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All change for Simons

All change: Simons poses with a Chesterfield jersey with Turner at the Proact Stadium after signing a two-year contract

Rai Simons got a taste of the harsh realities of professional football even before officially joining his new club Chesterfield.

The Bermudian striker learnt yesterday that Chesterfield, who he will join in July, have appointed a new manager following the resignation of Paul Cook.

Cook, who signed Simons from non-league club, Ilkeston Town, quit on Tuesday to take over as manager of Portsmouth in League Two.

Simons, presently back home in Bermuda, will now have a different manager to impress at Proact Stadium, with the club yesterday confirming Dean Saunders as Cook’s replacement.

Simons was hoping to join Chesterfield in the Championship next season and possibly play against Nahki Wells of Huddersfield, but Chesterfield were eliminated from the League One promotion play-offs on Sunday when Preston defeated them 4-0 on aggregate in the two-leg semi-finals.

Then came the news that Cook had resigned to become the new manager of Portsmouth.

“I went to Chesterfield to sign the contract and he greeted me, gave me a tour, told me about the style of play he likes and just let me know what was expected,” Simons said.

“They sent some people to watch me [at Ilkeston] and they got back to him. He knows what type of player I am and what I’m capable of and was very keen on me starting with him at Chesterfield.

“Now I’m starting fresh, with a manager who doesn’t know anything about me. But on the positive side it is like that for everyone, we’re all starting at the same level and trying to impress the new manager.”

Cook, who took over at Chesterfield in 2012 and led them to the League Two championship in 2014, will take his assistant manager Leam Richardson with him to Portsmouth.

Simons, yet to be assigned a squad number, should benefit from working under Saunders, however, as the Welshman is a former striker himself, having been capped 75 times by his country.

Saunders ended the season as interim manager of Crawley Town, where he oversaw an improvement in the club’s results but could not prevent them from being relegated from League One. Saunders was previously manager of Wrexham, Doncaster Rovers and Wolverhampton Wanderers and was first-team coach at Blackburn Rovers and Newcastle United. He also spent three years as Wales’ assistant-manager under John Toshack.

Saunders holds a UEFA Pro Licence, which is the highest coaching qualification available and had an illustrious playing career, starring for the likes of Liverpool, Aston Villa, Galatasaray and Benfica. However, yesterday he moved to defend his record of taking three clubs down in the past four years.

Given Saunders’ recent record, the decision to give him the job has been met by much criticism and negativity among Chesterfield fans.

“People look at three relegations but it’s not as if I’ve taken over teams at the start of the season, bought a load of players and lost,” Saunders said.

“If that was the case, I’d hold my hands up. I’ve had two years, signed a load of bad players and we’ve gone down — I deserve the sack. At Doncaster, Wolves and Crawley, I came in with the season already in full-swing and little in the way of time to make the changes I felt were required.

“But when you take over teams that are in the bottom three, which I’ve done three times, you obviously know when you take the job that there’s a chance you might go down to the next league below. Is that my fault? Do I take the blame for that?”

Chesterfield chief executive Chris Turner is satisfied the Saunders appointment is a good one for the club. “When chairman Dave Allen and I met Dean, it was clear that he shared our vision for the future of the club. He has infectious enthusiasm for the job and he is in the enviable position of joining a club with solid foundations,” said Turner.

Saunders is looking forward to getting to work at Chesterfield where he sees much potential. “It is a great opportunity as this is a club on the rise, run by good people, and I am inheriting a very good team from Paul Cook,” he said.

“Taking over now gives me a full preseason to make a fresh start, put my plans in place and work with the squad, which is a great position to be in. The profile of the club has been raised in the last few years and there has been an impressive increase in attendances so it is an exciting prospect and I can’t wait to get started.”