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Analysing Nigel Pearson's appointment as Derby manager

Tuesday 31st May 2016
News broke on Friday afternoon that Derby County had appointed Nigel Pearson as their new manager on a three-year deal.

Former Leicester City boss Pearson, replaced Darren Wassall - Derby's head coach since February,  who will now return to his previous position of Academy Director.

It marks a return to football for Pearson, who has been out of the game since being sacked by Leicester City, despite getting the Foxes promoted and then pulling off a miraculous escape from relegation from the Premier League. It seemed harsh on Pearson, who was replaced by Claudio Ranieri, which actually ended up turning out pretty well for Leicester, didn't it?

Pearson is joined by former Derby player Chris Powell as his assistant, and the primary goal for the pair will be to make sure that the Rams do not miss out on promotion again, having come up just short in each of the last three seasons, despite high expectations and considerable financial backing.

The appointment of Pearson at Derby is an interesting one, and the decision appears to be one which has been mostly well received by Derby supporters, at least in the immediate aftermath of the announcement.

Pearson's appeal is fairly obvious, his no nonsense approach to management, and recent proven track record of getting a team promoted out of the Championship has seemingly struck a chord with many disillusioned Derby fans. Pearson was able to get Leicester City, a team of a similar size to Derby not only into the Premier League, but managed to keep them there as well, which provided them the platform to then establish themselves in the top flight (and then some!) Pearson's story at Leicester is one that Derby would hope to emulate, and it is reasonable to expect that given the infrastructure, resources, and finances in place that he could do a similar job at Derby.

The move for a manager with a record of prior success at Championship level is the kind of change that many associated with Derby have clamoured for, with the two previous incumbents of the Derby manager (or head coach) role being novices with no previous experience of being a manager at first team level.

Paul Clement and Darren Wassall both had their supporters and could both feel fairly hard done by to have been removed from the head coach position. Clement, in particular, may prove to be a case of what could have been, had he been allowed a full season to try and implement his ideas and get Derby promoted to the Premier League. An undeniably bright and talented coach, the loss of Clement could well prove to be somebody else's gain, and should another Championship side of a similar level decide to take a punt on him, he appears to have the coaching nous required to be a success if given the chance.

Alas, Derby chairman Mel Morris has apparently decided that the experiment of young, inexperienced coaches as manager of Derby County has not worked out, and has gone in the opposite direction: Opting for the know-how and safe pair of hands of Nigel Pearson to improve the club's fortunes, rather than entrusting the club's fate to another manager whose appointment would be based more on potential than experience, as Morris did with Paul Clement and Darren Wassall. Neither appointment yielded the success envisioned by Morris or the Derby board.

The appointment of Pearson is also seen as a good thing by some Derby supporters, who believe that the new manager may be able to give some of the underperforming and underachieving members of the Derby squad a much-needed kick up the proverbial backside. Some supporters have had a difficult time warming to some of the newer additions to the squad, who arrived for considerable transfer fees- and presumably big wages- and have largely failed to rejuvenate or improve the Derby side, accused by some of coasting somewhat last season. Known to be a firm and bullish character, Pearson is unlikely to allow that to continue under his watch. Players giving less than 100% is probably not going to be something associated with the players fielded by the former Leicester manager.

Pearson's brand of football is also likely to markedly different than what has been on offer at the iPro Stadium in recent seasons. The past three Derby head coaches, Steve McClaren, Clement and Wassall, all looked to play an expansive style of football, where Derby looked to build from the back, and enjoy good possession of the ball, especially at home.

The effectiveness of that style of football can be debated, but in Pearson, Derby now have a manager who is very substance over style, and winning is likely to be all that Pearson is concerned about. That could be refreshing to some Derby followers, who have grown frustrated at how- particularly in big games- Derby have failed to convert ball possession into clear cut goal scoring opportunities.

Based on how his teams have set up in the past, Pearson and his style would appear to be at odds with Mel Morris' original vision for Derby, which infamously referred to as ‘The Derby Way.' Following Clement's sacking, Morris said the decision was not based on securing promotion, but because Clement had a differing opinion on what ‘The Derby Way' should entail, which in Morris' eyes, is an attractive brand of football to be played on the field, with young players from the Derby academy, featuring prominently.

Given that Morris came out with those comments as recently as February of this year, his decision to appoint Nigel Pearson is slightly perplexing, and on the face of it, would appear to be at odds with what he originally had in mind for Derby County. Promotion was supposedly a secondary goal behind the quality of football and developing young players for Morris, but it appears he has had something of a U-turn, given that Pearson is more renowned for his ability to get results, rather than the entertainment value of his teams or his focus on bringing through new players.

Despite what Morris says, his goal for next season will certainly be to finally attain that elusive promotion to the promised land of the Premier League, and appointing Nigel Pearson as manager certainly shows that is the foremost aim going into the new season. Pearson may not be, nor will he ever likely be, everyone's cup of tea, but his appointment is likely to shake things up at Derby, and certainly seems to put them in a better position to mount a renewed challenge at gaining promotion.
Michael Soloman
Journalist. Long-suffering Derby County fan, Lionel Messi and Barca bandwagon-er.

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