Is Derby County's Squad Size Set to be Their Downfall?

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Having already been one of the highest spending teams in the Championship, Derby County shed out a further £10 million on deadline day to take their total expenditure for the summer up to just in excess of £20 million. This unprecedented level of investment into a second tier club; it is worth remembering, has been forked out on a team who spent the vast majority of last season at the head of the table before a faltering end to the season saw The Rams finish eighth.

After such considerable capital ploughed into an already very capable Championship squad, Derby County were unsurprisingly seen as one of the favourites for promotion this season before a ball was kicked. Paul Clement appeared to have done his business early, securing the services of Chris Baird, Darren Bent, Scott Carson, Alex Pearce, Andreas Weimann, Tom Ince and Jason Shackell all in July, with all but one coming in the first three days of the month. However, a serious injury to Will Hughes forced Clement back into the market late on, leading to a flurry of activity which saw Jacob Butterfield and Bradley Johnson arrive for £4 million and £6 million respectively.

In total, Clement has brought nine players to the iPro Stadium. The result is a 28 man squad, many of whom will be expecting regular first team football. The Championship season is a long, hard and gruelling affair, and any manager worth their salt will tell you that the rigours of a campaign in this division will stretch a squad to its limits. Derby know this better than most, having faded so drastically last time out. However, another thing that is integral to any success; not just in the Championship but in any league, is team spirit and squad harmony.

Whilst Derby certainly do not lack depth, Paul Clement will have a serious task on his hands to keep such a large group happy between now and May. When injury-free, Clement will have to contend with leaving seventeen players out of his starting eleven and ten not even on the bench. There is a chance that Clement; who joined the Rams from Real Madrid following Steve McClaren’s departure, could look to loan a few players out during this loan window. Isak Ssewankambo, Simon Dawkins and Ivan Calero have all been touted with loan moves away from the iPro, but even if all three were to be loaned out, the Rams would still be left with the most bloated squad in the division.

Despite the freedom afforded to Clement in the transfer market, the Rams have only just notched up their first victory of the season. They are yet to truly impress, as draws and defeats litter their record which is lifted only by a 2-1 away win at Deepdale. Derby County are currently languishing in sixteenth place following draws with Bolton, Charlton, Middlesbrough and Birmingham, and losses to Leeds and Portsmouth, the last of which coming in the League Cup. Given the feel-good factor which surrounded the club heading into the start of the season, few would deny that it has been a very underwhelming start. Of course, the Championship is a long season, and as Derby know only too well, only your final position in May really counts.

Having said that, it could well be that Derby’s over-sized squad has been to their detriment. Conversely, when one looks at the squads of Charlton and Brighton, both have had limited investments and have thinner squads, but seem to have created an immediately positive dressing room which can often be the result of a close-knit group. Whilst Paul Clement arrived at Derby with a plethora of experience at the very highest level, having worked in the back-room staff at clubs for 19 years, this is not necessarily the perfect preparation for taking charge of a club in the Championship. The teams he is well-versed with are the likes of Chelsea, PSG and Real Madrid – even Blackburn and Fulham were established top flight clubs when Clement was with them.

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The best example of what could prove a growing problem for the East Midlands club is their forwards. Derby are currently the favourites to take Manchester United youngster James WIlson on loan, although a number of clubs are reportedly interested. In attack, Derby already have Darren Bent, Chris Martin, Johnny Russell and Andreas Weimann. All four would expect regular football, as would Wilson were he to join the Rams attacking ranks. Already out of the League Cup, Clement will only have league games to try and keep his sizeable squad happy, as they attempt to claw back a gap which already stands at nine points between themselves and the top of the table. In this position, the idea of squad rotation is probably not at the forefront of his thoughts.

Clearly it is far too early to try and gauge how the Championship table will look come May 2016 and given the players and resources at his disposal, anything other than promotion will be viewed as a failure by Clement in this campaign. His stockpiling of players, all of whom are gifted individuals; of that there can be no doubt, shows a certain degree of managerial naivety by a coach in his first full managerial role and in his first taste of second tier football. On the evidence of Derby’s early season form, Clement himself is still unsure of his best eleven and the best way to set those eleven up.

Rangers boss Mark Warburton made some interesting comments when he was questioned towards the end of the window. When challenged as to whether the Scottish club would look to strengthen further before the window slammed shut, Warburton replied by saying that he wanted to keep the squad light in terms of numbers, justifying his comments by saying, “That’s an awful scenario: to have four, five, six players not being involved with the first team on a Friday. All that creates is upset, resentment, so we have a tight, lean squad.”

Given Derby’s squad, Paul Clement will have no option but to leave at best six players out of his first team squad on match-days. In his first full job as manager, Clement’s managerial skills will be seriously tested, especially his man management, as he attempts to keep a very large squad happy. When results are going for you, it is easy to justify leaving players out. But if they are not; as is currently the case, one’s job becomes rather more arduous. The Championship is such an unpredictable league, and there are always much-fancied sides who falter and surprise packages who defy the odds. Clement and Derby will be hoping they don’t fall into the former category as this season progresses.

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