There are moments in football that are hard to understand and the sacking of Paul Clement as Derby manager is one of them. Appointed at the start of the season, Clement was seen by many as a coup by Derby with several other clubs chasing the highly rated coach. His reputation was growing year over year as first team coach to Carlo Ancelotti first at Chelsea, then PSG and finally Real Madrid. Clement spent his days training superstars of the game like Ibrahimovic, Edison Cavani, James Rodriguez and Cristiano Ronaldo and his evenings discussing tactics, formational discipline and training techniques with Ancelotti. Quite the education! So when he decided to leave Real following a summer change in the management structure, his signature suddenly became one of the most sought out in Europe. It was Derby that convinced him to join as manager with the opportunity to build something magical. They even talked about Clement creating a dynasty like Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, something that ultimately swung it for Derby. Little did he know that eight months after starting he would be looking for another job.
A run of seven defeats in a row has certainly dented Derby’s automatic promotion hopes but it has hardly destroyed them. Sitting fifth in the league table, six points off of top spot with 16 games left to play, Derby are very much still in contention. Which makes the timing of Clement sacking all that more bizarre. The reasoning behind his sacking however is the most puzzling aspect. In the last few weeks, Derby’s owner Mel Morris has given his backing to the coach insisting he was the right man for the job despite the blip in form. But this week as Clement gathered his stuff into a box and frog marched out of Pride Park, the owner has suddenly changed his tune. Now Clement wasn’t the right man and strange as it may seem was too focused on winning promotion to the Premier League, something the owners didn’t want. In a bizarre interview, Morris insisted that promotion was never on the agenda for this season and that the club wanted to build for the long term, playing the Derby way and nurturing talent. He continued that they had tried over the past few months to get Clement to think their way but in the end his short-term thinking made that impossible.
Playing the derby way indicates that style of play is more important to Morris than results. What exactly is Derby’s style is to be confirmed but putting style over results is a strange approach. As a football manager, you are meant to chase success. Can you imagine a club relegated from their division but with the owner and fans happy because they are playing a flowing passing form of football? Using the style as an excuse is an easy way of firing a manager who by all regards is doing well. That suggests that Derby’s board are concerned about promotion to the Premier League. For Morris that fear may be linked to the cost of playing in the Premier League next season and the overall price of being competitive. Promotion to the Premier League would require significant investment to the first team even though Derby does possess one of the best squads in the Championship. Without investment, there is a risk that Derby could struggle, something the owner is keen to avoid. The Rams have been badly embarrassed before in England’s top division finishing last with a record breaking lowest points tally in 2008 which is still very much fresh in the mind of the Derby fans but is that a reason not to want to gain promotion? Clement was on the right track and had the side playing some good football and more importantly winning games. Whether they would have managed to gain promotion is debatable but sacking Clement now has reduced the chance of that happening. The question now is what will be the remit of interim boss Darren Wassall. Promotion appears to be not a priority so perhaps a mid table finish with some derby like style attached will be good enough. I wonder if that will be enough for the derby fans pinning for another shot at the Premier League.
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