After watching the players during the first few league games and our first European sortie, I decided it was time for a leadership re-shuffle.
I made the homegrown youngster Mark O’Brien vice-captain last season, hoping it would bring him on a bit, but the pressure seemed to tell on him during the big matches, and so I handed the deputy badge to Steven Fletcher, at 27 a veteran of several clubs already.
The Scots second invasion of Derby is complete. Hopefully it will end better than the first one! The distinctly celtic feel to the current squad will be fairly short-lived, all the raw recruits I have coming through are Englishmen. This is mainly due to all the Scots, Irish, Ulster and Welsh kids I’ve scouted being utter mince!
I’m still inclined to stick with as many home nations players as I can, but I think this approach will become harder to justify over time. I already had a major wobble during the most recent transfer window, when I had the opportunity to sign Bojan Krkić, Marc Barta and Rafa Alcantara on free or very cheap transfers with reasonable wage demands. I was sorely tempted to see how Barcelona rejects would perform in the EPL, but it would have meant promoting them over the heads of existing homegrown talent, so I resisted.
The team came flying out of the blocks this season, with only Madrid and Chelsea taking any points off us so far in a remarkably straightforward set of opening fixtures. The Newcastle game was a very close run battle. As the team looked so nervous by the end of it I arranged a bounce game against one of the leading lights of the West Midlands League Premier Division. This proved the confidence booster we needed, and marked the beginning of what I hope will be a great stike partnership between Fletcher and Bennett.
Remarkably, the biggest competitive win of the season so far came against our next champions league opponents on their home turf:
As you can see, it wasn’t straightforward – McCarthy’s sending off left us pinned back and trailing Napoli for most of the game. Fletcher had the game of his Derby career so far, and Will Hughes scored an absolute screamer from the left wing. He’s been a real star for us this year, and his stats have improved a lot:
Up front, Mason Bennett’s value has soared to a cool £7m on the back of his european displays, and the award of the ‘golden boy’ trophy for his heroics in the league last season:
My coaches keep warning me he will be asking for an improved contract soon, but so far it’s not affecting his morale, or his goalscoring. I’m not in a hurry to cash in on him, that for sure!