Derby County will be one of several sides targeting promotion from the Championship when the new season gets underway in three weeks’ time.
The Rams suffered a frustrating term last time out to record a ninth place finish, their fifth successive top ten finish, yet they ended up a hefty 13 points adrift of the top six as their wait for a return to the Premier League continues.
They started the season with Nigel Pearson at the helm only for Steve McClaren to replace him in October, before he then lost his job in March to be succeeded by former Birmingham and Burton chief Gary Rowett.
And the 43-year-old led the side to four wins from his nine games in charge to give Rams fans some confidence going into the new season, although it’s clear from their shortcomings that reinforcements will be needed over the summer to bridge that gap to the play-off places.
And Rowett has got the ball rolling with deals for Andre Wisdom and Curtis Davies, and another man who could be on his way to the iPro Stadium this summer is Middlesbrough midfielder Grant Leadbitter.
The 31-year-old has been at the Riverside Stadium since 2012 following three years at Ipswich, and played a big part in helping the North East outfit secure promotion to the Premier League last year, although was unable to help keep them there last term.
And recent reports suggest that he could indeed end his five-year stay at Boro this summer, with Rowett’s Rams linked with a move, and it’s a move they must look to get done given how much Leadbitter can add to the squad at the iPro Stadium.
As experienced Championship players go, there aren’t many more experienced than the 31-year-old, who has played a remarkable 325 games at second tier level during his career, in which time he has scored 45 goals and laid on 52 assists.
But you wouldn’t bring Leadbitter in for his goals, you’d bring him in for the incredible job he does in the middle in breaking up play, his reading of the game, and his ability to launch attacks with his wide range of passing, as well as his knowledge of what it takes to get out of the Championship.
The former England Under-21 international has twice earned promotion to the top-flight in his career, once with Sunderland back in 2007 and then again with Boro in 2016, and on both occasions he played a significant role in those successes, missing just two games as Roy Keane’s Black Cats won the title, and then missing just five as Aitor Karanka’s Middlesbrough secured second place.
Ultimately, Leadbitter knows first-hand what is required to get the job done in this league, and it’s fair to say that, with five successive top ten finishes, that’s not a trait widely seen at Derby County.
And that’s why bringing him in is so important – he wouldn’t necessarily be a regular starter in the side under Rowett, but his impact both on and off the field would surely be felt.
Thus, firming up their reported interest with a concrete offer is a must for Rowett and the Derby hierarchy this summer.