Ton Thursday morning at Derby County’s Moor Farm training base and head of performance, Luke Jenkinson, is putting a revamped squad through their paces as they build towards their League One opener at home to Oxford on Saturday.
Soon after Liam Rosenior, the interim manager, after the departure of Wayne Rooney, increases the number of passes when his players try to score in small goals. Then it’s time for an 11 v 11 game on a full field – purple v green balls. Rosenior is in his element. Richard Stearman calls “Shell, shell.” Summer Tom Barkhuizen curls in a nice cross from the left for another new face, Korey Smith, to head over the bar. Ben Warner, head of analytics, controls a drone overhead.
David Clowes, the property developer who took over the club earlier this month and whose company headquarters are 11 miles away, received a phone call confirming Curtis Davies would take charge of the side this season. Last week, Clowes, Derby players, coaches, office staff, groundsmen and chefs, along with their families, gathered in the academy grounds and car park for a barbecue, a gathering proposed by long-serving chief executive Stephen Pearce to thank the staff. for their commitment during a difficult period: nine months in administration, many false dawns and two years of various nests. There were bouncy castles, picnic blankets and an ice cream truck. A group of Derby fans provided entertainment.
“Whether you’re a tea lady or a tea owner, everyone is equally important,” says Rosenior. “If we have that spirit in the club, you can fly really, really fast. We had James with us. [shadowing at training] today, Vicky, the son of a laundress, who is pursuing a coaching diploma in college. I saw him at the barbecue and we were talking and I said to him: ‘Come and help us in training.’ He’s been here for two days and is on a work experience… I introduced him to the cast and he just loved it. But this is the culture I want here. I want people to enjoy participating in it.”
Those days of uncertainty, when the future of the club was in doubt, are gone. Rooney left, taking assistant analyst Pete Shuttleworth with him to DC United. Rosenior recalls conversations with the kit man, Jonnie, and Philomena, who works in the canteen, about how they would update Twitter and pray for positive updates in the future of the boom.
What bothered him was that he rarely had answers. “The hardest thing in leadership is to have people turn around and say, ‘I don’t know,'” says Rosenior. “We had a session and our fitness trainer lost her job while she was kneeling for a warm-up. The players asked: ‘Where is he?’ There are so many traumatic events that you almost become numb to it, and you learn to deal with it.”
Clowes is a long-time season ticket holder in the North Stand – he is believed not to have missed a home or away game in around six years – and staff have told him to watch games at Pride Park from behind the goal, even if his profile has increased tenfold since the takeover was completed.
The timing is wrong. Clowes, who has fond memories of the Derby days at the Baseball Ground, bought his current stadium from former owner Mel Morris in mid-June, four days after Chris Kirchner, who compared the Derby to Kentucky, pulled out of buying the club.
Amidst the threat of liquidation, Clowes, a private individual, felt compelled to make an offer for the club and a week later he concluded a deal which was officially completed at 5.26pm on 1 July. live in the memory of your supporters.
Confirmation came less than half an hour later as managers announced the club was out of business. Clowes, a qualified commercial pilot, arrived on his first day at Moor Farm on Monday July 4, after flying guests from Silverstone to Scotland before returning to East Midlands airport in the early hours.
Derby assembled a team in two weeks. They have made 11 new signings and Rosenior, who wants four more, is to meet another prospective player and the player’s agent in the manager’s office. Derby were unbeaten at home against the Championship’s top six last season, but Rosenior believes the arrival of experienced players such as Conor Hourihane and David McGoldrick will help them take more away points.
Krystian Bielik trains alone, working with head physiotherapist John Hartley after straining his knee. Rosenior knows Derby have returned to pre-season a week later than most. “The reason it came late is because we didn’t know if there would be a football club. We’re working from the back but the biggest thing is we’re still a football club and we’re still competing. At the start of pre-season we had five actors. If someone had told me three weeks ago that I would be working with this group of actors, I would have been like, ‘You’re crazy.’ But somehow it has been agreed.”
At the start of pre-season, numbers were so low that the under-18s, under-23s and first-team players came together for training, such as Rosenior, Justin Walker, first-team development coach, Pat Lyons, coach U-21, and Jake Buxton, interim first team coach, and the rest of the staff tried to create some normalcy. At that time there were 21 players in total.
Clowes has pledged to maintain his academy’s category one status. Darren Robinson, a second-year scholar, is among those who have impressed in the preseason. The idea of those young people not having a team hurt Rosenior. “We have our competition [meal] Here on a Saturday morning, when the academy teams are playing in the upper fields and the parents are walking,” he says. “The thought of losing it … definitely a chance.”
Such has been the fast turnaround, there are definitely some teething problems. They wore last season’s training kit for the first few weeks, are still without a shirt sponsor and are set to start this campaign – their first season in the third tier since 1986 – without an away kit. . They cannot pay agents or transfer fees and have a salary according to a business plan agreed with the English Football League. “I come from Brighton, and a long time ago Brighton was in Withdean [stadium] and their fans marched to keep the club alive. It was exactly the same position at Derby, with the fans marching to keep the club alive … in five or 10 years nothing would make me happy to see Derby in Brighton’s position.
Clowes’ priority has been to add bodies to a skeleton squad but the main task is to bring stability to a club that has gone from bad news to another story in recent times. He is keen to give Rosenior, who joined Derby three years ago as a specialist first-team coach under Phillip Cocu, a chance to do the job. “Whether I’m a part-time or full-time manager, I know the job is stressful,” says Rosenior. “I always knew that – my father was fired after 10 minutes [at Torquay]. If I don’t produce, whether I have a 5-year contract or a one-year contract, I will be unemployed.”
Rosenior was interested in the job when Cocu was sacked but Rooney was appointed. Rosenior became Rooney’s assistant, working closely as co-manager on an interim basis after Cocu’s departure. “Looking back now, I’m very grateful for the experiences I had with Wayne, for the experiences we had together and the experiences I gained in my coaching role and building the team last season. ” he says. “I feel that if I had become a manager two and a half years ago, I would not be half the manager I am now. This has come at the right time.
“Since I have this job, I have more energy. I put more pressure on myself as an assistant to not let Wayne down. Now I make decisions, I know it falls on me. I am in control, and I am calmer. I know that if I fail, it’s on me. If we don’t play well, it’s on me. I am fully responsible. I have to make sure every process is correct, but I check it so I sleep better. Basically, I’m a control freak,” Rosenior says with a smile.
Regarding Rooney’s departure, Rosenior says: “I understand the difference between being an assistant manager and a manager in three weeks. You have to save people. You have to have positive energy when you walk around, otherwise people won’t follow you. If you’re constantly fighting things for two years, it can wear you down, and I think Wayne just got there. I don’t think he felt he had the energy to continue in this job.”
On Wednesday Rosenior received a phone call from his father, Leroy. “He called me – and I don’t talk to him about football – and he said: ‘Liam, I don’t want to put too much pressure on you but I’d love to be at your first game, can I come?’ I said: ‘Sure you can come. Don’t pressure me dad. Come to the game.’ “When I was eight or nine years old, he picked me for the team. He knows my passion. He knows how hard I have worked to get to this point.”