The club have branded this #thenextchapter. And so it is. For the new season, Derby County will have a new head coach, a new chairman and a new optimism that having come close in the last two seasons, this time next year, the club will be preparing for life in the Premier League.
Last week, the club confirmed that Mel Morris had taken over as chairman and would soon complete a deal to become the club’s major shareholder. It’s now clear that Morris IS Derby’s future, having been a significant figure in the club’s past.
He was part of the consortium which took over at Derby in 2006, and was still a director when Derby were last in the Premier League in 2007/8. That season became infamous, with Derby earning just a single Premier League victory from their 38 games, and accruing the lowest points total since the introduction of three points for a win in 1981.
If Derby get back to the Premier League, Morris is promising things will be different. Back then, Morris chose a very low profile with the media, and with the running of the club. From now on, he will be very hands on.
‘Clearly defined roles’
Whilst that doesn’t mean he will be at the club every day (he has total faith in president and chief executive Sam Rush), the new direction for Derby will be very much based around Morris’s vision.
Chatting to him off-camera last week, as the club introduced Paul Clement as their new head coach, Morris told me that vision is based on a united club, where everyone has clearly defined roles and goals.
He said he has huge admiration for what Peter Coates has done, just 35 miles away. Morris told me that Stoke City is very much the model of how Derby County want to progress. Stoke is a perennial Premier League club, with aspirations towards the top six. Derby is currently the Championship wannabe. But the similarities between Coates and Morris are striking.
Both men have long associations and a deep love for their local football club; both have been involved as owner and director in the past, when times were tough; both are brilliant entrepreneurs who have accrued huge wealth as part of the internet revolution; and both are motivated with a desire to pump big chunks of that cash into making their club the best it can be.
For Coates, Bet365 was the game-changer in terms of personal fortune. For Morris, it is King.com – makers of Candy Crush.
Morris is Derbyshire born and bred. He went to school in Etwall in the south of the county and soon after leaving, showed an entrepreneurial spark. He sold hardwood floors and property in Spain; he built the respected Mickleover Court Hotel and set up one of the very first internet-dating sites in 2005. But it was when Morris sold his stake in King.com that his personal fortune rocketed. He’s now worth in excess of £500m.
And he’s already been spending some of that on Derby’s infrastructure. It’s Morris who has funded the renovations at Derby’s Moor Farm Training Ground. These have seen a brand new hydrotherapy suite, new floodlights, a new 3G pitch, and another new training pitch that matches perfectly the dimensions and conditions at the iPro Stadium –
improvements that helped earn Derby’s Academy Category One status from the Premier League.
So, behind the scenes, all looks very rosy for Derby as a club. But Morris told me that their model can only be truly effective once they get into the Premier League. Last week’s report from Deloitte into the financial state of English football pointed out that the 24 Championship teams lost a total of £247m in 2013/14 – an average of over £10m per club.
Even though Morris has deep enough pockets to sustain such losses, he knows he can’t just spend his way into the Premier League, without risking falling foul of Uefa’s Financial Fair Play rules. That’s where new Head Coach Paul Clement must earn his corn.