Derby County vs the EFL is not the story of a vendetta

Date published: Wednesday 19th January 2022 11:47 - Ian King

An outside of shot of Derby County's Pride Park

Derby County are still in administration, and now the EFL have had to release a lengthy statement about unfounded rumours of skullduggery.

 

We’ve never seen anything like it before, and at the exact time of writing it’s been viewed 110,000 times in less than 24 hours. The EFL has issued a statement on the current situation regarding Derby County, and it’s thorough, to say the least. The statement has been released as a counter-measure to a growing chorus of voices suggesting that there is some sort of vendetta against the financially stricken Championship club, as their season on the pitch hits unexpectedly successful new heights while their condition off the pitch continues to raise questions.

The EFL seem to be concerned about the ongoing financial viability of the club, and that is clearly a valid concern; Derby have been in administration since September, and four months down the line the club is still struggling along. But this in itself raises questions. Even while in administration, a football club needs some degree of financial liquidity to continue trading. Wages and bills have to be paid, and for a club playing in the Championship this bill will run to millions of pounds. At the end of the summer and the start of the autumn this isn’t an issue as the money that football clubs receive tends to be front-loaded on a season – particularly revenue from season ticket sales – and this means that financial worries at the very start of the season tend to be slight.

But as a season wears on, finances can become increasingly stretched and many clubs in this sort of position require fresh injections of money to keep the business afloat on a day-to-day basis. But at Derby no sale of the club has been confirmed, no preferred bidder remains, and more than two weeks of the January transfer window have passed with only Graeme Shinnie leaving for relative peanuts. It’s fair for the EFL to ask how the club is going to continue to be funded between now and the end of the season and get assurance from the administrators that there will be no issues with Derby completing their fixtures and paying their players on time over the next four months.

The Chief Executive of the EFL, Trevor Birch, is a licensed insolvency practitioner who has been involved to some extent or other at Portsmouth, Bolton Wanderers, and Heart of Midlothian in Scotland. In other words, he knows what he’s talking about, and the statement starts by pointing out that ‘whilst potential funding options were tabled by the Administrators, they could not give the necessary assurances that the funding was guaranteed to enable the Club to finish the season.’ The deadline given for this – already extended – is February 1.

It was the EFL moving on this and other matters which seems to have raised the theory that there could be a ‘vendetta’ against Derby County. The League has put a new transfer embargo in place on the club, and this decision has already hit them hard, as it led to the club being unable to extend the contract of Phil Jagielka, who moved to join Stoke City when this happened. They also have questions about a third interested party joining the conversation about the club’s future, having noted that, ‘The EFL has already met with two bidders alongside the Administrators but further notes their recent reference to a third bidder.’ Presumably, the administrators hadn’t, at the time that this statement was written, shared the identity of this third bidder with the League.

There was never really much question that the sale of Derby County in administration was always going to be difficult. The size of the club’s debt – and to whom it was owned – was problematic, as was the fact that the club had been put into administration but not the company set up by former owner Mel Morris to own Pride Park. With the majority of Derby’s players on short-term contracts and the stadium not included, it’s difficult to make an argument that this particular sale offered any buyers particularly great value for money. And on top of that, there remain the court cases brought against the club by Middlesbrough and Wycombe Wanderers. These cases aren’t expected to result in wins, but the possibility that they could might well be enough to deter serious investors from getting involved in trying to rescue Derby.

The local press has joined the search for answers to the questions that Derby County supporters need answered at the moment. There is no conspiracy against the club, although in a sense it’s understandable that some might think there could be. The penalties for entering into administration and remaining in administration could easily be mistaken for punishment, and the fact that other clubs are issuing legal writs against them has only added to the siege mentality amongst the club’s supporters. But it should also be acknowledged that the EFL has been put into an extremely difficult position itself, with disparate and often conflicting interests to defend, not least the integrity of their own organisation and competitions.

But at the end of one of their longest and darkest weeks, at least the players had a ray of sunshine to offer. Derby’s 2-0 win against Sheffield United completed something incredible, as Wayne Rooney’s team completed its overhaul of the League’s 21-point deduction by hauling itself above Barnsley and off the bottom of the Championship table for the first time since they were put into administration. They have a long way to go – they remain eight points below the relegation line – but with four wins from their last five games, at least the Derby team are giving supporters something to cheer, even if those trying to manage the club’s catastrophic affairs are currently unable to do the same.

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