Bill's Take: Sam Gave DCFC A Flicker But Never A Flame
Friday, 5th May 2017 15:08 by Bill Riordan
A season that started with so much promise for DCFC, but rarely really looked like delivering it, ends this weekend.
There have been some stuttering bits of good news for the fans; the stand out being seven successive league wins between October and December that took us from the edge of the relegation places to the playoff positions, and things really felt promising.
The FA Cup win at West Brom in January looked set to carry on the good form but ultimately all it amounted to was a disappointing long-way-from-the-playoffs finish.
But a season that could have ended in disappointment has suddenly given fans cause for real celebration; Rams president and chief executive officer (CEO) Sam Rush has been sacked, for what the club calls “gross misconduct”.
Rush took up his position in January, 2013 under the club’s prior American ownership, and before Mel Morris acquired control of the club and became chairman. Let us take a brief look at some of the areas of the club’s activities that a CEO may consider worth his attention, and try to determine whether Sam has been a success.
Most football club CEOs would want to be judged in part by the managers they appoint. Nigel Clough was manager when Sam arrived, but he did not last long working for Sam; this is something Clough has in common with all the managers and coaches that have succeeded him.
Following Clough, the Rams have employed – as manager or head coach – Steve McClaren, Paul Clement, Darren Wassall, Nigel Pearson, Steve McClaren again and Gary Rowett. Managers are on average lasted well under one year each.
The strange thing is that these managers were – or seemed to be, to those paying attention - all solid appointments. None of them was a complete failure, except Nigel Pearson. Pearson’s time as manager lasted only nine league games; some would say that is not long enough to judge a manager, but it was long enough for Sam. So we can say with some conviction that success in appointing managers has eluded Sam.
For many fans, a most important aspect of a club’s administration is the quality of players they sign. I think most fans would agree that Nigel Clough did pretty well in the signings he made, under circumstances that were never easy. Clough was not entirely successful, signing some players that did not work out at all, but generally he gets good marks. Since Clough left, the club’s signings have been disastrous.
Without going into all of the few successful signings or all of the blunders, there have been very few signings that have been automatic choices, and did not cost an arm and a leg. In fact, his name is Scott Carson. What makes this area of the club’s activities more harmful to Sam’s reputation is that there has been a strong feeling among the fans that the managers have not been responsible for signing players; Sam Rush has. So we can say with some conviction that success in signing players has eluded Sam.
None of this would matter much if the Rams were enjoying consistent success in the league; so let’s take a look – as if it were needed – at Sam’s success in boosting the club up the league.
The last full season prior to Sam’s arrival was 2011/2012, when the Rams finished 12th in the Championship. In 2012/2013 during which Sam came aboard, we finished 10th; in 2013/2014 it was 3rd place and playoff defeat at Wembley; 2014/2015 brought 8th place; 2015/2016 gave us 5th place and semi-final playoff defeat against Hull; 2016/2017, the current season will see us finish 8th, 9th or 10th.
We can reasonably say that the spending of tens of millions of pounds on player signing fees and wages in Sam’s time has brought some flicker of success; but the reward has been insignificant in relation to the spending.
I have long maintained in this column that the Rams Academy is hugely important to the club – or should be. So has Sam Rush achieved lasting success with the academy? The academy is a long-term project, and the best coaches will take time to turn around a floundering academy. The jury may be out for a while on this one, but there are a couple of points worth making.
The only point of an academy is to produce players for the first team. The last Rams academy graduates to become regular first teamers were Jeff Hendrick and Will Hughes; both were first team regulars before Sam Rush arrived at the club.
Sam’s time at the club has not seen a single first team regular emerge from the academy. Jamie Hanson has played a handful of games, and a few others have played once or twice. But while costing the club boat loads of money, the academy has been unsuccessful in its appointed mission during Sam’s time.
I will not say much here about the iPro fiasco. This was where the club sold stadium naming rights under a long-term contract with a sports drink firm nobody had ever heard of. This was a contract proudly announced by Sam Rush. iPro was never going to survive and prosper in a soft drinks world dominated by behemoths like Coca-Cola and Pepsico. Get real, Sam.
So, while failing on the pitch, failing in the transfer market, failing at the academy and failing with commercial ventures, perhaps the Rams have been profitable with Sam at the helm?
The financial results have been the same as everything else Sam has touched. Losses have spiralled to unsupportable levels. Sam seemed determined to follow the example set by Nottingham Forest, Blackburn and Portsmouth among others; become completely dependent on a wealthy benefactor to the point where the club struggles to survive if the benefactor’s support is withdrawn.
In the wake of Sam Rush’s complete and continued failure with the Rams, the club will need several years at a minimum of focused and competent management to repair the damage done in the last four years.
Chairman Mel Morris has taken the first big step on a long road by sacking Rush. But Mr Morris needs to learn the lesson; Sam Rush was allowed to fail for as long as he did because he was seemingly allowed to run the club without adequate supervision.
Perhaps the right questions were not asked or answers demanded. Whatever the reason, football is a highly competitive business, and success doesn’t come easy but suddenly I feel much more optimistic about next season.
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