At the end of another chaotic week for Derby County, the existence of the 138-year-old club remains in limbo.
On Monday, US businessman Chris Kirchner withdrew his bid to take the club out of administration – after more than two months of exclusive negotiations to try to get the deal done.
A number of previous suitors, including former Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley, have revived interest in buying the club.
The English Football League have taken the unprecedented step to become more closely involved with the sale of the club.
Information from interested parties is being drip-fed out while uncertainty and unease grows, with pre-season for Wayne Rooney’s Derby less than two weeks away.
BBC Sport looks at the known bidders, and what comes next for the embattled Rams.
Ashley interested, but Appleby seen as frontrunner
There are at least eight groups interested in taking Derby out of administration, some of which wish to anonymous for now.
Ashley is at legal loggerheads with the club’s administrators, while former Wolves owner Steve Morgan is said to “be back in the race”.
Meanwhile, the American Binnie family, who had a £30m offered rejected in March, say that Derby’s administrators Quantuma have not contacted them in an attempt to revive their interest.
The “frontrunner” in the latest bidding war, BBC Radio Derby understand, is a consortium fronted by former Rams chairman Andy Appleby. An offer from them was submitted on Thursday.
The American was part of a takeover of the club in 2008, when Derby were in the Premier League and finished with a record low points tally, and went on to rebuild the club.
He was still involved when they reached the Championship play-off final in 2014, which the Rams lost to QPR, before Mel Morris – who would go on to place the club into administration in September 2021 – took control of the club in 2015.
Ed Dawes, BBC Radio Derby’s Rams commentator, says Appleby could be seen more as a “trusted” buyer after years of previous involvement.
“Derby supporters have been battered and bruised many times and are shell-shocked at how their club has gone to the brink of extinction in 2022,” Dawes said.
“What Appleby has is a proven track record at Pride Park for turning the club around once before.
“After Premier League relegation in 2008, a huge amount of book balancing followed – with wage cuts, players shifted out and some real soul-searching. On the field it was slow going, the fans weren’t the most appreciative – me included, during my youth – but it is only in the past few years that the work that Appleby, and then manager Nigel Clough, did is being recognised.”
Issues around the ownership of the club’s stadium, which is still in ex-Rams owner Morris’ control, and which caused previous bidders problems, has been resolved, with a deal in principal reached with a local consortium to buy Pride Park.
Ashley, who sold Newcastle for £305m in October, is said “to have the money” and is “ready to go” with a Derby takeover.
Evidently that sale suggests he has the money to do the deal. But question marks remain over what this notoriously hard-nosed negotiator would be willing to pay.
If a bid lower than what was tabled by Kirchner is accepted, it would likely mean non-football creditors are not paid 25% of what they are owed, which would trigger a 15-point deduction.
Figures from Quantuma in April revealed that HM Revenue and Customs’ total claim for unpaid taxes has risen to £36m, from £28m.
The club also owes finance company MSD £24m, while Quantuma themselves accumulated costs of £2.1m in the first six months of administration.
Rooney uncertainty and player count dwindling
The future of Rooney at Derby is unclear.
Following relegation from the Championship, he insisted he wanted to stay to lead the rebuild in League One. That statement, however, came with the caveat that Kirchner’s takeover of the club was done – and quickly.
England and Manchester United’s all-time leading goalscorer, who ended his illustrious playing career to take the managerial reigns at the Rams, has already rebuffed offers from elsewhere.
Both Everton and Burnley were interested last season, but the 36-year-old refused to abandon the Rams as they faced relegation following a 21-point deduction for entering administration and breaching the EFL’s accountancy policies.
Despite the drop, the manner in which he has conducted himself and the way the team performed under him means he remains in demand.
Liam Rosenior, Rooney’s number two, is also highly regarded and was spoken to about the vacancy at Championship side Blackpool before Michael Appleton was appointed on Friday.
Derby’s pre-season is set to start on Monday and the club have just five first-team players contracted for next season because of restrictions put on them – stopping them making signings or offering new deals to players they already have – as a result of the financial turmoil.
The five – Krystian Bielik, Max Bird, Jason Knight, Louie Sibley and Jack Stretton – does not include a goalkeeper or any defenders.
Thirteen first-team players are out of contract on 30 June, while goalkeeper Ryan Allsop has already joined Cardiff.
No pre-season fixtures have been confirmed by the club, before their first season back in England’s third division since 1986, and it is not known who will pay the club’s June wages.
BBC Sport understands the administrators are likely to seek more external funding to allow them to pay those wages.
Key dates to come
- Monday, 20 June: Derby due to start pre-season.
- Thursday, 30 June: Contracts of a majority of the squad expire, leaving just five first-team players as it stands.
- Thursday, 23 June: League One fixtures are to be released, with Derby included despite the club’s future being in doubt.
- Saturday, 30 July: League One season scheduled to begin.
Compiled by BBC England sport online journalist Andrew Aloia.