A well-planned, increasingly well-executed and intensive summer of player recruitment continued today with the signing of one-time England squad goalkeeper Frankie Fielding, from Derby County. Fielding's signing is undoubtedly a huge relief for head coach Sean O'Driscoll, who having let understudy Dean Gerken and youngster Lewis Carey leave in May, was facing returning to pre-season and having Sam Baldock, Steven Davies and others slotting the ball into an empty net in training. A number two must still follow, but Fielding will undoubtedly be SOD's first choice come August 3rd, assuming he is fit.
On the face of it Fielding is the headline capture of the summer. It is hard to imagine Fabio Capello spent many minutes watching lower-league football, but saw enough in Fielding to pluck him from almost total obscuity, having only ever turned out for Wycombe Wanderers, Northampton Town and Rochdale whilst on loan from Blackburn. Yes, he had Paul Robinson to oust at Ewood Park, but even so, it was totally out of the blue and thrust this young man into the limelight.
Success has followed, to a degree. Not at Blackburn, but at Pride Park where Fielding became a popular young 'keeper and 76 appearances, including 16 on loan, followed. So what can we expect, and why have Derby let him go?
I'm delighted to say that Ollie from The Derby County Blog has once again provided some words on our latest signing from the East Midlands.
"Frankie Fielding came to us at a time when we were having major problems with our then first choice 'keeper, Stephen Bywater. Bywater was seriously disaffected at Derby and had started to rock the boat, so it was something of a relief when an England U'21 international from Blackburn turned up to replace him.
My favourite memory of Frank is his last-minute worldy save at the City Ground last season, when we were defending a 1-0 lead against Nottingham Forest in the final few minutes. Simon Gillett latched onto a half-clearance and hit a screaming volley which was destined for the back of the net, but Frank saw it all the way and launched himself into a tremendous full-length, finger-tip save. Spectacular saves of that standard aren't just achieved by reflexes, but also through laser-like concentration and agility.
Frank is a good young keeper, but the key word there is 'young'. Goalies seem to peak much later than outfield players and Nigel Clough has identified a need for more experience in our team. Some fans have been calling for an older head in midfield, but we have a clutch of talented young midfielders already and Clough doesn't really want to displace any of them. Goalkeeper was probably a much more logical position for us to bring in a seasoned pro and Lee Grant, a Derby academy product who has since matured nicely through spells at Sheffield Wednesday and Burnley, fitted the bill perfectly. Unfortunately, that spells the end for Fielding and our other young 'keeper, Adam Legzdins. Both have come to a point in their development where they need to be number one for somebody - and I'm sure both will go on to have good careers.
I hope Frank becomes a serious asset for you. At 25, he still has plenty of time to improve. For a time, I thought he would be our long-term number one and if the move goes through, I'm sure he will be more than capable of helping you push for an instant return to the Championship."
Thanks to Ollie for his words, most of which should certainly be comfort for those who may be wondering if anything's gone wrong for Fielding with his career, as on the face of it it's heading in the wrong direction. At 25 Fielding fits perfectly in the club and O'Driscoll's strategy and brings the average age of squad down even further.
There is a danger here. Potential hazards are present when you consider how such a young squad - especially at a club that has been in decline for four years - may manage in the event of a bad run or pressure piling on from ever-expectant fans. But the foundation stones have been laid, and a core is starting to form. In Fielding, Aden Flint and perhaps Derrick Williams, there is a triangle of youth forming at the heart of the team. Time will tell how they cope, but let's fact it, they can hardly do worse than the most recent incumbents, can they?