The events of Wembley at the weekend are still sore but I’m sure all Rams fans will agree that we can be optimistic about the coming season.
Where exactly should the Rams strengthen?
Firstly, it’s absolutely key to keep hold of the squad’s permanent members that have been the nucleus of all things successful this season, so, what about the loans?
George Thorne is a player to be excited about. I recall an exceptional tackle he made at Wembley to prevent a QPR advance with delight (shame about the result, of course) and he received plenty of praise in the Sunday’s papers. He ‘drove the side forward’ according to The Sun and Henry Winter in the Telegraph described him as ‘the best player on the pitch’ despite the Rs’ defensive heroics. His passing, tackles, off-ball work (often as important as on-ball work), vision, power and goals have been dazzling.
The Albion loanee’s value and availability is quite unpredictable. He signed a three-and-a-half year deal before joining Derby on loan back in late January, however there will be a different manager leading West Brom into the new season. I’m not sure how high the WBA hierarchy hold Thorne, who has made 8 Premier League appearances for the club.
Meanwhile Patrick Bamford and Andre Wisdom appear to have said their goodbyes and thank you messages to the fans via Twitter, yet they must still be due some talks with their parent clubs to assess their progress and Steve McClaren has said ‘I’d like to sort out the likes of Wisdom and Thorne and Bamford. Maybd we have a chance of getting them back because I think they’ve enjoyed their time here’. No mention of Zak Whitbread. Who? Exactly.
What’s clear is the fans’ demand and desire to see Thorne in a Rams shirt again. Co-owner W. Brett Wilson has noted that and he tweeted the following.
For the record – the coaching staff and owners of #DCFC are indeed aware of @GeorgeThorne15 (and we have his phone number!). #PatiencePlease
Speaking of Wilson, he certainly seems more engaged and excited on the Rams front. He has certainly upped his Derby Twitter prescence and this added interest could see more money into the squad. This summer is a chance for the owners to make a statement of intent for the coming campaign.
Obviously there doesn’t need to be loads of additions but there needs to be some.
In net? Lee Grant has been outstanding since Eric Steele arrived. Adam Legzdins is set to leave, I wonder who’ll replace him in the competent deputy role. From within, Mats Morch and Keele Roos are two youngsters on the club’s books or what about adopting the Clough method of just signing a goalkeeping on emergency loan if Grant gets injured and not bothering with a competent deputy (Saul Deeney back anyone? No? I thought not).
Defence? A right-back if Wisdom isn’t back is first on the list. John Brayford naturally gets a mention, however I reckon Cardiff will give him a go Championship. Kieron Freeman is still in contract until 2016, a bit of the McClaren effect, like with Buxton, Forsyth and Grant, could help him a lot. I think the Mac will be eager to watch, after all he does thrive on training ground work, him in pre-season but could Nigel Clough could be more eager to have Freeman in his plans? He’s very comfortable in League One, that’s for sure, and from what I’ve seen, I’ve liked of him in the Championship.
In the middle of the park? Thorne? Of course. I’d love him to be back but if he doesn’t then, if the system remains the same, another Thorne would have to be brought to the club. John Eustace’s one-year deal is up and, personally, and since we won’t be in the top flight, I’d keep him. Yes, he’s 34 but don’t forget he was that wise head before Thorne that played terrifically. Thorne was a huge upgrade, don’t let that affect how you see Eustace, who I think would be a good character and squad player to have next season – maybe with a coaching role with the youngsters thrown in.
Elsewhere in midfield, Paul Coutts will be back, it’ll be interesting to see how McClaren rates him. Although Bryson, Hughes and Hendrick struggle to fit into one midfield line, it’s important to keep them all and fend off any bids. I’m sure they’ll all be mindful that a good season potentially lies ahead at Pride Park.
Up top? The problem is there is nobody that can replace Chris Martin to good effect. When he was suspended, Derby fell to a 1-0 home defeat to an awful Millwall side. I think it’s probably time to cut the losses with Conor Sammon.
Jamie Ward’s deal runs out, but there is an option of a further year. Take that option up, I say. Little Jamie has been tremendous for parts of this half of the season.
Meanwhile, could it be the year for Mason Bennett to step up? I’m sure he’d be a usueful figure in the squad but a loan with a good side could benefit his development more.
The players out of contract this summer are Adam Legzdins, John Eustace, Lee Naylor, James Bailey and Ben Davies.