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Paul Clement chooses tough time to cut managerial teeth at Derby County

Paul Clement is going it alone. Best known as Carlo Ancelotti’s number two at Chelsea, PSG and Real Madrid, the 43-year-old steps out of the Italian’s shadow, following his sacking by Real Madrid, and into the shoes of Steve McClaren at Derby County, who flopped twice at crucial times under his management.

Novice Clement is a 9/1 chance with Coral to guide the Rams to next season’s Championship title, but has chosen to take on a job that is clearly tougher than it looks. Very much at a career crossroads after six years on and off of working under Ancelotti, he must pick up the Derby dressing room after another disappointment and one that cost his predecessor dear.

How are the Rams to keep their prized assets from the clutches of the Premier League elite they were so close to joining just 12 months ago? And more worrying still, how can County compete in a new Championship campaign that promises to be more cut-throat than ever?

You can throw a blanket over the very early outright betting market on next term, with Derby and 12 other teams rated 13/2 promotion chances or shorter. It’s ambition driving the Rams forward, desperate to emulate the success enjoyed by East Midlands rivals Leicester City, and get into the Premier League ahead of that new mega TV deal.

Soccer - Sky Bet Championship - Derby County v Sheffield Wednesday - iPro Stadium

Persuading prized midfield pair Jeff Hendrick and Will Hughes to stay at Pride Park with Premier League interest once again mounting in them will take some doing. This dynamic duo, along with other key players, shall have been sold the vision of top-flight football before, which admittedly as a unit they have failed to deliver in Derby.

If Clement, who has penned a three-year contract with County, cannot keep such stars, plus loan ace Tom Ince who predecessor McClaren certainly wanted on a permanent basis, then he must have the means or network to replace them. Former clubs Chelsea and Real can oblige here.

Fledgling teenage box-to-box talent Ruben Loftus-Cheek (pictured below with Didier Drogba) won two major trophies at youth level with the Blues this term, but only got notable first-team action when Jose Mourinho’s men had wrapped up the Premier League title. He would be well worth considering as a replacement for Hughes.

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Chelsea v Sunderland - Stamford Bridge

Madrid, meanwhile, may loan anchorman Omar Mascarell to the Rams again, especially after their form dipped so dramatically for the last 10 games which he missed with a torn tendon.

Recruiting a wide option is top priority for Clement, though, as Jamie Ward has been released and Ince junior’s parent club Hull City (9/1 joint-favourites for next term’s Championship crown) went down, so would surely be loathe to sell to a promotion rival.

With play-off disappointments Middlesbrough, Brentford and Ipswich Town, plus Wolves who narrowly missed out, and other relegated sides QPR and Burnley also expected to figure in the title race, there is a real danger Derby could be lost in the rush.

Standing on his own two feet is bold, brave and above all commendable, but Clement should be under no illusions; this is the toughest test of his coaching career, though he is 3/1 to take the Rams to the Promised Land.