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McClaren and Simpson gofer it

26 October 2013

By Tony Leighton

He was Paul Simpson's 'gofer' in their playing days together, now Steve McClaren is the top man and Simpson his assistant as Derby County's recently appointed managerial pair look to lead the Rams to the Premier League.

The two men have never before worked together at management level, but they do have a longstanding relationship that began in their playing days together at Oxford United in the 1980s and continued at Derby in the 1990s, with Simpson still playing but McClaren working as first-team coach under manager Jim Smith.

And if their latest joint venture works as well as the last one, Derby winning promotion to the Premier League in 1996 thanks in no small part to Simpson's wing trickery and McClaren's astute coaching, then the County fans will surely see their favourites pushing to climb out of the Sky Bet Championship.

As he looked ahead to that exciting challenge, Simpson also recalled the highlights of his previous link-ups with former England manager McClaren, telling "When we played together at Oxford Steve was my gofer, breaking up the play in midfield then giving me the ball to let me play.

"He could play as well as break things up though, and he'd probably tell you he was an intelligent central midfielder while I was not a very intelligent winger.

"Steve's playing days were ended by injury, but he started his coaching career with the Oxford youth team and then came to Derby as Jim Smith's number two in 1995 - and we got promoted to the Premier League in their first season.

"That season was magnificent, the best of five great years I had at Derby. I'd been a professional for 12 years by then, starting at Manchester City, but that season was the first time I'd been coached to the level that Steve brought in.

"And his planning was meticulous - when we came in for training on Monday he would already have his preparations in place for the game on the next Saturday.

"That's what he's brought to the club again, and it's shown in the way that the players have responded. Steve has shown them what he wants in every training session and their attitude and performances have been great from day one.

"The supporters have been superb as well - we came in after Nigel Clough had left the club, and when a footballing hero named Clough loses his job at Derby there's bound to be disappointment and it's a tough act to follow.

"But the backing they've given the team in our first two matches in charge has been unbelievable, and I'm told we could get Pride Park's biggest crowd of the season for the game against Birmingham City on Saturday."

Victory over Birmingham would make it three out of three for the McClaren-Simpson partnership following a 3-1 home win against Leeds United and a 3-2 success at Watford, those results lifting the Rams up to eighth in the table and within four points of the Play-Off places after a quarter of the season.

Expectations of a return to the Premier League, for what would be the first time since the 2007/08 campaign, have risen sharply among the Pride Park faithful.

But former Carlisle United, Preston North End and Shrewsbury Town manager Simpson said: "There are 34 games to go and we are not going to get ahead of ourselves. The aim is to produce a style of play that will excite the fans and, if we can do that and get the results to go with it, we'll see where that takes us."

Excitement and results have been there in equal measure to date as McClaren and Simpson thoroughly and quite understandably enjoy the early days of their Derby return, a return that Simpson for one was most certainly not anticipating.

"Steve and me had never discussed working together," he said. "We'd been on courses together over the last 12 months and exchanged texts and 'phone calls, but the call I got from him a few Sundays ago came right out of the blue.

"It was a lovely surprise to be given at 8.30 on a Sunday evening, though. When Steve asked me to come to the club with him I didn't have a second thought - I would normally discuss a matter like this with my wife, but I just walked into the lounge and told her I was starting work the next day at Derby County.

"And it's so far, so good, but we know that there's still lots of hard work to come to achieve what we want to achieve - but I'm relishing the challenge."

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