I’m determined to give the kids a chance in the first team, and the first of them to make a major break through has done it in considerable style.
Not content with making his Champions League debut in the final, he won the European Super-Cup for us this season:
I wasn’t too carried away about his goals in what amounts to a glorified friendly, but he’s proven he can do it in the games which matter. He’s joint top scorer along with Steven Fletcher in the league, and top scorer in Europe outright after a second-half hat-trick against FC Cluj:
His goals in the Cluj game emphasise what makes him such a deadly finisher – he’s a monster in the air, prepared to lay the ball off to a team-mate if they are available, but as the third goal shows, he is capable of doing it all himself and has the composure to take a half-chance and bury it.
His progression has been very impressive this season – Here’s his profile as he graduated from the youth team just six months ago:
And here he is now, having improved markedly under the tutelage of Steven Fletcher:
I’m delighted to see his progress as his international as well as his club manager – Scotland’s top three strikers are Derby players – any injury to Rhodes or Fletcher, and Pettigrew is next in line – he netted against Wales in his first friendly, giving us a morale-boosting win against the side which knocked us out of the Euros.
With my eyes firmly on Derby’s climb back to the top of the English game, I haven’t paid all that much attention to the international scene. The results in the recent European Championship caught my eye though:
Impressive stuff from England to be sure, but it was Scotland’s tiny step forward which really struck me.
Scotland are the joint oldest national team in the world, and yet this tiny step into the second round of the Euros represents their all-time high water mark.
Perhaps the realisation that this may well be as good as it gets was what prompted Craig Levein’s resignation after the tournament. Possibly he anticipated another kicking from the press along the lines of the 4-6-0 fiasco.
Certainly, a quick glance at the formations for the crunch game against the Welsh suggests an approach which prioritises defence over attack:
However, the stats tell a different story. This was an even game, where the Scots counter-attacks might have won the day:
In terms of the personnel, it looks like Levein has done a lot of my work for me. Some of the veterans like Miller, Caldwell and Hutton have been pruned from the squad, and the defence looks much more sprightly than it has in years. For me, there is one name missing, and I made it my first mission as Scotland manager to coax him out of retirement:
Delighted! He’s a great player who has had the misfortune to take the field during Scotland’s worst international spell. He deserves a proper testimonial, and hopefully one last shot at glory.
Our big signing might be a bit controversial with the large Scottish contingent in the Derby ranks. Pictured here being scythed mercilessly down by that well-known hatchet-man Shaun Maloney, his undoubted skill is perhaps at risk of being overshadowed by his reputation as a serial cheat with the head of a monkey:
What is beyond question is his cult status in Football Manager. His rise to the top has co-incided with the growth in popularity of the game, meaning a host of virtual managers were utterly unsurprised at his progress, having poached him for compensation from Southampton way back in 2006:
We are paying him a few bob more than £90 a week, more than three times Jack Wilshere’s wages in fact. His agent had wrung so much out of Spurs that even our usual hard-bargaining was useless. Only Manchester City are paying a higher wage in the Premier League, with four players on more than 200k a week. Worth it? Is any player worth so much? Time will tell.
Ironically, he’s already played a big part in my destiny in this game. Craig Levein, who had managed Scotland remarkably well, finally threw in the towel after the European Championships where Scotland made it through a tricky group, but were knocked out by a single goal from Wales, scored by ‘ol Monkey-Head.
I applied for the thankless task of taking the Scots to the 2018 World Cup and was successful. The group is quite an interesting mix of teams, might be close. Never underestimate Andorra though. I’m sure they are saying the same about us.
Well, I have to say the dressing room feels strangely flat going into the new season. After such rapid success, it’s hard to escape a feeling of anti-climax. I decided to put some of the team’s established stars up for sale, in order to keep the game fresh and give the rest of the Premier League a sporting chance
First on the auctioneers block was Gary Cahill. He’s been very impressive on the pitch, but a bit of a dubious influence on his team-mates – always looking complacent, or ‘switching off’ during team talks. A lot of English clubs were interested, but he picked our favourite european enemy, Juventus. Arrivederci.
Next to depart was Tom Cleverley. He’s been a real hot-and-cold player for us, but his form has been a downward spiral – His best performances were during our first Premier League season, while he was on loan. This season, he’s often been anonymous, getting substituted early in a lot of games. Wolves made him their big signing on their return to the top flight, and we doubled our money:
It wasn’t an easy decision to sell Havard Nordveidt. He’s been a model professional, and as steady as a rock in 31 appearances last season, including some of the biggest european matches. The deal was too good to turn down though – we bought him for £2.2m from Gladbach, and sold him for £15m to Munich plus add-ons – enough profit to pay for Pride Park’s new stand! I’ll miss him more than the other two though, he’s a very shrewd and reliable midfielder.
It’s been such a rapid rise from the Championship that a few of our players have been left behind without ever having done much wrong. The two young Scots I signed in the first season – Tony Watt and Callum Paterson never really got a chance to prove themselves in the top flight, as they were supplanted completely by Steven Fletcher and Jordan Rhodes. I’ve sent Paterson on loan to our new footballing partners Everton, with an option to buy at a pretty fair price and sold Watt to Burnley for about what we paid for him.
One player I’m going to give a second chance to is Mark O’Brien:
I tipped him as a future Derby Captain way back in my second post on this blog , and I hate to lose bets against myself! He has really improved the key stats for his position while he’s been in exile at West Brom. I am going to throw him straight in as a replacement for Cahill and see what he’s made of.
Having generated a very healthy transfer kitty, I promptly spent it a rather unhealthy amount on one player, smashing our wage structure into bits and making a bit of a nonsense of our previous tight control of spending.
Thirty-Five Million Quid. One Hundred and Eighty-Thousand a week, plus 20k appearance fee, and 10k per goal. Over to Uncle Sam:
Any guesses as to the identity of the 2016 equivalent of Colin F. Todd?
Well, the strapline for this blog is ‘taking Derby back to the top’. When I wrote that, I meant the upper reaches of the Premier League. I certainly didn’t intend to make them a European power in four years, and would have been content just to get into the last sixteen this season.
Barca were imperious in the first half, but looked like they thought the game was won at half time. My heart leapt when we made it in one-nil down – the psychological element is very important in FM, and the opportunity to deliver the ‘hellfire and damnation’ sermon was very welcome.
The second half was all Derby! Our attack jousted brilliantly with the Barca defence, and showed an ability to recycle the ball which put our famed opponents to shame. The critical moment was the injury to Thiago, who had been their best player. They made a crazy substitution – Delefou, who might have talents, but ball-winner he ain’t. Hughes and Crisetig made mincemeat of him.
Messi’s goal was a tap-in for him, and after that he hardly touched the ball – the service from his midfield was so poor he just vanished from the game. Lee Hodson had Pedro in his pocket, and Robinson and Clark mustered the powerful Mame Diouf very well. Cahill’s experience was a great asset when he came on, playing a great sweeping role, and picking up anyone who got loose.
Its deeply pleasing that the kids I put out – Pettigrew, Hughes and Bennett all made their mark on the final and had a hand in the goals which won us the cup. Our next transfer window may well see a lot of the most experienced players depart for better wages elsewhere, but I have confidence the kids can play at the highest level.