Darryl Powell on Jim Smith’s foreign revolution, battling Vieira and Keane and playing at France ’98

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Darryl Powell was a key part of Jim Smith’s 1990s Derby County revolution which saw the Rams promoted to the top flight.

SBW caught up with the former Jamaican international to reflect on his seven years at the club.

Below is a part of the transcript from SBW Episode 7 – you can listen to the whole interview further below.

SBW: Darryl it’s great to have you with us – for those of you who haven’t kept an eye on your career since you retired, what are you up to these days?

DP: Within three months of retiring, I helped somebody out move a couple of players. And then within 12 months I set up a sport management company and I’ve been doing that ever since.

SBW: So you’re a football agent, now?

DP: Correct, although I think they’ve changed the terminology to ‘intermediary’, but I use the term ‘agent’ as well.

SBW: And that was around 2006…?

DP: You probably know better than me! I stopped playing around then, and after a few months the first deal I did was actually Marcus Tudgay, from Derby to Sheffield Wednesday. I did that with a friend of mine and within a year I was off and running.

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SBW: I don’t know if you knew this, but you actually hold two club records at Derby…

DP: I’m worried now!

SBW: Do you know what they are?

DP: Appearances in the Premier League, maybe?

SBW: That’s one.

DP: The other, the least goals scored by a Derby player? (laughter)

SBW: You were also involved In the most Premier League wins, with exactly 50.

DP: It sounds good, but if you have the most appearances I think you’d be disappointed not to have the most wins!

SBW: You were a regular starter in the Jim Smith team which was arguably the best team Derby have had in the past 20 or 30 years. You must remember that period quite fondly?

DP: It was fantastic actually. I remember deciding that Derby was the right move for me – and I had a few other offers at the time – and it was a real transition for the football club because Derby had spent a lot of money in the previous 4-5 seasons and bought a lot of bog names. They moved those out and bought in a new group that nobody ever knew, and it took us a while to click, but once we did we were a strong, strong unit, mixed in a with a couple of experienced players.

SBW: When you look back at that team, and compare it to the team now which is almost entirely Britsh players, it was really cosmopolitan. Croatians, Estonians, Costa Ricans…

DP: Jim (Smith) would really take a chance. He had a good scouting network, and good friends who were agents. He would look at players – and Steve McClaren was good at this as well – at the time we were a very forward-thinking club. We were doing stats way back then, after every game – distances covered, times you’ve touched the ball, areas you’ve passed the ball – the lot. We were probably the first club in the country to get going with that in a big way.

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SBW: Derby were a mid-sized club around then, but to have those three Premier League seasons – 12th, 9th and 8th – at one point they nearly got into Europe….

DP: We were doing really well and once we accumulated the points we dropped off, but once you look back it’s disappointing. When you’re young and in the middle of it, you don’t really see it like that. The season we got promoted, we were disappointed we didn’t win the league. We were charging along and then the wheels fell off in March and we got the jitters. Sunderland won the league but we felt we were the better team. We had a group of players who had a really strong mentality, and we really believed that we would do well, and obviously we did for a period of time.

SBW: Between those years it felt like Derby could compete with anyone on their day…

DP: We could compete against any of teams in that league, even the top teams. I remember the first season when Man Utd came to us and we drew at the Baseball Ground – that also helped, staying at the Baseball Ground for an extra season – but mentally, the group was very, very strong. Jim bought in Igor Stimac in the Championship season, and he was in a different level mentally. He had so much belief in what he could do. That summer we signed Asanovic, and I remember watching him in the Euros and he was fantastic. You knew that you had to raise your level if you wanted to be a part of things going forward, and I think we all did. We all fed off each other and we all contributed.

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SBW: Are there any games in that period which stuck out for you?

DP: As a kid growing up I liked Arsenal, so playing in that game and scoring at Arsenal sticks out. I got my nose broken by my own teammate, (Dean) Sturridge. Even to the point where I remember when Vieira shot to equalize, it took away my thunder a bit.

‘I remember the ball whistling past my ear and I couldn’t get my head across to block it.

SBW: That was a great period in your career, and that summer you were off to play for France at the World Cup! What was that like?

DP: My agent was doing a lot work with the Jamaican Football Federation at the time, and they invited in for a trial match, and I did well and got in the squad. The World Cup was a fantastic occasion when you had finished it and come home, because when you’re in it, it’s your job and you’re focussed on your work. We were very isolated and away from everything, so it wasn’t until you come back you realise what you’ve been in. The thought of playing against Croatia, and Argentina didn’t give me any fears. I felt that the league we were playing in at the time, if you could compete with the best teams in that league, we should be able to compete on the biggest stage. Jamaica didn’t have the biggest players, but it didn’t hold any fears for me.

The Argentina game was bittersweet for me. I played the first half and got sent off pretty much on half time. I’d played well – but I was tired – and I had to do a job on (Ariel) Ortega. I got two yellow cards on Ortega.

He was clever. They were fouls – were they bad fouls? No. Was he buying them? Yes. I was really fuming at half time because we were 1-0 down but went on to lose 5-0, and I took it personally. Would we have got a point against Argentina? Probably not. But we would’ve put on a show, and looking back it puts a smile on my face. It was still historic and still an appearance in a World Cup.

SBW: How does it compare to playing at Anfield and Old Trafford against the likes of Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira?

DP: It’s completely different, As much as we had people say to us, “You guys are in the Premier League, how did you do it?” I believed in myself. I believed I was good enough to be on a pitch with Patrick Vieira and Roy Keane.

I remember Steve McClaren and our psychologist at the time asking how I felt playing against those players, and I was offended by that. I didn’t look at those players with any inhibitions or any fears. I knew they were good players, but I felt we could always compete.

SBW: That team you played in – with Eranio, Sturridge, Baiano and Wanchope – how good was that team, in your opinion?

DP: It’s a lot better than I thought it was at the time. It’s not until you step away that you realize how good a group of players is that you’ve been working with. Stefano Eranio in tight areas was as good as any player I played with. He was also a fantastic person and would teach you things. In his first season I roomed with Stefano and he was such a wonderful person. For someone so talented and who’d achieved so much, he was so humble. His telepathy with Baiano at times was ridiculous. It was a joy to watch.

SBW: When people think of that team, they do think of Paulo Wanchope. What was he like to play with?

DP: Choppy was different. He was very off the cuff and he did things spontaneously. We didn’t know what he was going to do at times, but that was the beauty of him. He was physically very, very strong, very quick, very ungainly. We’d do tests and although you wouldn’t think it, over 50-60m he was quick. Sturridge was different, he was electric. Out of the blocks he was electric. Really explosive pace – Wanchope was more of a galloper.

SBW: Are you still in touch with any of those players?

DP: Occasionally. I speak to Sturridge sometimes, Wanchope on a few occasions. Stefano (Eranio) invited me over to Italy a good while ago after we retired. But when your careers are over you get on with your lives, and when you catch up, you catch up.

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