Derby County’s Classic XI

Every club has its heroes. But equally, there are players who you might have forgotten about. These are the players that we love at Forgot About Him, and this feature is dedicated to them. Derby fans, look away now.

Derby County were first promoted to the Premier League in 1996 under the stewardship of experienced operator Jim Smith. After drafting in the likes of Paulo Wanchope and Stefano Eranio, the club achieved back-to-back top ten finishes at the end of the century. The 2000’s though signalled the beginning of a decline, and the Rams were relegated in 2002 after six years in the top flight. They returned under Billy Davies in 2007 – but only to end that season with the unenviable title of ‘worst Premier League team ever’ after winning just one game. Made up solely of players from their first spell in the top league, this is their classic XI.

At 38, Esteban Fuertes continues to be a prolific goalscorer in the Argentine Primera Division. Photo: A l'origine

GK: Patrick Foletti

Barring a five-month spell at Derby in 2002, in which he acted as cover for Mart Poom and Andy Oakes, Foletti spent all of his 14-year career in his native Switzerland. He started out at Grasshoppers, before moving on to FC Schaffhausen and then FC Luzern, and it was at the latter where he enjoyed arguably his best years. even granted him legend status for his time at Luzern, stating, slightly pessimistically, how “if Foletti was in the team, [Luzern] had a sporting chance of getting at least a point.” After just two league appearances for Derby, he signed for SC Kriens in July 2002, where he remained for the rest of his career, before retiring in 2008. He stayed in football, becoming goalkeeping coach at Luzern and then Grasshoppers, where he is still employed today.

RB: Vassilis Borbokis

After being snapped up by Sheffield United in 1997, the Greek full-back Borbokis’ Blades debut was second-to-none, and he continued to impress throughout the rest of the season. However, after then-United manager Nigel Spackman left the club, Borbokis became one of a number of players who departed Bramall Lane, with Derby paying £500,000 for his services in 1999, with Jonathan Hunt and Rob Kozluk going the other way. He managed just 16 appearances in 18 months at Pride Park, though, causing him to return to Greece to play for PAOK, and then former club AEK Athens, before retiring in 2005 after a single appearance for Cypriot side Anorthosis Famagusta.

CB: Horacio Carbonari

Hailing from Rosario, Argentina, Carbonari turned out for local Primera Division side Rosario Central for five seasons, becoming especially influential in Los Canallas’ triumphant 1995 Copa CONMEBOL campaign, scoring two goals in the final from defence, including this long range rocket. His form in South America prompted then-Derby boss Jim Smith to shell out nearly £3million for his services in 1998. His mix of no-nonsense defending and flair at the heart of the Derby defence soon made him a favourite at Pride Park, and he stayed at the club until 2002 – by which time he had fallen out of favour. A move back to former club Rosario Central ensued, before injury cut short his career in 2005, when he was just 31.

CB: Bjorn Otto Bragstad

One of Norwegian football’s most successful exports, Bragstad’s trophy cabinet contains no less then 10 Tippeligaen winners medals, as he played a major role in Rosenborg’s domination of the 1990s, notching up almost 200 appearances in 11 years. His credentials and honours lead Jim Smith to pay £1.5million to bring him to Derby in 2000, but in just 12 appearances in his only season in English football, Bragstad failed to sure up a leaky Rams defence, and after a brief spell with Birmingham, he left for Austrian outfit SC Bregenz in 2002. He retired in 2004, aged 33, and is now a teacher.

LB: Stefan Schnoor

After 131 appearances for Hamburg between 1991 and 1998, Schnoor was snapped up by Derby in 1998 on a free transfer, where he made nearly 70 appearances in one-and-a-half years at the club. A chance to return to his native Germany eventually proved too tempting for him, though, and he switched Derbyshire for Lower Saxony to sign for Wolfsburg in a swap deal with Scottish midfielder Brian O’Neil. Upon his departure from Pride Park, Schoor told The Guardian, “For me it was a great experience and there are positive signs now at the club. Derby could finish between sixth and 10th.” In reality, they finished 17th, one place above the relegation zone, and were subsequently relegated from the Premier League a year later.

CM: Robin van der Laan

Van der Laan departed his native Netherlands at the age of 23 to sign for then-Second Division outfit Port Vale. Signed initially as a striker, van der Laan went on to make over 150 league starts for the Staffordshire club, giving them a healthy return for the £80,000 fee that John Rudge had shelled out for him. Derby paid around six times that fee, plus striker Lee Mills, to bring the long-locked midfielder to the Baseball Ground in 1995. Jim Smith named him captain and he was instrumental in leading the club back to the top tier in 1996. Premier League opportunities though were hard to come by, and van der Laan eventually departed for Barnsley in 1998. He currently works as a coach for Manchester United Soccer Schools, as well as fronting his own soccer school based in Canada.

CM: Simo Valakari

Finnish midfielder Valakari moved to Derby County after a four-year spell north of the border at Motherwell. His free transfer move to the Rams went relatively unnoticed, as did his Pride Park career as he made only 34 league starts in four seasons at the club. Major League Soccer was Valakari’s next calling, specifically Dallas Burn, where he spent two years before concluding his career back in Finland with TPS Turku. Valakari, who achieved 32 full international caps, currently heads the youth team at KäPa in the third tier of Finnish football.

CM: Mauricio Solis

Signed alongside fellow Costa Rican Paulo Wanchope upon the Rams’ promotion to the Premier League in 1996, it was hoped that the pair could help keep them there. While Wanchope went on to make himself a cult hero, Solis’ spell was much more inconspicuous. In two seasons at the club, he made just a handful of appearances, returning to the Americas in 1998, initially with Guatemalan side C.S.D. Comunicaciones. Despite returning to Europe for a period with OFI Crete in 2002, Solis played out the rest of his career in the USA, Mexico and his home country, calling time on his career last year. He is also the fourth most capped Costa Rican of all time, with 110 to his name.

ST: Francesco Baiano

Like Solis and Wanchope, Baiano was part of an exotic double signing by the Rams when he joined in 1997 along with midfielder Stefano Eranio. Baiano had had most of his success at Foggia and Fiorentina in the early nineties – he managed to break into the Italian team at the former. He quickly established himself as a fans’ favourite at Jim Smith’s Derby, scoring 16 goals in his two-year stay before returning to Italy with Serie B side Ternana. He hung up his boots in 2009 at the age of 41 and briefly managed Serie D club Sansovino but he couldn’t bring them success.

ST: Esteban Fuertes

A fine strike-rate in the Argentinean Primera Division inspired Jim Smith to purchase Fuertes for £2.3million in 1999. It was hoped that the striker would be a like-for-like replacement for Paulo Wanchope, who had departed for West Ham United. However it soon became clear that all was not well. Fuertes’ ownership, it transpired, was split between two clubs and a management company, resulting in a plethora of financial demands from each of the parties. To add to the case, Fuertes was refused entry back into the country after leaving Britain, with immigration officers deeming his passport as forged. County promptly loaned him back to Colon in Argentina before selling him to Lens for £2.8million. He is still playing football and is back at Colon for the fourth spell of his career – during which he has become the oldest player ever to make his Argentina debut, at 36. Goals like this must have persuaded Diego Maradona to call him up.

ST: Ron Willems

Willems spent his early years playing for PEC Zwolle and FC Twente in the Netherlands before becoming part of a classic Ajax team in the early nineties. After appearing 47 times for one of Europe’s biggest clubs, he signed for Swiss team Grasshoppers in 1993 before Derby called two years later. He made 41 starts for the Rams, and appeared 26 times in the Premier League, but the arrival of the likes of Wanchope and Baiano were enough to force him down the pecking order. He left the club in 1998.


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