MICHAEL JOHN­SON

Guest colum­nist sees good times ahead for for­mer club Derby

The Football League Paper - - NEWS - Michael John­son

WHEN I won pro­mo­tion to the Premier League with Derby in 2007, no­body fan­cied us. Even in the play-off fi­nal against West Brom, we started as the un­der­dog. It meant we could go about our busi­ness on the quiet with no real hype or ex­pec­ta­tion. That helped us enor­mously.

Fast-for­ward eight years and things couldn’t be more dif­fer­ent. I still live in the area so I know as well as any­one that pro­mo­tion is the word on ev­ery­one’s lips. Af­ter two near misses, noth­ing less will do.

Pres­sure

With that comes pres­sure, and new chal­lenges. Teams will come to Pride Park with the sole aim of mak­ing life dif­fi­cult for Derby. Can they deal with that frus­tra­tion?

For us, it was all about team spirit and work ethic. There were no stars, no egos. Just 16 hon­est men who knew their roles and weren’t scared to get stuck in.

We won a ton of games 1-0, in­clud­ing that play-off fi­nal when we got ab­so­lutely bat­tered. We weren’t the best side in the di­vi­sion but, with the or­gan­i­sa­tion and grit that Billy Davies fos­tered, we just knew that we would be very, very dif­fi­cult to beat.

Find­ing a bit of that re­silience is key for Derby be­cause ev­ery­thing else is in place. They’ve spent a lot of money in the trans­fer mar­ket. They’ve spent a lot of money on the fa­cil­i­ties.The fan­base is tremen­dous. You’re guar­an­teed 25,000 sea­son tick­ets be­fore a ball has even been kicked, which tells you ev­ery­thing about the sup­port­ers.

Of course, the other big fac­tor will be how quickly man­ager Paul Cle­ment gets his belief and his ethos across to the play­ers.

Will they un­der­stand what he wants? Will they suit the sys­tem? And how quickly will Paul him­self ad­just? Man­ag­ing Derby in the Cham­pi­onship is very dif­fer­ent to coach­ing Real Madrid in La Liga. All of those things take time and it’s why I don’t think too much sig­nif­i­cance should be at­tached to the fact Derby have drawn their first three games.

Per­son­ally, I think they can fi­nally take that last step and, Cardiff aside, I hope they do. It’s a club steeped in tremen­dous history and to climb those steps at Wem­b­ley was an in­cred­i­ble hon­our for me, the kind of thing you dream about as a kid. Yes, the Premier League sea­son was a dis­as­ter (we only took 11 points and got rel­e­gated) but we were to­tally un­pre­pared as a club.

Now, ev­ery­thing is tai­lored to do what we couldn’t – turn Derby into an es­tab­lished Premier League club. And let’s face it, a club of that size should be.

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Im­ages

FLY­ING HIGH: Wolves keeper Carl Ikeme has an in­ter­na­tional op­por­tu­nity with Nige­ria

AS a for­mer Birm­ing­ham player, I’m look­ing for­ward to this see­what young De­marai Gray can do this seasin. The 19-year-old has got the tal­ent to be a very spe­cial player. He's got ter­rific speed, ter­rific bal­ance. And he can fin­ish, which is the cur­rency that all for­ward play­eers are judge by. He was watched by al­most ev­ery Premier League­club last year and turned down a £5m move to Bournemouth to con­tinue his de­vel­ope­ment at St. An­drews. If he does what he's ca­pa­ble of, an even big­ger bis might be on the cards.

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