Football returns tomorrow, can you believe it? It simultaneously feels like yesterday and also like ten years have past since Bolton Wanderers' season was brought to a rather disappointing end - much like most of the season in truth. But a new dawn brings a new day and we have to look upon the new season with uplifting positivei...
We have to play Derby fucking County in the first bloody game. I don't mean to sound too down already, but I'm really not looking forward to the first day. It's going to be painful.
Regardless, I spoke to Olly Wright, or @derbycountyblog, about his team and the opening fixture. Enjoy:
1) Just how much money have you spent in the summer, and just how good are all your new signings?
It's impossible to know the real amount in this age of undisclosed fees, but without a doubt, we've spent more than £10m in transfer fees. As you'd expect for an outlay of that size, the players we've signed are of a very high calibre by Championship standards. Tom Ince was a roaring success on loan last season and Hull were hugely disappointed to lose him; Jason Shackell is a strong defensive leader; Andreas Weimann is a dynamic, energetic forward who will unsettle defences; Darren Bent is a poacher extraordinaire - I could go on. We've signed attacking talent and defensive experience in equal measure.
2) Do you think Darren Bent is the man to fire you to promotion, or are your other attacking players more important?
Bent is an extremely useful member of the squad, but we're far from reliant on him - in fact, it's by no means guaranteed that he'll be a regular starter, as he'll be competing with Weimann and Chris Martin for a place in the team.
3) Aside from the numerous new additions to the squad, who else is going to be important to your title challenge?
Will Hughes is a great talent and I hope he really shines this season. He's my kind of midfielder - technically excellent, tenacious, wants the ball and once he gets it, he has the creative vision to make things happen. A big star in the making - but this season is a big test for him as he continues his development.
4) Are you worried that you've taken on a manager with no managerial experience in the past?
'The number two factor' is a concern of course, but then, do you necessarily want somebody who has 'been around the block' (i.e. has been sacked from somewhere else for being crap)? Paul Clement has incredible, elite-level coaching experience and couldn't really have had a better education than he's had - you could argue that not having a professional playing career was a plus, as it allowed him to start as a coach much earlier than most. He'll have his hands full this season, because he has a strong squad and is going to have to leave good players out of the team. Keeping people happy when they aren't in the side must be a very tricky task - but rather that than scrabbling around to put a side out, I guess...
5) What are your first impressions of Paul Clement compared with Steve McClaren?
He comes across as a meticulous professional, who has a lot of tactical knowledge. He has experimented with different formations in pre-season, which is one obvious difference from McClaren, who set us up in a 4-3-3 shape every week, even when all of our senior holding midfielders were out injured.
6) How's pre-season gone for you?
Pre-season has gone well, in that nobody got injured. Last season, we signed George Thorne and lost him for the season just days later. Clement was careful to spread the playing time around all the members of the squad and fortunately, nobody got clattered.
7) Will you win the league, or will you bottle it again?
Ha ha, you cheeky sod! I don't particularly care if we win the league, or sneak up via the play-offs, as the end result is the same. I just want us to go up (OK, I'm lying, I don't want to have to deal with the play-offs again, cheers). It will be nerve-wracking and things will go against us at times during the season. But it's the same for everyone and the squad, on paper, is as strong as any in the league, I think.
8) After all the money you've spent, what happens if you don't get promoted?
Derby have always complied scrupulously with the Financial Fair Play regulations, which have now been watered down. The relaxing of the rules allows for additional spending, which has been financed by a 'local boy made good', Mel Morris. If we don't go up, I imagine we would go again next season with pretty much the same squad, as Leicester City did before they went up - however, there are some assets in the squad and we could sell one of the younger first-teamers if we had to balance the books.
9) Is Will Hughes a vampire, and is he as good in real life as he is on football manager?
Yes and yes.
10) What type of football can Bolton expect on August 8th?
An attacking brand of football, with some swift, incisive short passing. And when Bolton go forward, they will have to be careful not to get caught out by the pace of players like Ince and Weimann, as we can also be a menace on the counter-attack.
11) What do you make of Bolton Wanderers this season?
I think that Bolton are going to find it very difficult to make the play-offs, especially if Neil Lennon is lured away at some stage mid-season. Lennon did a great job of stabilising the club after Dougie Freedman was fired and that won't have gone unnoticed in boardrooms across the division. I don't think you'll go up or down this time around. As long as you keep Lennon, you'll be fine.
12) Which player will cause Bolton the most trouble on the weekend?
I'll say Ince, as he is capable of scoring or assisting from open play and from set pieces. His job is to cause you trouble, so I hope he does it well!
13) Which, if any, Bolton player concerns you in antiquation of the game?
I was interested to see Derik Osede play, but I hear he's injured. So I'll say Zach Clough, as he's a tricky youngster with bags of potential and a truly great surname.
14) Finally, what's your prediction for the opening game of the season?
Bolton 1-2 Derby.
We thank Olly for his time and implore you to follow him on @derbycountyblog.