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The official website of horror and fantasy writer Stuart Hughes.


Nigel Clough - what does he have to do?

Posted by Stuart Hughes on June 23, 2011 at 1:50 PM Comments comments (0)

RamZone asked me, “Now it seems that Nigel Clough is getting the budget and players he wants – with his contract expiring at the end of the coming season – what is the minimum he must achieve in 2011/12 for him to continue as manager of Derby County?”

Without wanting to avoid answering the question, Nigel Clough needs to keep his employers General Sports Entertainment (GSE) happy. Ultimately that means convincing Andy Appleby in the U.S.A., and Tom Glick over here, that he is the right man to lead Derby County beyond this coming season.

Tom Glick has said that Derby County are going to have a real go this season and GSE have backed the manager with money to spend in the transfer market, money that Clough could only have dreamed of previously.

The Rams are leading the way in the Championship this summer with their transfer activity. Already signed are six players – Frank Fielding, Jamie Ward, Theo Robinson, Craig Bryson, Nathan Tyson and Jason Shackell, with a seventh, Chris Maguire, due to be confirmed when his contract with Aberdeen expires at the beginning of July.

And there’s more. Glick is promising a further four additions. Two strikers, Maguire, presumably, being one of them and Martyn Waghorn appears to be the top target for the other; a veteran, defensive midfielder to replace Robbie Savage, with John Eustace looking like the main target; and a left-back to complete the jigsaw – here Glick has hinted at waiting for the Premier League squads to be confirmed and then going after a young left-back who misses the cut.

Even then the transfer activity may not end there. Glick has confirmed that the club are looking at opportunities to add young players with potential to the squad. Torquay United youngsters Saul Halpin and Lathaniel Rowe-Turner were taken on trial towards the end of last season, both played in a reserve game and Halpin impressed by scoring a hattrick. The Rams are also meant to be leading the chase for Burton Albion’s player of the season Adam Legzdins.

Clearly GSE will be looking for a return on this investment but Glick has said that it’s not a case of promotion or bust.

Even so, a significant improvement on last season will be expected by GSE. Will top ten be enough for Clough to earn himself a new contract? As long as the Rams are consistently in the top then my hunch is yes, but everybody will be hoping for better than top ten, seriously challenging for the playoffs.

One thing’s for sure, this coming season Nigel Clough will have no hiding place. Somewhat belatedly, GSE have delivered investment in the playing staff and Clough can have no more excuses. With, effectively, a whole new team of players arriving, the manager and his backroom staff must get them playing as a cohesive team, preferably sooner rather than later.

Is Nigel Clough the man for the job?

I sincerely hope so and, make no bones about it, this coming season we will find out.

Published on RamZone 24th June 2011.

A step in the right direction

Posted by Stuart Hughes on March 31, 2011 at 5:10 PM Comments comments (0)

RamZone asked me: “Are Tom Glick’s recent announcements regarding a money back guarantee plus his promise of investment and exciting signings a step in the right direction?”

Well if General Sports Entertainment are able to deliver on what Tom Glick has promised then it has to be a huge step in the right direction and Rams fans should be in for an exciting season in 2011/12.

There’s no doubt that if manager Nigel Clough is given enough money to spend then he should be able to attract a significantly better quality of player to the football club than we’ve been able to attract in recent seasons.

Clough says six additional players of proven Championship quality are required if Derby County are to seriously challenge for promotion next season. I can’t disagree with that assessment as in my opinion we need two or three proven goal scorers, at least one creative midfield player, a central defender, a goalkeeper, and a left and right winger if we’re to play 4-4-2. We also need to address the balance of the squad to ensure we have a minimum of two players for each position which means an additional full-back for each side of the field.

After two seasons of cost cutting and bargain basement transfers, why now? Is it a realisation that the accountant’s approach to running a football club without any investment wasn’t going to deliver a team capable of challenging for promotion? Did GSE finally listen to Clough and decide their manager was right about the need to invest money on the playing side? Is it a reflection of the fact that whilst Derby County were doing their best to live within their financial means, many of the clubs challenging for promotion to the Premier League weren’t, so we weren’t competing on a level playing field? Or was it a knee-jerk reaction to the supporter protests, the threat of a takeover bid, and the all too real possibility of a huge drop-off in season ticket sales?

Whatever the reason, the possibility of investment for the manager to spend on transfer fees and player wages is an exciting one and already the rumour mill is running wild with almost every Championship and Premiership player out of contract this summer being linked with a move to Pride Park.

And that’s the main downside of this announcement for me. Whilst its music to the ears of Rams supporters it also means that any football club we approach with a transfer bid is going to raise their asking price because they now know we have money to spend.

As for the money back guarantee I really don’t know what to make of that. In all my time following the Rams (I saw my first game during the 1971/72 season and became a season ticket holder in time for the 1975/76 season) this money back guarantee is unprecedented. If I’m honest, I think it’s a shrewd PR move targeted at those disgruntled season ticket holders who were seriously thinking of not renewing for whatever reason.

I’m trying not to get too excited because, after all, actions speak a lot louder than words and in recent seasons Derby County have found it difficult to land their bargain basement transfer targets. I sincerely hope they have more success now that GSE have loosened their purse strings and given the manager the green light to target players of proven quality.

In all of this, of course, I’m assuming Derby County are still a Championship side for next season.

Ultimately though, whatever big name or unknown players Clough signs, it’s the performances of the team on the pitch, and the results they achieve, that will determine whether the summer transfer activity is successful or not.

Whatever happens I will be there supporting Derby County for another season.

I won’t be asking for my money back.

Published on RamZone 1st April 2011.

Derby County 1-3 Doncaster Rovers

Posted by Stuart Hughes on March 2, 2011 at 4:51 AM Comments comments (0)

RamZone asked me: “What is the minimum requirement from DCFC for next season both on and off the pitch to prove they are genuinely moving forward?"

To be honest I find this a difficult question to answer because right now I’m not even sure which division Derby County will be playing in next season.

The hard fought away victory against Sheffield United on Saturday gave me some cause for optimism but the second-half capitulation against Doncaster Rovers at Pride Park Stadium last night left me completely bewildered.

Before the break I thought the Rams had the better of the game against Doncaster Rovers – more possession, more attempts on goal, more of everything except for the very thing that matters most in a game of football. Goals.

And Billy Sharp’s strike for Doncaster Rovers on 41 minutes highlighted one of the many deficiencies in the current Derby County squad. Sharp is a genuine goal scorer with a proven track record at Championship level. He may not be the best goal scorer in the division but he does know where the back of the net is – something non of the Rams players appear to know given their inability to get shots or headers on target in a first-half that the Rams more than shaded for the most part.

With a player like Sharp in your team you always have a chance, even when you’re under the cosh, as Doncaster proved with the opening goal. Sharp, a player the Rams supposedly tried and failed to sign from Sheffield United, is always capable of scoring a goal out of nothing. Derby County have no players with a proven track record of consistently scoring goals at Championship level. We did have, but players like Rob Hulse and Kris Commons are gone now.

Most frustratingly for me in a second-half where Derby County players seemed to forget how to do everything they had been doing reasonably well before the break was that substitutes Tomasz Cywka and Alberto Bueno stood out. Particularly Cywka who looked far more lively and creative during his 28 minute cameo than Ben Davies had over 62. Would things have been different had Cywka and Bueno started the game? Who knows?

So back to the original question. Before we can even think about next season Derby County need to stay in the Championship. I’m not too worried about relegation at the moment (although I am worried about the alarming run of poor form that shows no sign of coming to an end any time soon).

With twelve games remaining the Rams are fifteen points clear of bottom club Preston North End, ten points clear of second bottom Sheffield United, and eight clear of third bottom Scunthorpe United, although both Preston and Scunthorpe have a game in hand over us. Usually as the business end of the season comes round the teams at the bottom of the table struggle to claw back more than a point a game on average during the run-in. Unlikely as it seems right now, Derby County will pick up some draws and, hopefully, a win or two before now and the end of the season so I don’t see us going down.

The summer therefore will be key. Derby County must find a way to sign players of genuine Championship quality to improve the playing standard of this squad. As I mentioned earlier, genuine goal scorers are needed, so are creative midfield players, so are wingers if we are to play 4-4-2, and the Rams need better defenders as well. Derby County also need to balance out the squad to provide genuine cover, let alone competition for places. The Rams need two right-backs in the squad, two left-backs in the squad, and two goalkeepers capable of playing at this level.

With high earner Robbie Savage set to hang up his boots at the end of the season there should be flexibility within a wage budget that has already been significantly reduced, but this will almost certainly be counter-balanced by a slower uptake of season ticket renewals in the summer. All eyes will be on General Sports Entertainment and their wealthy investors. Will GSE invest in the playing squad or won’t they?

I would love to answer RamZone’s question by saying that next season Derby County need to be competitive in the top half of the Championship, seriously pushing for a play-off place. Unfortunately, despite showing glimpses of that potential during October and November, that aspiration seems a very long way away indeed right now.

Published on RamZone 2nd March 2011.

GSE - should they stay or should they go?

Posted by Stuart Hughes on February 4, 2011 at 10:40 AM Comments comments (0)

RamZone asked me, “It seems a majority of fans are angry and fed up with the way the club seems to be moving sideways at best and there were protests against the board after the Ipswich Town game. What should GSE do now? What should fans do now?”

First of all I’m not sure it is a majority or, at least, not a majority that want GSE to go. I think most fans want to see an improvement and an investment in quality players but I'm not convinced the majority of supporters want to see the back of GSE yet.

After all, who is there to buy GSE out? Peter Gadsby has tried to control a debt that was spiralling out of control; he brought in Adam Pearson to sort out the mess. Pearson couldn't sort it either and had to bring GSE in to clear the debt and get the finances under control.

Secondly, I’m pleased to hear RamsTrust distancing themselves from the protests and think it’s sensible that they are campaigning for assurances from GSE rather than looking to oust the board.

Say what you like about GSE, they are not crooks (it was right RamsTrust actively campaigned to oust the three Amigos) and I still believe GSE have the best interests of Derby County Football Club in mind.

Let’s take RamZone's two questions one at a time.

What should GSE do now?

Well I think it’s pretty clear what GSE should do now and, with apologies to those who protested against the board after the Ipswich Town game, I think Tom Glick and the board should carry on doing what they’re doing, only do it better.

GSE made some mistakes in the January transfer window and Tom Glick has held his hands up to them. Who hasn't made mistakes from time to time? And, like everybody else, GSE will learn from those mistakes.

In the current climate I think it’s absolutely right that the football club should be managed responsibly. Chester City and Ilkeston Town are but two examples of football clubs that have been wound up recently. Portsmouth, Cardiff City and Crystal Palace all came very close to it last season and may not be out of the woods yet. Plymouth Argyle are the latest football club facing a far from certain future.

A big football club is going to be wound up at some point in the future and I don’t want it to be Derby County.

GSE and Nigel Clough have been quick to talk about the transfer window and some supporters have been equally quick to jump on this and accuse them of spin, spouting the same old rubbish, and of blatant lying.

Maybe it is the same old same old for a very good reason – that there is a plan and the football club are sticking to it. It might not be a plan to splash £2 million on this player and £2 million on that player but I still find it reassuring to know there is a plan … and a long-term plan at that.

Glick has said that the wage budget is where GSE want it to be and that there is money available for permanent signings. He says it was the manager’s decision not to bid over the odds for Gary Hooper (a player Celtic signed from Scunthorpe United for £2.4 million in the summer) and he says there is flexibility in the budget for loan signings and for permanent signings in the summer.

Clough has said all along that he’s looking to sign young, hungry players for the football club and reduce the overall age of the playing squad. He has said that he’s not prepared to risk the future of the football club by paying over the odds for players and he won’t sign players just for the sake of it if they don’t improve the squad or aren’t the players he wants. The manager has made it clear that he won’t rush to bring a player in; if the players he wants to sign permanently aren’t available he won’t rush to bring any player in.

I’ve been behind that plan from the moment Nigel Clough was appointed because I saw how it worked for my home town club Burton Albion and I see no reason why it won’t work for Derby County too. John Brayford, James Bailey, Alberto Bueno and Tomasz Cywka have been good, young signings for the club. It’s early days, but Ben Davies looks like he will be a good addition too, he certainly adds a potency to our set-piece delivery we didn’t have before.

Don't get me wrong, I’m very disappointed that we appear to be weaker, not stronger, as a squad after this transfer window but one disappointing window doesn’t mean the plan is flawed.

Look at Watford - they've been through what Derby County are currently going through and have come out the other side with a hungry, young squad. The Hornets are currently 7th in the npower Championship, three points off the play-offs with two games in hand.

The emergency loan system gives Derby County an opportunity to plug the gaps in the squad short term and the Rams should have a lot of flexibility in the budget this summer without Commons and Robbie Savage on the wage bill.

Permanent signings will be required in the summer that add quality to the squad. Having missed an opportunity in the January transfer window GSE will need to deliver that this summer.

What should fans do now?

I understand the frustration and disappointment of the fans right now, and I share that disappointment and frustration, but I would urge them to forget protesting against a board that is here for the long term and focus on supporting the players, manager and coaching staff, and get behind the team.


It’s not that long ago that the team went on a superb run of form with just one defeat in ten games; a sequence that included seven wins. There was also the record breaking sequence of six consecutive home victories at Pride Park Stadium. A purple patch of form that saw us reach 4th place in the npower Championship and we were ten minutes away from going 3rd when the Rams played Burnley.

Despite the weakening of the squad, the starting eleven now is only three starting players different from the team then – Frank Fielding in goal, Shefki Kuqi or Luke Moore up top, and Kris Commons.

The football played during that impressive run was the best I’ve seen a Derby County side play since the days of Jim Smith and the Rams were playing consistently well too. In the last couple of games the Rams looked to be getting back to that same way of playing. I thought we were unlucky not to draw against Nottingham Forest and should’ve beaten Ipswich Town. An end to this losing run is in sight, it won’t be long before we win again, and then our results can kick-on.

Yes we need to strengthen up front and at the back and there are other areas of the squad that will need to be addressed in the summer. Glick and Clough are all too aware of that and they are working hard to bring in loan players now and improve the squad further in the summer.

Disappointingly, the January transfer window represented a missed opportunity but it doesn’t mean the plan is flawed. Some of the fans who are calling for GSE to go now were also talking about promotion to the Premier League back in November.

Let’s not get one transfer window set-back out of all proportion.

Published on RamZone 5th February 2011.

January transfer window

Posted by Stuart Hughes on February 3, 2011 at 9:01 AM Comments comments (0)

RamZone asked me, “GSE promised to strengthen the squad but instead it has been weakened. What are your thoughts now the transfer window has closed?”

There is no doubt that the January transfer window represents a huge missed opportunity and has served only to weaken the Derby County squad in terms of numbers, quality and goal scoring potential.

Both president and chief executive Tom Glick and manager Nigel Clough entered the transfer window saying we were looking to strengthen by adding a central defender, a central midfielder, and a striker. Music to my ears, if I’m honest, particularly the much needed striker.

Whether you like it or not, whether you agree with it or not, clearly Derby County are working to a budget and the contract offer the club placed on the table for Kris Commons would’ve made him the Rams highest paid player. I’m assuming, therefore, that other decisions regarding players and player wages couldn’t be made until the club knew whether Commons was staying or not.

I’ve commented previously on the Commons saga and won’t repeat myself here. I can fully understand the frustrations of Glick and Clough over this though. If a player says to you, “I’m happy here and I want to stay and this is what I’m looking for in terms of salary and length of contract” then you’d expect that player to sign on the dotted line – the way that Shaun Barker did – when you meet those demands in full.

I don’t blame Kris Commons for joining Celtic – more money, European football, opportunity to win trophies and medals, improved International chances – but the protracted contract negotiations must’ve affected the club’s ability to progress Plan A, Plan B or Plan Z. Until Derby County knew whether the £15,000 per week was going to Commons or not they wouldn’t know which plan they were pursuing. The whole saga must’ve distracted and hindered other plans to strengthen the team, particularly in regard to any permanent signings the club had planned.

Ben Davies came in from Notts County and Clough must’ve been delighted to finally sign a player he had been tracking for some time and had tried unsuccessfully to sign in the summer. The transfer negotiations were played out in the media a little too much for my liking with Notts manager Paul Ince accusing Derby County of deliberately trying to unsettle a player they wanted to keep. I think Glick deserves credit though because this deal was concluded reasonably quickly without descending into the farcical merry-go-round we had when a certain former manager tried to sign Ferrie Bodde from Swansea City.

Other publicised loan targets failed to materialise during the transfer window. Liverpool’s central defender Daniel Ayala almost signed, indeed was announced as signing in some media quarters, but the deal didn’t go through because he was still carrying a hamstring injury.

The pursuit of Leicester City’s Martyn Waghorn seems a strange one to me but there must be something in it otherwise the club wouldn’t still be pursuing it. The Foxes management are telling the player to stay and fight for his place whilst at the same time they are signing strikers left, right and centre to push him further down the pecking order. I can only assume that Waghorn is unhappy at Leicester and looking for a loan away from the Walkers Stadium otherwise Derby County would have dropped their interest by now.

And then there was Kilmarnock striker Conor Sammon. This, more than anything, shows how crazy the pressure created by the transfer window is. I’ll be honest, I’d never heard of Sammon, but based on one goal I’d seen him score against Celtic on You Tube, I suddenly found myself willing Derby County to sign him on transfer deadline day and was disappointed when our bid was turned down, even more disappointed when Sammon signed for Premier League Wigan Athletic.

I don’t think I was the only Rams fan wanting us to sign Sammon because this player we’d never heard of was suddenly going to be the saviour of our season. As fans we got impatient when instead of putting in a bid, Clough decided to go and watch Sammon one more time, a decision that would leave just two days before the window closed to make a move. I felt better on Tuesday when I read in the Derby Telegraph that Kilmarnock did accept a Rams bid at 6.30 pm but, let’s be honest, we were never going to sign Sammon once a Premiership side came in for him.

And maybe that explains why Nigel Clough, not me, is managing Derby County. The budget for new players is tight so the Rams can’t afford to gamble on players, or pay over the odds for players that may not improve the squad. They certainly shouldn’t panic and sign players they don’t really want.

As far as the outgoing players are concerned I can’t really argue with them. With Commons, much better to get some money for him now than nothing in the summer – he’d offered nothing against Crawley Town, nothing against Watford, and nothing against Nottingham Forest.

Dean Moxey is a tougher one. I quite liked Moxey but also I have to admit that he’d been at fault for quite a few goals this season and his ridiculously unnecessary second yellow card against Forest probably sealed his fate. I don’t think the club were looking to push him out the door but when an out of the blue bid came in for him from Crystal Palace (undisclosed, but thought to be in the region of £400-500,000) then I think that represents a good value for a player who may have reached his level. Clough probably felt it was too good an offer to turn down.

Although we also released Mitch Hanson, Kallum Keane, Graham Kelly and Medi Abalimba, it’s still only one in and two out in my mind because these young players weren’t really part of the senior squad.

Published on RamZone 3rd February 2011.

Nigel Clough and General Sports Entertainment

Posted by Stuart Hughes on January 20, 2011 at 5:26 AM Comments comments (0)

RamZone asked me: "If the Rams lost or failed to put up a fight against Forest should changes be made at the club or should it be treated as another loss with long term success still the goal?"

As a fan of Nigel Clough, and a supporter of Tom Glick and the General Sports Entertainment board, I have to say that changes should not be made if the Rams lose or fail to put up a fight against Nottingham Forest on Saturday. The most important thing, particularly when running the club prudently and sensibly, is improvement season on season building to long-term success.

I've heard fans say that Derby County aren't improving, that the Rams are going backwards, but I don't agree with those statements at all. Going into the Watford game we were five places and eight points better off than at the exact same stage last season. For the most part of this season Derby County have played some entertaining attacking football and have looked much better than at any time since the good days under Jim Smith. During that purple patch period during October and November when the Rams were flying high in the playoffs, and setting that record breaking sequence of six consecutive home wins at Pride Park Stadium, I didn't hear anybody complaining or saying we were going backwards then. We also played the league leaders off the park at Pride Park and, but for a crazy period of stoppage time, would've been the first team to defeat Q.P.R. this season.

So don't tell me there hasn't been improvement. Ultimately though, improvement will be measured by where we finish at the end of the season compared to last season.

Essentially it's the same squad of players now as it was then. They showed during that run of good form (eight wins, two draws, two defeats in 12 games) that they have the potential to be very good players in the npower Championship and what we're seeing now is a dip in form and confidence. I agree that the loan players Shefki Kuqi, Luke Moore, and Frank Fielding are no longer here, and concede that the fact that those players are not around any more may be a contributing factor to the loss of form, but I do not agree that success cannot be attained through the use of the loan system. Ian Holloway and Blackpool demonstrated admirably last season how to use the loan system successfully and gain promotion to the Premier League.

All teams have bad runs during the season and Derby County are having theirs now, but I've seen enough already this season to suggest that the Rams will turn the corner, will put another good run of form together, and will start climbing the league table again. I am confident that Derby County will finish higher than last season's 14th place and with significantly more than last season's 56 points.

The board are constantly accused of a lack of investment but investment isn't just about high transfer fees. The board have paid off all the debt they inherited from the Peter Gadsby era, with the exception of the mortgage on Pride Park Stadium. They have also paid the player's wages and, for the most part, subsidised a salary bill in excess of what the turnover of the club could afford. All of this contributes investment to my mind.

Additionally they have made transfer fees available for the manager to sign players and I don't for one minute imagine that the deal to loan Alberto Bueno for the season was done on the cheap.

I agree with the board that, irrespective of whether we have £10 or £10 million available for transfers, it makes no sense to tell the whole world what your transfer kitty is.

The board are also accused of not communicating with the fans and here they cannot win. When they don't say anything they are not communicating, when they do say something they are accused of not telling the truth or of political spin.

As far as new players are concerned, there's essentially going to be three categories of player Nigel Clough is looking at: -

* Quality players that will improve the squad

* Championship tried and tested players on a par with what we have now

* Younger or unproven at Championship level players who can make the step-up

We have enough of the last two bullet point players so need to improve the squad with quality and these players cost money, not just in terms of transfer fees but also in terms of salary demands. Unfortunately I think this is where the costs can easily escalate out of our budget range, particularly in the case of strikers. I have no reason to believe that Derby County weren't seriously interested in Scunthorpe United's Gary Hooper last summer, but once Celtic showed an interest and the fee rose to £2.4 million then we were priced out of the market.

People say that the money from the sale of Rob Hulse to Q.P.R. hasn't been reinvested but there's no point spending money for the sake of it, especially when you're working on a limited budget. It has to be the right player, at the right price, at the right time. I have no problem with that, particularly as the January transfer window notoriously is not the right time to buy as only players that are no longer wanted by their clubs are available without the need to splash out silly money. As a manager, Nigel Clough is an accountant’s dream because at Burton Albion the one thing that was consistently thrown at him by Brewers fans was not spending the money that chairman Ben Robinson made available to him. Nigel Clough won’t pay over the odds for players and is that such a bad thing?

I also have confidence that Nigel Clough and his management team have a longer term plan. They have already identified summer targets and they will have a lot more flexibility over wages (and possibly transfer fees) once club captain Robbie Savage is off the wage bill.

Nigel Clough was charged with stabilising a football club that had far too many mediocre players on ridiculously high wages and he is doing just that. The wage bill is now within budget and October and November showed that we do have the nucleus of a team and squad that can compete in and around the npower Championship playoffs.

Derby County are very much a work in progress and I believe Nigel Clough deserves the time and opportunity to finish the job he has started.

As Derby County fans we need to keep the faith, and we need to be patient, because I believe that Nigel Clough will bring success to this football club.

Published on RamZone 20th January 2011.

Kris Commons

Posted by Stuart Hughes on January 13, 2011 at 1:02 PM Comments comments (0)

I’m a big fan of Kris Commons because I believe he’s a genuine match winner in his own right, as he demonstrated against Middlesbrough at Pride Park Stadium earlier this season – despite missing a penalty at 0-1, Commons tormented Middlesbrough and went on to score two outstanding second half goals to help secure a 3-1 Rams victory.

Any football club with ambition needs, as a starting point, to keep hold of their best players and there’s no doubt that Commons has been Derby County’s top performer so far this season. Not only is he the Rams leading goal scorer with 13 goals, but only Danny Graham (14 for Watford) has scored more in the npower Championship so far this campaign.

I’m delighted that Commons says he wants to stay at Derby County, that Nigel Clough sees him as a key member of the team, and that the board are in negotiations with the player’s representatives about extending his contract.

But I’m also frustrated that his signature on an extended contract hasn’t been obtained yet and that Commons now finds himself, effectively, a free agent with other football clubs able to discuss terms with his representatives.

Comparisons are obviously being drawn with the extension of central defender Shaun Barker’s contract until 2014. Unlike with Commons, negotiations started before Barker entered the final year of his contract and were concluded very quickly.

So why the difference? Well last season Barker was outstanding and was voted player-of-the-season by the Rams supporters. Although Barker has been struggling for fitness and form this season he had obviously done enough to convince Clough that it was worth renewing his contract early.

Commons, on the other hand, had struggled for fitness and consistency during his first two seasons as a Ram and only made 11 starts and nine substitute appearances in the Championship last season, scoring just three league goals. Furthermore, Commons had proved something of an enigma in a 4-4-2 formation, where neither an out-and-out forward role, or a wide midfield role seemed to suit him.

Prior to this season, Commons only really looked comfortable when given a free-role just behind the main striker.

Clough challenged Commons in the summer to prove his fitness and his value to the team and Commons has done just that, looking far more comfortable and effective as part of the attacking midfield trio. Commons has also increased his work rate and has become more of a team player this season.

Clough responded by entering into contract negotiations in plenty of time but, for whatever reason, a contract extension has not yet been agreed and Commons is now free to talk to other football clubs.

It goes without saying that your best player should be your highest paid player there-or-thereabouts so as long as the board are offering a fair and appropriate contract to Commons then I don’t think they can be accused of doing anything wrong or mishandling the situation.

And I don’t think you can blame Commons either, at this stage of his career, for keeping his options open. Commons is 27, will turn 28 on the 30th August, so this next contract could well be the last big contract he gets to sign as a professional footballer.

As supporters there’s nothing we can do except wait and see. I, for one, would like to see Commons remain a Derby County player and I genuinely hope he signs his contract extension soon but if he doesn’t, then it won’t be the end of the world. Derby County will continue without him and some new player will become the supporters’ talisman.

Published on Ramzone 13th January 2011.