Robbie is much better player than people give him credit for, says boss
ROBBIE Savage starts the 19th season of his career today boosted by praise from his manager, Nigel Clough.
Savage will lead the Rams out at Elland Road to face Leeds United in a Championship opener, which is expected to attract the biggest crowd in English football this weekend.
The 35-year-old midfielder is relishing the opening-day test and the challenge ahead in the new campaign.
It seems he will never please everybody and there are some Derby fans who would not have him in the team but he was ever-present in the League last season and is keen to be a key figure again.
Asked what Savage's role is going to be, Clough joked: "Probably sub! And if he is on the bench, I'm watching from the stand!
"But seriously, he is a very important part of the squad.
"He has come back fitness-wise as good as anybody and his experience will be vital."
Savage is in the final 12 months of his contract. He has said he wants to carry on playing for the Rams beyond this season and Clough has not ruled it out.
Clough believes Savage is still a better player than people give him credit for.
"He has reinvented himself as a player and I think the system we are playing (4-2-3-1) suits him," he said.
"He and James Bailey are sitting in midfield and Sav uses his brain more than his legs.
"People don't give him enough credit. He is a better player than people think.
"He surprised us when we first saw him. He is a better passer of the ball and reader of the game than people give him credit for."
The average age of Derby's squad has been lowered.
There are now only four players aged 30 or over – Savage, Gareth Roberts, Russell Anderson and Rob Hulse.
Clough says the experienced heads have an important role.
"There will be a big onus and responsibility on the experienced lads to look after the younger players before and after the game but most importantly when they are out there on the pitch," said Clough.
"At the moment, Sav is playing alongside James Bailey, who is 21. James has only ever played in League Two before and has been at Crewe 10 years.
"Nobody seems to be buying teams now because of the finances, so it is case of working with the young players you have got and bringing in young players, which is something we have tried to do with the likes of Tomasz Cywka, John Brayford and James Bailey.
"They might not be absolutely right this season but it is a case of looking ahead.
"Clubs have to look ahead a bit more now.
"I think the days of buying 32 or 33-years-olds and paying fees for them for a season or two are disappearing. I don't think too many clubs will be looking at that as a viable way of doing things.
"You have to have a mix, a balance of experienced players and younger players. We have got four players over 30 and we feel that is plenty."
Savage will be 36 in October and is already laying the foundations for a career in the media when he finishes playing.
He does television and radio work and writes a column in a national newspaper.
He will be co-presenter of BBC Radio 5 Live's 606 football phone-in show this season just over an hour after stepping off the pitch.
Clough has no problem with Savage's media commitments.
"He will find it difficult to go on the radio when we have lost on a Saturday because he does take it to heart, he does care," said Clough.
"Anyway, if he is on the bench, he can probably leave games a bit earlier. They could then call it 505 rather than 606!
"Will we listen to it on the team bus? No, I think we'll listen to anything but that!"
But playing remains the first priority for Savage and he cannot wait for the season to start.
"If the gaffer said to me tomorrow that he didn't want me to do any more media this season, I wouldn't do any. He knows that and I know that," said Savage.
"But that will not happen because I think he trusts me, and I live my life right."
Looking forward to the season, Savage added: "Pre-season has been good on the whole and we're all up for it and ready to go. We are ready for the challenge.
"If you can have a good start to the season, you are always in there.
"If you have a bad start and find yourself hovering around the bottom three, it is tough. Every game becomes a pressure game.
"It's the serious business now and a good start builds confidence."