Football: Smith the great motivator

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The Independent Online
Derby County 3

Arsenal 0

Jim Smith, suit freshly pressed and with surviving hair combed neatly into place, looked more like a retiring sales director than an active football manager as the chairman presented him with a set of golf clubs. A pension and a quiet life on the links, however, is the last thing he is thinking about.

The clubs, a gesture of appreciation from his eighth employer, were to mark Smith's 25 years in the game's toughest job. Yet, after a quarter of a century, his enthusiasm is undimmed.

But not so long ago his palate was so jaded he effectively quit, becoming chief executive of the Football Managers' Association, a post he did not expect to relinquish for a return to the front line.

Derby tempted him back, though, and Smith has rediscovered his sparkle. What is more, he has shown himself, even at 57, to be as tuned in to the modern game as anyone.

To some he is the epitome of the old-fashioned English manager, yet there is no team more cosmopolitan than his and few coaches more tactically astute. Here, for example, having been fortunate to reach half-time on level terms against Arsene Wenger's team, for whom Ian Wright, perhaps critically, missed a first-half penalty, Smith changed his formation, gave key individuals new responsibilities and turned the contest round.

These are not skills Smith has acquired suddenly, of course, but now he has the players who can make his ideas work - and most of them hand- picked by himself.

On Saturday, one could marvel at Smith's judgment in picking Francesco Baiano ahead of Roberto Baggio last summer as the forward from Fiorentina give an excellent demonstration of how to make the deep-lying third striker's role so effective.

Although the pace of Dean Sturridge was a factor in two of the goals, Baiano's influence had a greater range, providing the vital cog in so much of Derby's movement.

And then, of course, there was Paulo Wanchope, whom one expects to lose his legs at any moment but instead keeps scoring goals - nine in his last 10 starts.

Smith cannot claim to have combed the beaches of Costa Rica in search of this particular gem - as with so many modern imports, the Wanchope story began with an agent's video tape - but it was he who decided to risk pounds 600,000 of Derby's money on him. What a bargain he is proving.

"What can you say? He's very lucky as well as very skilful," Smith said, having watched Wanchope catch out an unsighted David Seaman and then take advantage of Nigel Winterburn's mistake to put Derby two up. "But what I really like about him is how he works so hard for the team and there's no doubt about it, he's a real handful and he does frighten players," he said.

Arsenal, even against a Derby side depleted by injuries, looked to have forgotten how to score, a failing Wenger would not blame solely on the absence of the suspended Dennis Bergkamp. "We didn't score in the last two games when he was there," Wenger said. "We don't create enough, it's a collective problem rather than an individual one."

Goals: Wanchope (46) 1-0; Wanchope (65) 2-0; Sturridge (82) 3-0.

Derby County (4-3-1-2): Poom; Rowett, Laursen, Carbon, C Powell; Solis (Kozluk, h-t), Carsley, D Powell; Baiano (Trollope, 86); Wanchope, Sturridge (Burton, 86). Substitutes not used: Hunt, Hoult (gk).

Arsenal (4-4-2): Seaman; Dixon, Bould, Adams, Winterburn (Wreh, 69); Parlour, Vieira, Platt, Petit; Anelka (Boa Morte, 69), Wright. Substitutes not used: Grimandi, Hughes, Manninger (gk).

Referee: P Alcock (Redhill).

Bookings: Derby Wanchope, Rowett; Arsenal Bould, Winterburn, Boa Morte.

Attendance: 30,004.

Man of the match: Baiano.