Mel, it’s time to take a look at the play­ers

The Football League Paper - - CHRIS DUNLAVY - Chris Dunlavy

MO­MENTS into his first press con­fer­ence, Gary Rowett was asked what he’d said to the shower of un­der­achiev­ers cur­rently mas­querad­ing as Derby play­ers.

“We just shared with them one or two of the things we think are per­haps miss­ing,” said the former Birm­ing­ham boss.

One or two? Rams fans can name a few more than that. Lead­er­ship. Re­spon­si­bil­ity. Heart, guts, any sense of cul­pa­bil­ity.

Pretty much the only thing they do pos­sess is mer­cu­rial tal­ent, fat pay pack­ets and an as­tound­ing abil­ity to see off man­agers.

Rowett is Derby’s sixth per­ma­nent boss in 21 months, two more than Mas­simo Cellino has em­ployed at Leeds in the same pe­riod. Con­sid­er­ing the Ital­ian is pa­raded as a trig­ger-happy nutjob, what does that make Mel Mor­ris?

Fail­ing

The Rams owner has much to an­swer for. Mor­ris un­der­mined Paul Cle­ment by burst­ing into the dress­ing room, then sacked him for fail­ing to play the ‘the Derby Way’ – a non-ex­is­tent phi­los­o­phy already shot down in flames by Rowett.

“If I feel we have to play one way to win one game and a dif­fer­ent way to win the next, I’m go­ing to have the op­por­tu­nity to do that,” said Rowett. “That was made quite clear.”

Yet Mor­ris’ sin­gle great­est fail­ing is his blind faith in Derby’s play­ers – a faith they have both abused and rou­tinely failed to jus­tify. Derby were deeply un­for­tu­nate to be beaten by Bobby Zamora’s last-gasp sucker punch in the play-off fi­nal of 2014. Only blind luck and a bad er­ror saw QPR through.

But since then? Three years of bot­tle jobs. Three years of ca­pit­u­la­tion on the big stage. Three years of post-Christ­mas col­lapses. When the pres­sure mounts, Derby shrivel.

Tom Ince is a class act. Will Hughes is a won­der­ful tech­ni­cian. Dar­ren Bent a proven poacher. So it must be the man­ager’s fault, right?

Steve McClaren was sup­pos­edly too soft, too fo­cused on flam­boy­ance to rec­tify a lack of

for­ti­tude. Cle­ment was too de­fen­sive, Dar­ren Was­sell too in­ex­pe­ri­enced, Nigel Pear­son too con­fronta­tional. The lat­ter was so frus­trated by his side’s “frail­ties” that he let loose in a fu­ri­ous dress­ing room tirade, only for a del­e­ga­tion of play­ers to go cry­ing to Mor­ris. In­stead of telling them to grow a pair, Mor­ris sent Pear­son pack­ing.

When McClaren re­turned in Oc­to­ber, Mor­ris rea­soned that the former Eng­land boss was the only man who’d ever got the best out of a squad fussier than Goldilocks.

Now that he’s ‘failed’ too, will Derby’s owner fi­nally ac­knowl­edge that maybe – just maybe – it is the play­ers who are the prob­lem?

No foot­baller de­lib­er­ately plays badly. No­body wants to lose. But some­thing stinks in that dress­ing room and only a clear-out will rec­tify it.

Rowett’s ar­rival will no doubt spark a re­vival, but the new man­ager can’t let him­self be fooled. The Rams have more chance of reaching Nar­nia than the play-offs.

For­tune

As Arse­nal prove ev­ery spring, it’s easy to per­form when the pres­sure is off. Take last year’s play-off semis. Pa­thetic in a 3-0 home tonk­ing to Hull, Derby won the sec­ond leg 2-0 when they’d already been writ­ten off. Cue play­ers spout­ing guff about “prov­ing points” when all they’d re­ally done is ar­gue the pros­e­cu­tion’s case. Hav­ing blown so much of his for­tune on wages and trans­fer fees, it is un­der­stand­able that Mor­ris would feel com­pelled to plough on, like a banker fran­ti­cally cov­er­ing a rot­ten trade. But the time has come to ad­mit de­feat. Sell the stars. Give Rowett the funds. And let him build what he did so suc­cess­fully at St An­drews – a team far greater than the sum of its parts. What Derby have con­structed is the po­lar op­po­site.

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