x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Old timer Shaun Derry is defying expectations at QPR

The midfielder, who turns 34 in December, has been writtten off on several occasions, but has made himself an integral part of Neil Warnock's side as he approaches his 600th career game.

Shaun Derry's attributes are his reading of the game and sensible range of passing.
Shaun Derry's attributes are his reading of the game and sensible range of passing.

When clubs are taken over and embark on ambitious spending sprees, there tend to be victims, often long-serving individuals who no longer suit the image or the aims of the new regime.

When such men are proven performers at lower levels but untried among the elite while in the autumn of their careers, it is a logical assumption they will be put out to grass.

Shaun Derry, however, is confounding expectations, including those of his manager.

Rather than dispensing with the midfielder, who turns 34 in December, after signing Joey Barton, Neil Warnock has tailored his tactics to accommodate both newcomer and old-timer.

The partnership of Derry and Alejandro Faurlin, a crucial factor in Queens Park Rangers' promotion to the Premier League last season, has been turned into a trio, with Warnock saying: "If you look at Derry in training and the difference in his game since we signed Joey Barton, he's been a revelation.

"He [Derry] won't play every game, but you don't in the Premier League. I honestly wouldn't write him off."

So far, he has complemented Barton, with the anchorman doing much of the donkey work that allows the former Newcastle United player a freer role.

Derry's contributions are more understated, but his has been a career marked by unselfish work, often conducted outside the spotlight.

Sunday's game against Aston Villa should be a landmark occasion, with Derry now on 599 first-team appearances.

He helped QPR win the Championship but individual acclaim have been rarer: his last goal came almost five years ago.

While Derry has twice come close to ending the drought this season, perhaps it is best if it continues: the ever quotable Warnock has promised to strip on the touchline should he score.

Indeed, there have only been 13 goals in his entire career, lending a sense of symmetry. Interrupted only by seven top-flight games for a Crystal Palace team who were to be relegated, he had spent 13 successive seasons in the Championship.

After coming through Notts County's youth system, he signed for Sheffield United in 1998, beginning a long spell as a stalwart of the second tier.

His travels took him to Portsmouth, Palace, where he first won promotion to the Premier League, Nottingham Forest, Leeds and Palace again before he followed Warnock to QPR last summer. The 62 year old can get misty eyed about the unsung, romanticising anyone who, as Derry does, provides solidity and commitment.

While their relationship dates back a dozen years and manager and senior professional can seem inextricably linked, Derry is quick to point out that Warnock inherited and sold him during their time at Sheffield United. They were reunited in 2007, signalling a revival in Derry's career after an unfortunate brush with infamy.

After a relegation-threatened Leeds United team beat Crystal Palace 2-1, Dennis Wise, the Leeds manager, announced a mole in the camp had leaked his line-up to the Londoners.

Derry, as a former Palace player, was fingered - incorrectly - and never played for the club again. "I still hold a grudge against Dennis," he said.

Since then, he has surprised Warnock, among others. The manager said: "I signed Derry from Leeds and remember saying to Simon Jordan [the Palace owner]: 'Let me take Derry for two years. He'll keep us up this year, but then we'll get rid of him because his legs have gone.' But he just keeps getting better and better."

Using astute positioning, sensible passing and his reading of the game, Derry captained Warnock's Palace team and, while the mercurial Moroccan Adel Taarabt wore the QPR armband last year, there was a sense that he was the unofficial leader, the manager's voice on the pitch.

During his frantic recruitment at the end of the transfer window, Warnock found time to extend Derry's contract to keep him at Loftus Road until 2013. As he joked: "I've been replacing Shaun Derry now for the best part of five years."

Yet for all Warnock's additions, none are natural holding players like Derry. He also has his eyes on another job. "It's no secret that I want to get into coaching and then hopefully management when my playing career finishes," he said.

Moreover, while Tony Fernandes, the owner, has made headlines with his talk of bringing David Beckham to Loftus Road, he has also noted the value of the more down-to-earth Derry.

"Tony has been so impressed with Shaun since his arrival at the club," Warnock said.

"At a club like ours, where the new owners have got so many long-term plans, there will undoubtedly be a role for him. But he has still got a massive impact to make as a player here first and foremost."

sports@thenational.ae