Can Phillip Cocu build on Frank Lampard's foundation at Derby?
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Phillip Cocu has a tough task filling the massive void left by Frank Lampard at Derby County. Simply put, the Dutchman must carry on that same attractive, result-oriented brand started by his predecessor. With a history of developing emerging talent in Holland playing a certain beautiful style, Cocu certainly ticks the boxes.
Cocu's appointment brought a feeling of deja vu around Derbyshire. There's that familiar sense of pride, belief and optimism among the supporters heading into the new campaign. Just a little over 12 months ago, the arrival of Lampard in the Pride Park hot seat brought excitement. Intrigue and fascination surrounded the Chelsea legend.
Lampard was a paradigm shift from the club’s recent quick fix syndrome. Six departed in three years. Gary Rowett was the most recent, moving to Stoke City. His decision followed reports that the wage bill would be slashed almost in half. Although a huge gamble, Lampard took up the mantle.
He exceeded all rational expectations. Lampard miraculously transformed an ageing, expensive squad begging to be overhauled into a younger and more contemptible, while at the same time remain competitive. He gave the club an identity, breaking a style of play that had alienated plenty of fans under his predecessor.
Derby pulled off something of a coup to land Cocu. Apart from anything else, the Dutchman enjoys the distinction of being the Rams' first overseas manager in their illustrious 135-year history. They have had a few from Scotland - Jimmy Methven, Dave Mackay, Tommy Docherty, George Burley and Billy Davies - but none from outside of the British Isles until now.
Yet Cocu isn't afar from Englishman Lampard when it comes to philosophy and style of play. In fact, the Dutchman embodies Total Football. The 48-year-old loves to play the beautiful way, albeit with purpose. He prefers to be more direct with the right balance in his squad.
Cocu is a proven winner as a coach. In only his second full season in charge, he led PSV to their first league title in seven years in 2015. The ex-Barcelona skipper then added two more titles before his short, ill-fated spell at Fenerbahce in 2018.
Cocu loves his team to build from the back of midfield. He isn't the kind of manager to place a 'passer' at the heart of defence but instead chooses to play three dynamic midfielders in the centre of the park. They attack and defend together.
Derby's academy will be enhanced by Cocu’s exceptional connection with youth. It was the 48-year-old who offered first-team breakthroughs to Georginio Wijnaldum and Memphis Depay while at Eindhoven. He built his team around the pace and attacking threat of Depay coupled with the midfield skill of Liverpool's Wijnaldum.
Cocu started his England foray on the right note. He promised a “clean slate” for everyone and made Everton's England Under-21 midfielder Kieran Dowell his first signing. He also has staff he knows already in place with him at Derby and that should help him to hit the ground running.
The manager boasts contacts around Europe from his playing days at PSV and Barcelona. This could prove helpful given that Derby lost three of their best players from the last term; Mason Mount, Fikayo Tomori and Harry Wilson.
On the flip side, though, Cocu is a reserved who dislikes press conferences and often has a flat expression of concentration on the touchline. His fire burns exclusively in the vicinity of his team – in training and in the dressing room. Still, the passion and enthusiasm he could ultimately add to Derby won't be tranquil.