Last week, Tom Ince departed Derby for newly-promoted Premier League side Huddersfield Town in a deal believed to be worth up to £11 million.
Ince was the shining light in what was a very poor 2016/17 for Derby County. He scored 15 goals in all competitions making him the Rams’ top scorer. This led to interest from numerous Premier League clubs, however it was only David Wagner’s Huddersfield who were eventually willing to take the gamble on the 25 year old.
The deal is a club record in terms of fee’s received, overtaking the £10 million that came in from Jeff Hendrick’s transfer to Burnley. Should the deal rise to its full potential, the Rams will have made a huge profit on Ince who signed from Hull for what now looks a bargain price of £4.75 million in 2015.
Now without their key talisman of the past three seasons, Derby will need to search for a replacement. Here are four possible options who Gary Rowett may look at this summer:
Club: AFC Bournemouth
Key stat: Scored five goals in ten starts while on loan at Derby in 2014
When on loan at Derby in 2014, Jordan Ibe was a real standout player who was missed greatly when recalled by Liverpool. For this reason a move for the 21 year old seems very unlikely. However, since moving to Bournemouth for £15m last summer, Ibe has made just 26 appearances, failing to score a single goal.
When at Derby, Ibe impressed with his lightning-quick pace and his ability to score and create goals with very little help. Perhaps a loan move back to Derby could help him find his form again. This is the dream Ince replacement for many Rams fans, though it’s likely that Eddie Howe will want to give Ibe another season to settle in and eventually impress at the Vitality. It is almost 100 per cent certain that Ibe will not be signing for Derby this summer.
Club: Exeter City
Key stat: Was directly involved in 29 goals last season
At the beginning of the window, there was a lot of speculation around the potential of Derby looking to sign Exeter youngster Ollie Watkins. This has since died down, though this is the case, he is still a possible target for the Rams. Last season, Watkins became a key player for Exeter City as he helped his side to the League Two play-off final where they were eventually beaten by Blackpool. Watkins can play in any of the four main attacking roles and scored 16 goals last season, assisting 13. He is quick and good with both feet. Due to this clubs have circled around him with his low rumoured asking price of around £3 million. However, since selling players for a large return this summer, it is believed that Derby now have the funds to aim higher and weigh up some slightly pricier options.
Club: Leicester City (on loan at Ipswich last season)
Key stat: 11 goals, 11 assists whilst on loan at Ipswich last season
Similarly to Tom Ince at Derby last season, Tom Lawrence was Ipswich’s key man, scoring and creating at vital times. Since joining Leicester from Manchester United in 2014, Lawrence has been sent out on loan to four different Championship clubs and failed to impress until his latest at Ipswich. This has put him on the map as a player of interest for a number of Premier League and Championship clubs including Derby and Newcastle.
At Ipswich, Lawrence showed masses of ability with the ball at his feet, dribbling past players, scoring many a goal of the season contender. He was very much a luxury player for a club that otherwise may have been trapped in a relegation battle. Though this all sounds very positive, Lawrence has made only four appearances in three years at Leicester and was made to look very ordinary in loan spells with Blackburn, Rotherham and Cardiff. However, it may be a case of Lawrence finding his feet, something he’s now accomplished. With only one good season on his résumé and the label of a hefty price-tag, is Tom Lawrence the right man to replace Tom Ince this season?
Key stat: Scored 12 goals and assisted five in 19 Championship starts last season
Jota would be a more flair-based option for Derby. The Spaniard who currently plays for Brentford was on fire in the latter stages of last season, with direct involvement in 17 goals in his final 21 appearances of the campaign. Like Ince, Jota is a left footed player who often plays on the right side. He has pace, quick feet, brilliant control and balance all alongside a wand of a left foot.
The 26 year old terrorised the Derby defence in April, scoring twice for Brentford in a 4-0 win at Griffin Park. This, along with other brilliant showings, including a hat-rick against Rotherham, has alerted a host of Premier League clubs who are now looking at the playmaker. In 2014, Brentford signed Jota for just over £1 million, with numerous clubs now interested in acquiring his services, it is a certainty that the Bees will earn back a huge profit on that small investment. After selling Hughes, Ince and Christie this summer, Derby will have the funds required to sign Jota, it is just a matter of if he wants to aim higher than the second tier of English football.
Jota has the abilities to become a key player at Derby and take them to the next level. The Spaniard has a rumoured asking price of around £8 million. It’s up to you Gary, you know what to do – pay it!