After just four appearances last season, the input of new coaching staff at Derby County and interest from the likes of Wigan Athletic, it has been heavily rumoured that Jake Buxton may leave the iPro Stadium this Summer. Since his arrival from Burton Albion with Nigel Clough in 2009, Buxton has made over 150 appearances for the Rams and up until last season, when healthy, Buxton was a mainstay name at the heart of the Derby defence alongside Richard Keogh, Shaun Barker and Jason Shackell.
The re-addition of Shackell made it difficult for a healthy Buxton to fit in to the starting eleven last season with only one full ninety minutes under his belt an FA Cup away day at Hartlepool. However, with most Derby players that score in the East Midlands Derby against Forest, Buxton quickly became a fan favourite after heading a stoppage time winner against the Reds in a 1-0 win at the then, Pride Park. So how important is Jake Buxton now to Derby County?
Despite Derby’s heavy defeat to start their preseason against Benfica last weekend, it was good to see the team back on the pitch and concentrate on the real football after the embarrassment of the Euros. Nigel Pearson named two different starting elevens in each half which saw the return of Forsyth, Rawson, Lowe and Buxton in the first half. From a defensive perspective, the first half was much better for the Rams, conceding only once from a screamer by Nelson Semedo which beat an impressive Scott Carson.
In the second half, however, the doors opened with a poorly defended second goal – a harsh lesson for youngsters Cover and Santos who were part of a team that conceded three second half goals, without reply, bringing the overall score to 4-0 Benfica. A tough lesson, but in hindsight a good one for the Rams fitness and preparation ahead of a season which promises so much in the Sky Bet Championship.
As a fan of Buxton, it was great to see him back in the side, the Umbro black boots accompanied by a good performance which saw him come out on top of most challenges in a defence heavily bombarded by the quick tempo of Benfica. Buxton was replaced in the second half by Alex Pearce, a ‘Derby player’ yet to really fulfil that title with no league appearances for the Rams.
Although Pearce did make seven appearances on loan at Bristol City last season, Pearce, to me should fall in to a discussion, alongside Buxton, as to who should leave Derby this summer. Derby County do not have to sell. Financially, the club is in a sound position. However, for the sake of the players, you have to believe that a few faces will at least need to leave on loan.
Derby have Rawson, Buxton, Pearce, Forsyth, Keogh and Shackell, all to fill two or (under Pearsons tried tactic of the first 45 mins, 5-3-2) at most three starting positions. If last season is anything to go by, you would presume that Keogh and Shackell would play a big part in those positions, leaving the rest. I believe Rawson, a man who has spent much of his senior professional career out on loan at the likes of Rotherham, will become a good defender for Derby. It is for this reason I would not sell him, but instead look for another loan allowing the option for him to come back, barring any defensive injury epidemic.
Forsyth has spent almost his entire Derby County career at the left-back position. Against Benfica, however, he lined up beside Buxton and Rawson at the heart of a 5-3-2 and he looked impressive. Forsyth is a tall player, and in my opinion, was always too slow to successfully defend against the pace of the championship winger for 46 games a season. If the Rams were to play the 5-3-2 consistently, then Forsyth should be kept as a valuable asset who could play alongside the other back two or at left-wing-back position, should there be an injury or suspension to Olsson. So, Buxton or Pearce?
Ever since that goal against Forest, Jake Buxton has been a fan favourite. Although he only appeared four times last season, cries of ‘Jake Buxton’s a football genius’ echoed from the South-Stand and throughout the iPro during every sub appearance or even warm-up down the touchline. I think every Derby fan, like every football fan, wants a passionate player to play for their side. That is why, despite the talent that others may possess, Bryson, Keogh and Buxton are probably the three most popular names from the Derby fan base.
Buxton has passion in abundance. I will never forget during Derby’s 10 men fight at the City Ground, when Buxton crawled on his knees to block an incoming Forest cross. It was at that moment, maybe even more so than his goal, that I knew, this would be a player the fans would grow to love. How many players in the Derby squad would receive an ovation like Jake coming on as a sub in our home game last season? It was almost as if Derby had scored another when ‘number 5, Jake Buxton’ was announced. I am not in any way questioning the passion of Alex Pearce. Pearce won player of the year for Reading. I am sure he has passion in abundance, but we have never been allowed to see it. Just like the signing of Abdoul Camara, in what was a pretty shambolic transfer season last year at times for Derby.
Jake in my opinion, should stay. His footballing ability is passable, and I fully respect that after last season, Keogh and Shackell will and should be on the team sheet in front of him. However, it is what Buxton brings to Derby County off the field that is why I believe he is so valuable to the club. He is a leader; in every press conference/interview, he says the right things. He has no ego, he just relishes every moment he has as a professional footballer. I describe Jake Buxton as someone who dreamed of being good enough for a club the size of Derby and now he is fulfilling his dream. Maybe both Pearce and Buxton could be kept, especially if 5-3-2 is the preferred system as they would provide other possibilities and replacements when required.
However, in my opinion, if it was one or the other I would sell or loan Pearce, purely because of what Jake Buxton means to the Derby County fans and club. At 31 years of age, in a contract negotiation year, I fully understand arguments supporting his departure from the club. However, in our game today, full of ‘money talks’ transfers, I would like to think that compassion, pride, drive and belief is still a big part of football. Because of this, I would also like to think that Derby County will believe in Jake Buxton, like Jake Buxton believes in Derby County.
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