Nigel Pearson’s squad is far from being short of talent, but how would Derby’s starting lineup look if they had kept hold of some former stars?

Derby’s manager Nigel Pearson

Derby’s quest for promotion to the Premier League continues in the Championship this season, after three failed attempts in three seasons, including two play-off defeats. 

While those faltering surges begun with a mixture of home grown and reasonably cheaply acquired talent, it has been backed up by staggering spending upward of £40 million in the last two seasons. 

The war chests provided by Mel Morris have allowed the Rams to secure the signatures of high profile players such as Matej Vydra, Tom Ince and Bradley Johnson. 

The team on paper is surely one of the most formidable in the division, yet Pearson’s men have had an underwhelming start. One win in their first five has left them in a lowly 18th position, behind arch rivals Nottingham Forest and even local rivals Burton Albion, after losing to former manager Nigel Clough’s side before the international break. 

With talk in the stands of a side whose desire fails to match the players’ salaries, perhaps some former stars who have departed from the iPro could be of use to get the most out of a seemingly disjointed bunch. 

This is one way Derby could have lined up if they had kept hold of some former players: 

 Scott Carson (GK)

Derby County’s Scott Carson

A strange start to an XI where you might expect to see some differences from the current starters, but Derby haven’t been a team to chop and change their goalkeepers too often.

Former stalwarts between the sticks such as Lee Camp, Stephen Bywater and Lee Grant don’t represent enough of a threat to the current number one and former England international. Bywater is now a backup at nearby Burton, Grant has recently left on loan to Stoke after a second spell at the iPro and ten years at the club, while Camp is not the player he once was, even if he has got Rotherham’s defence out of trouble on a few occasions already this season.  

Andre Wisdom (RB)

Derby’s Andre Wisdom in action with Nottingham Forest’s Jamie Paterson

The Liverpool and Bradford trainee has only made 14 appearances for Liverpool and been out on loans to West Brom, Norwich and has just begun a spell with Red Bull Salzburg. However his first loan move from Anfield, to Derby, was his most successful. Wisdom impressed at right back which was something a problem position at the time.

His 34 appearances as an ever-present came at a time when the Rams were in impressive form and finished 3rd in the Championship, just short of automatic promotion. The final in which Wisdom featured against Queen’s Park Rangers was a heartbreaking one where Derby dominated large parts of the match and the opposition scored with their only shot on target through Bobby Zamora.

Richard Keogh (CB)

Derby’s Richard Keogh in action with Aston Villa’s Ross McCormack

The seemingly always aggravated centre back has been a regular at the back for the Rams since joining from Coventry in 2012 and has worn the armband for much of his time playing in the East Midlands. His performances have sometimes been far from perfect and the 30-year-old has come in for his fair share of criticism in periods where Derby’s defence has shot itself in the foot with sloppy mistakes costing dear.

However, more often than not he has been a dependable figure and his commitment is unquestioned among the fans while making him a firm crowd favourite. His performances in a Derby shirt have also seen him break into the Ireland team in 2013; he featured twice for Martin O’Neill’s side at Euro 2016 against Italy and France.

Jason Shackell (CB)

Jason Shackell of Derby County and Federico Macheda of Nottingham Forest in action

Another non-change from the current team selection. Shackell has been was so well thought of at the iPro, that he returned to the club in 2015 for £2 million more than he had been sold to Burnley for in 2012. His singular season in his first stint at the club saw him replace Shaun Barker as captain due to Barker’s miserable period on the sidelines with chronic knee problems. Shackell’s performances at the back earned him runner-up in the Player of the Season awards and despite several rejected bids for his services from various clubs, he was eventually sold. The growing prominence of Mel Morris in the club’s hierarchy and financial makeup meant that three years later, it was possible to purchase Shackell back. Since returning to Derby the 33-year-old has formed a much more solid partnership with Keogh than previous defensive partners have managed.

Marcus Olsson (LB)

Derby’s Marcus Olsson in action with Sheffield Wednesday’s Aiden McGeady

His brother Martin at Norwich City is the better known of the Swedish twin defenders, but Marcus is fast becoming just as well known. His inclusion may raise eyebrows, but a lack of past left backs still young enough and capable of benefitting Derby’s current squad sees him get the nod.

Since being brought in to provide competition for and ultimately displace a sometimes haphazard Craig Forsyth, he has provided more pace and balance to the backline. His only goal for the club to date also stands him in good stead and won him a place in supporters’ hearts quicker than he would have imagined,the goal being a winner in the derby against Nottingham Forest last season.

Jamie Ward (RM)

Nottingham Forest’s Jamie Ward in action with Brighton’s Anthony Knockaert

An inclusion of a Nottingham Forest player (currently on loan to Burton) can only be seen as controversial. Certainly Jamie Ward’s name is not one that would be welcome on the back of a white shirt again any time soon, but rivalries aside, Derby’s loss since his move has been Forest’s gain.

His shock move on a free transfer to the City Ground benefitted Derby’s rivals from across the Trent, proving a bright spark in an otherwise dire season for the Reds. The presence of the club’s 2012-13 top scorer in Pearson’s squad could have been a welcome one, especially when starting wingers Thomas Ince and Johnny Russell misfire and fail to support the forwards.

Tom Huddlestone (CM)

Hull City’s Tom Huddlestone in action with Sheffield Wednesday’s Barry Bannan

It feels like Tom Huddlestone has been around forever, and yet he is only 29-years-old. That’s because he made his debut at Derby back in 2003 with a man of the match performance, at the age of just 16. His slick passing quickly made him a regular in the first team and he made 88 appearances for the Rams before agreeing a move to Spurs midway through the 2003-04 season.

The Nottingham born midfielder has since experienced the Champions League and Europa League in his eight seasons in at White Hart Lane. He also won the League Cup before earning promotion with Hull City last year through the play-offs, defeating Derby in the process. Huddlestone is now a much more well-built and mature figure than the fresh faced teenager that burst onto the scene at Pride Park back thirteen years ago. His steely physicality combined with his well-honed technique, vision and passing ability might make him the most potentially useful former player to the current squad. There is no doubt many of the Derby faithful would love to have him back.

Will Hughes (CM)

Derby’s Will Hughes

Hughes missed almost the whole of last season after suffering an anterior cruciate ligament injury in his knee. As a result, he only played eight games. The peroxide blonde haired central midfielder will be hoping to make much more of an impact this year after having his development cruelly disrupted in such a way. Prior to his spell on the sidelines, Hughes’ rise had been impressive, making his league debut at only 17-years-old and to date he has already played 122 times for the club. He also made his England U21 debut at 17.

Like Huddlestone, Hughes has gained plaudits early on in his career for his flair on the ball and passing prowess which has integrated well with a Derby team that has had something of a strong passing football philosophy since his introduction. As both a currently indispensable part of the team and no doubt a prospect for future, whether it be Derby or another club and England, he couldn’t be displaced by a former player. 

Kris Commons (LM)

Celtic’s Kris Commons in action with Motherwell’s Marvin Johnson

Another player with links to Nottingham Forest, but this time nowhere near as divisive. Commons is a player who has always done well wherever he has gone in his career, but bizarrely never played in the Premier League. The Mansfield born midfielder instead opted to join Celtic from Derby in 2011, where he has enjoyed five Scottish Premier League titles and individually won both a Scottish PFA  and Scottish Football Writers’ Player of the Year award. His wicked left foot has served him well throughout his career and seen him score several goals from distance – something of a trademark for the 33-year-old Scottish international.

Commons is adaptable positionally, having actually played many of his games for Derby in a supporting striker role, scoring 21 goals, but his position for the majority of his career has been on the left of midfield. His delivery and eye for goal could be of use to Derby, particularly after the sale of striker Chris Martin.

 Alberto Bueno (ST)

Derby County’s Alberto Bueno in action against Nottingham Forest’s Chris Gunter

Like Andre Wisdom, Bueno was never signed by Derby but joined in 2010 on loan for the season. His awareness, touch and ability were praised by coaches and fans, and all of his skill contributed to a good run upon his introduction to the side which saw him bag a brace against Crystal Palace. His form leading up to January saw him put in man of the match displays and garnered interest from Wigan Athletic, but a supposed clause in the loan contract with parent club Valladolid ensured that the Latics couldn’t pounce to sign the Spaniard.

An all too familiar Derby trait was seen in the second half of the season with the team fading after a strong start. Four wins from 26 games saw the Rams freefall from 4th to 19th place. Bueno’s three early goals were only added to with two more before he departed, but the talent he showcased has remained in the minds of the supporters and who knows what he might have achieved in better squad.

Chris Martin (ST)

Derby County’s Chris Martin

Just one week on from his surprising loan move to Fulham, the Chris Martin shaped gap in the squad is still baffling with fans confused as to why the club’s top scorer for the last three seasons, has been allowed to leave on loan and to a promotion rival. There is a divide however, with many fans feeling that the 27-year-old hasn’t been at his best for time and that his poor performances are in no small part down to his effort level and a lack of competition at the club.

Pearson has somewhat solved the competition issue, but let go of his mercurial striker at the same time. By Saturday evening the fans may have forgotten all about Martin if Matej Vydra, Darren Bent or any other striker scores the winning goals against Newcastle in his place. However, it is likely that the first Derby player to score 20 goals in a season since Dean Sturridge will be sorely missed.

Full XI (4-4-2): Carson; Wisdom; Keogh; Shackell; Olsson; Ward; Huddlestone; Hughes; Commons; Bueno; Martin

Substitutes: Lee Camp (GK), Jeff Hendrick (CM), Craig Bryson (CM), Thomas Ince (RM), Matej Vydra (ST), Miles Addison (CDM/CB), Johnny Russell (LM)

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