Having not fancied the trip to Selhurst Park this weekend (apparently I do sometimes agree with Colin Gibson) I spent some time with a mate of mine who recently came back to the UK from Australia where he works and we reminisced about the, ahem, glory days of Derby County in the late nineties. The last time he visited Pride Park the Derby side used to include the likes of Baiano, Eranio, Stimac and Wanchope and was regularly entertaining, and beating, some of the biggest and best Premiership sides of the day. After lengthy discussions over the reasons for our demise since then he asked me what seemed like a fairly straight forward question that turned out to be a little tricky to answer - "So who, of the current team, is your favourite player and why?......."
"Well, that`s…, erm…., it could be…., actually I`m not entirely sure you know". I`ve always been one who doubts confidence as one of the main reasons for a side`s struggles, surely if this were the case then a team who lost five in a row would never win a game ever again until they played someone worse and the unpredictable nature of the game we all love would be lost. Don`t get me wrong it can seriously affect a side, or individual, but one of the main things that gets you out of the bad times is character, and looking at the current Rams` side the one thing we sorely lack is some mental toughness and, well, character. Whilst we undoubtedly have some skilful players who can play at this level and looked a decent side earlier this season in the run before Christmas when everything was going for us when things weren`t quite clicking we quickly fell away and didn`t have the mental toughness or leadership to win ugly and get our season back on track.
The one thing we had back in days of Jim Smith was a team with character that could push a poor performance or two to one side and show the commitment and attitude needed to go out and win the next week. Fair enough a lot of this was down to Stimac who was never one to have a doubt about his own ability but this tended to permeate to the rest of the team rather quickly. At the moment we have Robbie Savage and Shaun Barker as leaders of the side and whilst their commitment to the cause cannot be questioned their ability to take a struggling side by the scruff of the neck and get them pointed back in the right direction does seem to be lacking. Sav has always been described as a 'character` and whilst his ability to wind up opponents has been a trait throughout his career he has looked decidedly lost at times during the last few months often stating in interviews he does not know why results have been as poor as they have. Likewise Barker, who gives 100% every week, does not seem to be a natural leader and whilst The Rams aren`t exactly blessed with potential captains he does not appear to be the one to kick some proverbial ass when things go against us.
Ever since the days of top half finishes in the Premiership we had some fairly iffy players, for every Chris Powell there`s been a Stefan Schnoor, for every Paulo Wanchope there`s been a Mikkel Beck, for every Claude Davis there`s a….. well, maybe that`s a bad example but you get the point! A lot of the players who didn`t exactly set Pride Park alight with moments of skill a la Alberto Bueno did have some mental toughness and could inspire a side with a tough tackle or who would want the ball when no one else did in order to get the side playing again and they make up just as vital a part of the squad as the ball players or goalscorers. A couple more Seth Johnson`s or Stevie Howard`s and I reckon we would have had a far better season than we have had this time out. I`m not saying we would have a promotion team with a couple of additions but the length of the poor would have been greatly reduced with a little more mental toughness in the ranks.
Oh, and my answer was eventually John Brayford in case you were at all interested, I`ve sent my mate back to Oz with tales of his marauding runs forward from rightback and his potential to go far, let`s hope we find some others to inspire the side and he can reach the heights with The Rams.