The table, they say, doesn’t lie. Derby County (20) lie 10 points behind Sunderland (18) and Wigan (17) and with 17 games to go, Derby manager Paul Jewell will know that a Portsmouth / West Ham styled come-back is highly unlikely even if he could bring in a new starting XI (Paul already has 5 transfers done with 11 days gone, so you never know).
By all accounts, Sunderland are a better bet to stay up next season than Derby. And yet, Derby County have been able to attract decent players – players that would be more suited to Sunderland’s needs than Derby’s. Robbie Savage and Hossam Ghaly would have given Sunderland’s midfield some much-needed steel while Danny Mills and Laurent Robert would have helped Keano in the defensive and creative departments. You can argue that Villa was brought in due to Jewell’s scouting network but the other 4 MUST have been on Keano’s radar too.
What do Derby County offer these players that Sunderland are not able to? Money? Mills and Ghaly are on loan, and Robert was a free signing. In any case, Sunderland have the money (and once again, the security of a better league position) to pay more than Derby. Chances of staying up? Once again, Sunderland are ahead. Respected manager? I’ll grant you that Jewell is more respected than Roy Keane (especially in the Premier League where a lot of the players would have played against him some time back) but would that matter so much? Seems so.
The two other plausible reasons could be (for me) that a) Roy Keane is poor at the transfers end of the management business or b) Derby gives these players more time on the pitch which gives them more chance to shine and thus attract a transfer at the end of the season. It could be a combination of all three – in any case, Derby are going full-throttle in bringing in the players to revamp their squad while Sunderland are moving in second-gear. I would guess that this slow pace is not for a lack of trying on Keano’s part – it looks like he just hasn’t been able to attract the players he needs.
It will be interesting to revisit this topic in May and see how Sunderland and Derby fare after their different transfer strategies.