted on Soccer AM. Derby County’s 3-0 victory against Brighton at the weekend not only underlined the obvious progress which has been established under Steve McClaren, but it emphasised to me how well we now respond to defeats.

 

Nigel Clough had many qualities as Derby County manager, and it was because of his hard work that McClaren had a promising platform to build upon last season. However, what irked many fans was how one defeat in the league often led the club into a downward spiral, with lengthy winless runs the norm. When Clough (eventually) stopped the rot, small winning streaks would often follow, but this meant slow progress in the league, as these wins were too often negated by the dearth of points that preceded them. Under McClaren, defeats are rare, and so too are winless runs.

 

Let’s look at some statistics as evidence. It wasn’t until McClaren’s 4th game in charge (excluding the Ipswich 4-4 game) that the Rams tasted defeat, and that was a respectable 2-1 loss away to QPR (don’t point out the irony). A week later, Derby crushed Sheffield Wednesday 3-0, the start of a run of 7 consecutive wins, with a draw and another win following that run. Derby lost 1-0 to Wigan on New Year’s Day, followed by a 2-0 FA Cup loss to Chelsea (once again, respectable). The following 4-1 away loss to Leicester on January 10th was arguably the worst it got under McClaren last season, but Derby didn’t lose again until March (to promotion rivals Burnley), with 17 points amassed in 7 games in the mean time.

 

After the Burnley loss, Derby lost to Millwall and drew to Bolton and Reading. Instead of giving in to old winless habits, Derby crushed bitter rivals Nottingham Forest 5-0 after this mini-crisis, and they only lost two more times in the league; the last of those defeats to Middlesbrough was followed by a run of 5 wins on the bounce. This rich vein of form was key to Derby’s impressive 6-2 aggregate win over Brighton in the Play-Off semi finals, even though the positive football on show came up short against QPR.

 

It’s not only the statistics that are encouraging, but the general optimism around the club. The defeat to Leeds United was frustrating, especially due to the nature of the rivalry, but I had little doubt in my mind that we would put that right the following week, and I think I can safely assume that many of my fellow Derby fans felt the same. The Brighton win was enjoyable, but it was also expected, whereas many games under Clough which had followed a defeat often had a hopeful feel to them. Credit where credit is due, I often expected us to win at home under Clough, but away from home, whoever the opposition, I was pessimistic.


The most crucial defeat to respond to was the Play-Off Final defeat in May. With Derby top after 20 games and 38 points, they are well on the way to epitomising the phrase ‘bouncebackability’.

A 27 year old winger from Leeds? That’ll be £11 million, please

Let’s be clear on this; football has had inflated price tags and wages for a long time now. I often shock non-football fans when I tell them that Derby County’s annual wage bill is above £10 million, despite not being a wealthy club (although they aren’t poor, either). However, in recent times transfer fees have, as Ron Burgundy would say, “escalated quickly”, and not always for players of true greatness. I’m looking at you, Ross McCormack.

 

How is the aforementioned player possibly worth £11 million to Leeds and new club Fulham? I’m not saying he’s a bad player, and 28 league goals last year shows how key he was to Leeds. However, he has never played in the Premier League, and whilst posting impressive goal returns in the 11/12 and 08/09 (for Cardiff) Championship seasons, he’s had very poor goal returns in other seasons to compensate; he only had 5 league goals in the 12/13 season. I’m sure Leeds fans will be sorry to lose him, especially with the turmoil of the new owner. However, they must also be laughing all the way to the bank on this one. Fulham may have substantial parachute payments, but they were punching above their weight in the Premier League for a long time, and aren’t exactly wealthy. In addition to this, they spent £12 million on Konstantinos Mitroglou in January; that’s a £23 million gamble on two players who haven’t played in the league that Fulham are trying to get back to.

 

I agreed with a statement by a friend recently that Cristiano Ronaldo’s £80 million move to Real Madrid in 2009 was a catalyst for recent inflation in the transfer market. Zinedine Zidane’s record move (also to Real Madrid) in 2001 was untouched for 8 years, yet with Kaka and Ronaldo the world record was broken twice in one year (2009). Just four years later, Gareth Bale’s move to (you guessed it) Real Madrid broke the record again, but in the meantime numerous transfers have exceeded Zidane’s £45.6 million landmark. If spending £80 million on a player is ever justified (and I don’t think it is, but let’s stick to the football context), Ronaldo was certainly worth it in 2009. However, are we seriously suggesting that Gareth Bale was the best player in the world last year? He’s a great talent, and I rate him very highly, but I would argue that he’s not even in the top 5. The problem is, other clubs with great players now look at these fees as benchmarks for valuation demands. It looks like Liverpool will get £75 million for the disgraced Luis Suarez. Suarez is a phenomenal player, but we have seen in just one year his price tag nearly double from the £40 million offer from Arsenal in 2013. I would argue that price tags such as Bale’s have played a part in this. You can see the thought processes; if Tottenham, without the treasure of Champions League football, can demand £80 million+ for their talismanic player, why can’t Liverpool?

 

This brings me back to an original point I made about players who aren’t worth the inflated fees. These crazy money moves aren’t restricted to top European clubs. Take the inspiration for the title of this blog, Conor Sammon (need I say more? He cost £1.2 million!). I argued until I was blue in the face that Wilfried Zaha was nowhere near good enough to warrant a £15 million move from Crystal Palace to Manchester United in 2013 (remember that Palace were in the Championship at the time), and to be fair my Crystal Palace-supporting co-host Kris agreed with me. This is where football can make hypocrites of all of us. As a Derby County fan, I’m guilty of making similar conclusions; if Zaha was worth £15 million, how much is Will Hughes worth? Granted, that’s just the opinion of one fan. However, I’m confident that the decision makers at Derby County will be thinking along similar lines, and why shouldn’t they? Fans and board members alike will see how other clubs are claiming big bucks for their best players, and in turn they will want what’s financially best for their clubs. Before Craig Bryson signed a new deal with Derby, my brother told me that he’d take £2 million for him. I disagreed strongly, and whilst I did state his importance to the team as a key reason, it wasn’t long before I compared Bryson to similar or lesser players who went for more money, and in turn noted that we should ask for more money. Most of us are guilty of this.

 

What’s the solution? Caps on transfer spending and wages are obvious answers, but FIFA and UEFA will never have the guts to implement them. It remains to be seen how effective Financial Fair Play will be, but teams such as PSG have treated it with contempt so far; they paid £50 million for David Luiz (ask yourself whether he is worth that!) and allegedly bid £60 million for Eden Hazard after being fined £20 million by FFP. Inflated transfer fees are an endemic problem in the game, and we could spend hours listing hundreds of players who haven’t justified the fees spent. It’s a vicious cycle, caught between clubs wanting what’s best financially in light of other clubs placing ludicrous valuations on players. No wonder many people are disillusioned with the modern game.

 

We may laugh and say that it’s just how football is, but imagine a similar approach in other walks of life. Think of concerns over a housing bubble at the moment, for example. I do fear that, one day, there will be an almighty Wall Street Crash-style collapse in the footballing world, and it’s not hard to see why. We’ve come a long way since Alf Common first broke the world record fee when he moved from Sunderland to Middlesbrough in 1905. The fee? £1,000.