How Arthur Cox turned Dean Saunders into a 'proper striker' at Derby County
DEAN Saunders, Derby County's first £1m signing back in 1988, excited Rams fans with his goals, speed and the sheer love of playing.
When he joined Paul Goddard in attack, the team surged to fifth place in the First Division, now the Premier League.
Saunders was a firm favourite and player of the year in 1990-91 before he was sold to Liverpool.
Tomorrow, he brings his Wolverhampton Wanderers side to Pride Park and he is sure to receive a warm welcome from supporters.
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"I'm not just saying this," said Saunders, "but no-one ever hammers me at any of the clubs where I was at and that was because I tried.
"If you keep trying, they will forgive you all the chances you miss and all the things you can't do."
Saunders joined Derby from Oxford United and he says the Rams moulded him into a "proper" striker.
"Oxford were in what's now the Premier League when I played for them and I scored a few goals there but Derby was probably where I made my name," said the former Welsh international.
He scored 57 goals in 131 games, including a couple on his debut in a 4-1 victory over Wimbledon at the Baseball Ground.
Goals followed in his next three games and he was up and running – quite literally.
His running and speed were big parts of his game, and something manager Arthur Cox used to good effect. He wanted Saunders to run the opposition defenders into the ground.
"Arthur Cox sort of hypnotised me into believing I could run defenders into the ground and that as soon as they were tired, I'd score," said Saunders.
"Considering the number of goals I scored late on in games, I actually believed everything he told me.
"I think it was all rubbish really – he just made me run!
"I realise now what he was trying to do but it was too late once I'd finished playing!
"But I believed him because if someone tells you that if you keep running two centre backs into the ground, you will get a chance to score and then it happens in a couple of games, you believe it and so I kept doing it.
"He and Derby formed me into a proper striker."
Cox's record with Derby in the mid-to-late 80s looks more and more impressive with the passing of time.
Successive promotions, including a title, and then fifth in the top division would have been Third Division to Europe in three seasons but English clubs had been barred from European competition following the Heysel disaster.
"Meeting Arthur Cox was something – he was like a sergeant major," said Saunders.
"I used to just run and play and score – I didn't really used to think about it very much.
"But he made me start to think about things, such as who I was playing against and which was an opponent's stronger and weaker foot and which was the goalkeeper's least favourite side to get down for shots.
"So he made me think about what advantages I could gain to get in on goal. He gave me a plan of what to do."
Saunders remembers the Derby team: "We finished fifth in the old top flight and won eight away games that season, I think.
"Myself and Paul Goddard played up front, we had Ted McMinn, Nigel Callaghan or Gary Micklewhite on the wings, Geraint Williams and Trevor Hebberd in midfield, Mel Sage and Micky Forsyth were the full-backs, Mark Wright and Rob Hindmarch or Paul Blades were the centre-halves and we had Peter Shilton in goal.
"We had a good team."