14 October ~ Doncaster Rovers host Leeds United tonight in one of the Yorkshire's least contested derbies. This is only the 21st occasion the sides have met competitively, an infrequency born from very different Football League trajectories. While Rovers have mostly pottered about at the foot of the pyramid, Leeds have long been Yorkshire's big-name side, self-proclaimed Champions of Europe and stars of the big screen. However, in the run-up to this cross-county clash it has been little Doncaster Rovers who have courted the most column inches.
In late September Rovers welcomed Dean Saunders as the club's new manager and placed the long-serving Sean O'Driscoll on gardening leave, reportedly in that order. A key player in Saunders' appointment at Doncaster was the football agent Willie McKay who is based in the town. Two of McKay's other clients, Pascal Chimbonda and Chris Kirkland, have now joined Rovers on short-term deals, while a third, El Hadji Diouf no less, entered talks with the club, but has decided against following suit.
Rovers insist that McKay is simply offering his services because he loves the club (indeed, he has a son in the youth set-up) and is apparently being paid just £100 a week for access to his little black book. In addition to those connected directly to the agent Rovers have also reportedly approached ex-Real Madrid star Mahamadou Diarra and had exhaustive, yet unproductive, talks with Frédéric Piquionne about a move to Rovers. Piquionne may have stalled, but his West Ham team-mate Hérita Ilunga has signed up on a three-month loan. Big names for a club on a budget.
Just two months ago the club was encouraging fans to donate to a fund to help bring in cover for its injured forwards. And so, understandably, many are surprised that the club has found the money for these latest transfers, plus the addition of a new manager. "There are no extra funds," chairman John Ryan told the Doncaster Free Press, "what we are doing is using our contacts to help us out." Rather than looking long term, as they had under O'Driscoll, the board have undertaken a very different approach to second-tier survival and are now picking up out of favour experienced players who are keen to put themselves in the "shop window" ahead of the January transfer deadline.
Though McKay may not benefit from the short-term signings of his clients, he will presumably profit should their spell in the shop window earn them more lucrative deals elsewhere. Whether the approach will benefit Rovers in the long term, or indeed the short term, remains to be seen. The seven points from nine gained under Saunders thus far have come with the squad he inherited. Tonight will offer a first real chance for Rovers fans to see how Saunders intends to approach Championship football, and where these new acquisitions sit within an already sizeable squad. Glen Wilson