Revolting players, a good thing?
A Cocu coup, sounds like something that would get a bird watcher twitching but could be what got Derby County's season back on track.
We all know the Dutch are absolute bastards for a bit of player power and you can’t throw a brick in a built-up area without hitting a Dutch football player with an opinion. Historically they go into World Cups amongst the favourites, then the captain says they should sack the manager, the manager sacks the captain, someone is sent home and they go out in the quarters. Think Edgar Davids, Euro 1996, saying, "Hiddink should stop putting his head in some players' asses." Cue taxi to airport. It’s not just on the international stage either, who can forget the collective sadness we felt as Rams fans when Pierre van Hooijdonk disagreed with the recruitment policy of our friends down the road and went on strike?
It would make sense that when those players turn to management, they are much more open to the views of their players than your typical old-school English manager and I suspect this is true of Cocu and his back-room team. It may be that the turning point in our season was the team meeting after the Blackburn game. Cocu talked at length about it, saying:
"A meeting we had with the players, creating an environment where everybody can express themselves, share opinions, only with one idea - to get the team better or performing better, or individual players to feel better, or to improve the common understanding between players.
"I cannot go into detail. The meeting was over an hour without any clips. It was a good chat, then you have to translate this onto the training sessions, first. We did, and they did, and the first opportunity for us to show a different face is against Norwich."
Without being in the room you can’t say for sure but it doesn’t seem a big leap to assume that a couple of senior players, and I’m casting Curtis Davies in the Fletcher Christian role here, made a few suggestions. Chiefly among them; can we have someone shielding the defence and stop fannying about at the back? It’s not difficult to imagine how such a scenario would have played out under Pearson or Rowett, almost certainly with swift demotion to the 23s, a certain amount of facial bruising and exit stage left through the first available transfer window. To his credit, Cocu listened and adapted. In the next game we moved to a back 3, put Curtis in the side, brought Shinnie in to sit in front and stopped playing it out from the back. Since then both have played every game, we’ve conceded three goals in four, and two of them (Watford and Forest) were a bit unlucky.
Although there is an element of conjecture about all this, what is clear is that after the meeting Cocu changed both his line-up and his tactics. Against Norwich it was clear that Marshall had been told to kick it long to Buchanan, and we have stuck with it. Against Huddersfield it was weird to see them playing exactly the way we had against Blackburn, relentlessly playing it out from the back badly and if we had had one fit centre forward, we’d have punished them for it.
Since Blackburn, despite results not going our way, we have seen steady improvement game by game and if that is down to having a manager prepared to listen, adapt and learn from his mistakes then that can only be a good thing.