Amid the signing of Johnny Russell and with the transfer season in full flow, I thought it’d be a good time to look back on Rams manager Nigel Clough’s five best and five worst signings as Derby County boss. These are merely my opinions, you may disagree! Thanks to all of those who made suggestions on Twitter, while there was such a variety – you all mostly agreed on whom should be in the top one or two.
Just outside the top 5: Jamie Ward (marginally!), Jake Buxton and Gareth Roberts. In addition, an honourable mention goes to Darren Wassell – obviously not as a playing staff member but as a fantastic appointment as the man who oversees all the work with the club’s academy, appointed by Clough back in 2009.
5) Jason Shackell
Despite his now absence at Pride Park you surely can’t argue with him being a good signing, from the summer of 2011. The Rams are believed to have signed him for around £750,000. A rare left-footed centre half, Shackell excelled in the team, in the absence of skipper Shaun Barker, making a good start to the season. Whilst Barker remained out, many supporters tipped the pair to form a good partnership – I don’t think they were wrong. Whatever the result, the pair, as Barker was eased back, looked to be a top partnership. Over the Christmas and New Year period, the team were in excellent form, with Shackell at the heart of that.
In his one season with Derby, it was clear that he was a superb signing – that good that some supporters requested refunds on their season tickets when he departed. He departed to Burnley for a widely-reported fee of around £1.1 million but there are doubts over that – it could have been more.
Personally, I thought Shackell was a real gem in this league and although I was initially disappointed by his exit I now realise that his sale wasn’t all bad news!
4) Shaun Barker
The defender arrived from Blackpool for a fee believed to be around £900,000 ahead of Nigel Clough’s first full season in charge, the 2009/2010 season. That season he won the supporters’ player of the year award, demonstrating how much of a shining light he was in a dismal, at some points, season. The ex-Rotherham man bagged a total of five goals, a decent return for a central-defender, ending the campaign as the club’s second top goalscorer. His goals against QPR and Newcastle remain among some of the best strikes during Nigel Clough’s time as Derby boss. Cries from the crowd of ‘Barker for England’ and ‘You’ll never beat Shaun Barker’ rung around Pride park on a frequent basis.
In his second season, the club ended up having a poor season – finishing in the realms of the bottom half. Despite having injury troubles Barker insisted on playing on until Derby were safe, testament to his character. He wouldn’t have the treatment until it was mathematically certain that Derby would be a Championship club the following season. When the Rams did eventually secure Championship safety the defender had his operation. The recovery spell turned out to be longer than anticipated but when he was back and alongside Jason Shackell, other clubs were probably in awe of the two central-defenders Derby possessed – two committed and good centre-halves at Championship level. To many, Barks is an all-conquering hero at the back!
The horrible injury suffered against Nottingham Forest meant Barker had to sit out the whole of the 2012/13 campaign and now some of the forthcoming season. I’m sure he’s been working hard to get back on the pitch. Had it not been for the injuries he’s suffered, I’m quite sure he’d have been higher up my rankings of Nigel Clough’s best signings.
3) Richard Keogh
With Shaun Barker out with a long-term injury problem and Jason Shackell out the exit door, Richard Keogh arrived at Pride Park with a lot of pressure to perform and fill the boots of both players – something that he wasn’t tipped to do very well by some supporters. The deal from Coventry was thought to be in excess of £1 million. Despite scoring on his debut against Scunthorpe, it proved to be a nightmare start as the Rams were knocked out of the League Cup. In the end, Keogh played every minute of every match during his first season – helping him scoop the player of the year award.
His consistent performances in the heart of the defence were ever-present throughout the season, a bully for attackers but equally a man who has an eye for a pass out of defence and a good presence in both penalty areas. Since moving to Pride Park, the ex-Carlisle defender has gone on to receive full international honours – even scoring on his first start for the Republic of Ireland.
2) Craig Bryson
Bryson arrived from Kilmarnock ahead of the 2011/12 campaign as a name that was quite unknown to many, the Scotsman arrived for a fee under £500,000 – proving to be an absolute bargain in this day and age. He was part of the Rams side that made the club’s best start to a season for 106 years. His excellent form in his opening campaign south of the border concluded with him scooping the player of the year honour, continuing the trend.
Into his second season, and it didn’t take the midfielder to write himself into the history books – a winning goal against bitter rivals Nottingham Forest at the City Ground brought yet more appreciation from Derby supporters. As statistically confirmed in the Derby Telegraph after a match during the latest season to pass by, Bryson covers so much ground during a match. The box-to-box midfielder covered almost 13 kilometres in a single match, demonstrating the work he puts in. The role that he plays should never be underestimated, not only does he cover a lot of ground but also the space he creates for others and his effectiveness in build-up play is also top quality.
It contuses to amaze me how the Scottish national side can persist in overlooking Bryson, a real gem of the last few years to emerge from a nation that’s standard of football has reduced significantly. The new three-year deal that the ex-Killie man signed last month was massive news for the club. Derby were clearly grateful of his influence on helping the club secure the signature of Johnny Russell from Dundee recently.
1) John Brayford
Brayford arrived in May 2010, coinciding with the deal bringing in James Bailey, also from Crewe, for a combined fee of around £1 million. During his first campaign, the full-back didn’t miss a minute of action of all 48 matches involving the Rams. Despite being a natural right-back, the ex-Brewer, who also played under Clough at the Pirelli Stadium, played at centre-back and at left-back due to persistent injuries in the squad. John’s goal against Watford is quite possibly one of the best strikes under the Nigel Clough era. That was his first for the club. Throughout a poor season for Derby, Brayford remained consistent and filled in excellently – therefore the defender won the prestigious player of the year award.
A few weeks into his second season with the club, the Stoke-born man signed a new deal – extending until the summer of 2014. Having made 59 consecutive appearances for the club, the run came to an end – Brayford picked up an injury in training prior to a meeting with promotion-chasing Southampton. Following a return from injury, his campaign turned into a bit of a stop-start agenda afterwards but did, in all, make 26 appearances in the 2011/2012 season.
The former England C international picked up his second Rams goal against Blackpool in November of the 2012/2013 campaign. It became evident that an array of clubs were tracking him. By January, he was strongly linked with a move to league leaders and now the promoted Cardiff City – he remained a Ram, following the conclusion of the mid-season window. An injury in March to Brayford’s hamstring prevented him for continuing to excel in the team, where he had remained an ever-present figure.
Expect interest from plenty of clubs this summer as the highly-rated full-back, possibly the best in the Championship, enters the final year of his contract. Nigel Clough clearly made a fantastic signing in Brayford back in 2010, he’s now worth millions (although that may be a little lower due to him being close to seeing out his contract). He’s so consistent and slick with his game that supporters have pretty much grown accustomed to what he does on the pitch, testament to how well he goes about his business in a Rams jersey. I think he’s a great talent, destined for the Premier League – hopefully with Derby. As one of the four of five defenders on this list, it’s evident that Clough and his staff have a good eye for a good defender.
Just outside the worst 5: Conor Doyle, Ben Pringle and Nathan Tyson (I’m still adamant he deserved more starts earlier last season when he was scoring goals, though!).
5) James O’Connor
After falling out of favour under Dean Saunders and getting relegated with Doncaster, the Rams swooped to sign Jimmy O’Connor last year. Upon his arrival, we were told he could play anywhere across defence. I always believe it’s fantastic to have a utility man in the squad, particularly given the amount of injuries Derby usually pick up, but this has never really worked out for either party. When relied on, I found O’Connor to be not so good in any of the positions he played – he was costly in goals conceded.
Now the ex-Donny defender is on the transfer list at Pride Park after less than a year. Maybe it’s better to be a specialist in one position than three or four after all!
4) Chris Porter
Nigel Clough’s first signing at the helm of a Football League club, Chris Porter moved south from Motherwell to Derby. Despite being in this list, the striker’s home debut was a fantastic one, and perhaps his best contribution in the black and white of the Rams, he grabbed a brace to earn a 2-2 draw with Swansea City. He did also score a vital goal against Watford in his first full season, securing the club’s first away win for, what was at the time, nine months!
The ex-Oldham striker struggled with injuries in his time in the East Midlands but still when he did play I found him to be quite poor and a particularly slow striker for the league.
Porter saw out his two-and-a-half-years contract and depart in 2011 after Theo Robinson and Jamie Ward, both in the same position, had been bought in on loan and subsequently permanent deals. He went on to move to Sheffield United.
3) Lee Hendrie
You can be forgiven for forgetting this man actually played for the Rams. The one-time England international joined the club in September 2009 and did barely anything since. He mustered up ten appearances and proved to be a signing that wasn’t any good, even going out on loan to Brighton before Derby released him. It seemed Hendrie’s career was on the decline ever since leaving Aston Villa, the ex-Ram most recently played for non-league side Tamworth before retiring.
2) David Martin
Dave Martin came to Nigel Clough’s attention when Millwall, Martin’s club, met the Rams in the third round of the FA Cup in January of 2010. In February, Derby signed him on loan with a view to a permanent deal. During the loan spell, the winger made one start and plenty of substitute appearances and bagged a good goal against Cardiff City. That summer Clough snapped him up on a two-year-deal. As the 2010/2011 campaign got underway, Martin couldn’t get a chance in the first team and made a mere two appearances from the bench.
Loan spells with Notts County and Walsall followed before a transfer to Southend in January 2012, when it was hard to believe he was still on Derby’s books! Now Martin plays in the Conference for Luton Town.
1) Chris Maguire
In 2011, Derby signed Maguire – it was by no means a straight-forward signing. Due to his age a compensation deal between the Rams and Aberdeen had to be agreed, it took some time. The transfer had seemingly been on the cards for weeks but was held up by talks for the compensation, which was understood to eventually be around £400,000.
After singing his man, Nigel Clough said “He is an exciting talent with great potential to improve further.” When the season began, Maguire was continually overlooked and made the occasional sub appearance. It wasn’t until late October that he made his first start, a win over Portsmouth – a match that he also found the net in. As the season continued to progress, even 15-year-old Mason Bennett seemed to get more action on the pitch.
The Scot ended the campaign on loan at Portsmouth and bagged a total of three goals. Following Derby making the player available for transfer, Pompey made no secret in their desire to sign Maguire in 2012 but were held back because of their financial troubles and relegation. Sheffield Wednesday eventually signed the striker after their third bid – opportunities have been limited since joining the Owls for the 24-year-old, but not quite as limited as with Derby.
So, what went wrong for Maguire at Derby? I don’t really know but maybe he didn’t show enough in training, had a poor attitude or wasn’t what Clough thought he was. He did, however, say this upon his departure from Pride Park “I wasn’t given a fair chance at the club. I scored two goals in three starts and I don’t think there was much more I could have done. I’m happy to be out. I ended up playing in the reserves and training with kids. I don’t know what went wrong there really. I asked Nigel Clough if there was a problem and I don’t think he liked that.”
Hopefully we’ll be able to add Lee Grant, Chris Martin and Johnny Russell (signings so far this summer) to the best section and not the latter!