I think people are starting to like me, says Savage

Derby captain was written off but is leading Rams' charge towards top flight

Robbie Savage is a self-confessed neurotic, but you always suspect it is the unpredictable nature of his life that keeps him thriving. Two years ago, after Derby's disastrous season in the Premier League, the consensus was that, at 34, football's flaxen-haired pantomime villain was finished, his legs gone and his usefulness outlived.

Ordered to stay away from the Derby team as the former manager Paul Jewell grappled with a downward spiral he was unable to reverse, Savage went on loan to Brighton, in League One, a career largely spent respectably near the top end of the game seemingly heading for an ignominious end.

But then Derby took a gamble. They appointed Nigel Clough, a man who, through the identity of his father, could not have a higher pedigree among Rams supporters but whose track record in management amounted to 10 years with one non-league club.

Sceptics wondered whether Clough, always perceived to have more in common with his mother than Brian, would be tough enough, let alone experienced enough, to cope. Yet now Derby sit among the play-off places in the Championship and Savage, the write-off, is wondering whether he might yet squeeze out another year on his contract. Life has taken a turn for him as unpredictable as he could imagine.

"When Nigel came in it gave me another chance," he said. "I just wish now that I was five or 10 years younger. All the work Nigel has done is starting to produce results and I just want to be part of it."

Savage does not blame Jewell. "I did not perform for him and it did not work out," he said. "But Nigel judged me on what he saw, gave me a chance to show what I could do.

"As a manager he can go to the very top, like his father, and I'm not just saying that because he made me captain and I think I'll gain something by saying nice things about him. He is a nice man, a great guy, but he has something about him, like Martin O'Neill has and Brian probably did, that sets him apart. People don't realise the job he has done. He had to take on a club with a massive wage bill and not only cut it but build a competitive team. He has just got on with it and never moaned."

Maybe Clough's cleverest move has been to allow Savage to develop his fledgling media career, in which he has become a popular presenter on the BBC's 606 phone-in, while still playing. "What manager would let a player do that?" he asks. "It has allowed me to pursue an ambition and being on radio has changed people's perceptions of me. I've still got a lot to learn and I must try to be more diplomatic at times, although I'll never be a sit-on-the-fence pundit – there are already too many of those. But 606 is now the most listened-to football phone-in on radio and I think people are starting to like me.

"On the field, Nigel has adapted my game so I have a role in front of the back four, winning the ball and giving it to more creative players and I'm comfortable in that. I know he has a hard side and if he feels that I'm embarrassing myself, that I'm going to be a bit-part player, he will tell me. But I'd love to stay another year. We're at the right end of the table and people have smiles on their faces."

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