Mel Morris is named after a 1950s Hollywood star but is a self-made millionaire who one day dreamed of bringing Derby County back to the top of English football. In May 2019 he was closer than ever to achieving it and could not resist the temptation to step onto the grass of Elland Road to celebrate with his players that Derby just eliminated Leeds United in the semifinals of the playoff to ascend from second to the Premier. But the final, at Wembley, was won by Aston Villa and, since then, everything has gone wrong for Morris and, above all, for the Derby.
Derby County is not just anybody. Although he was born relatively late by English standards (1884), he is one of the 12 founders of the English football league in 1888 and is one of only 10 teams that have always played in First or Second, except for four seasons. Today he is still in Second, but all roads lead him to Third. First, because he has had a bad start to the season (14 points in 11 games); second, because he has just declared himself in suspension of payments, which implies an automatic reduction of 12 points; and, third, because it is considered inevitable that he will lose another nine points for breaking the rules of financial fair play.
Born in the suburbs of Derby 65 years ago, Morris left school early and got rich first selling wooden floors in Spain and then investing in new technologies and especially in video games like the highly addictive Candy Crush Saga. The Sunday times in 2020 he attributed a fortune of 515 million pounds (almost 600 million euros at the current exchange rate).
In 2014 he bought 22% of Derby County and the following year he took full control of the club, in which he began to inject astronomical amounts of money, both in the form of signings and salaries and long contracts. Instead of taking care of the quarry, the team was filled with veterans who did not always perform as expected and with coaches who lasted four days: specifically, nine between May 2015 and May 2021. The last three, former players of great renown: Frank Lampard (who was catapulted to Chelsea), the Dutch Phillip Cocu (who lasted 16 months) and currently Wayne Rooney, who became a player-coach after Cocu’s departure.
After losing the playoff of 2019 against Villa, Morris’s project began to falter. The spending cuts came, the breaches of the fair play financial and Morris put the Derby up for sale, without success. Now, a creditor claiming about 25 million euros has called for suspension of payments. The Derby has lost 12 points, Morris has lost 200 million of his fortune and 50 employees have lost their jobs. A warning for those who believe that the entry of shareholders is the model that Barça should follow in the future.
Derby County has a point of malage. In the last eight seasons he has lost two finals and two semi-finals of the playoff. In 2008 it equaled the record set by Loughborough in the 1899-1900 season for ending the season with a single victory and fell just four days away from completing a full calendar year without winning a game.
But his biggest trauma was seeing how the legendary Brian Clough signed in 1975 as coach of Nottingham Forest, the neighbors and rivals of always. Clough had coached the Derby between 1967 and 1973: he promoted it to first place and led them to win its first league in 1972. He would then make Forest not only league champions, but European champions twice in a row. The rivalry between the two hobbies is one of the hottest in English football and in the derbies between them a symbolic cup is played: the Brian Clough Trophy.
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