Russell heads north to sign for rivals Preston

Chris Lakey Darel Russell ended a year of doubt and speculation about his future yesterday when he signed a three-year deal with Norwich City's Championship rivals Preston.

Chris Lakey

Darel Russell ended a year of doubt and speculation about his future yesterday when he signed a three-year deal with Norwich City's Championship rivals Preston.

The 29-year-old left Carrow Road when his contract expired at the end of the successful League One campaign, during which he made 35 appearances.

But it was more than a year ago, as City contemplated their future in the third tier, that Russell - who has been training with former team-mate Malky Mackay's Watford - maybe saw the writing was on the wall.

Preston and Burnley are thought to have bids for him turned down last summer, when he reportedly wanted to move rather than play in League One. He was left out of the summer tour to Scotland and trained with the youth players, his future far from certain.But clear-the-air talks shortly after Paul Lambert arrived saw him restored to the first team - although there were more offers in the January transfer market - including one from Preston - which City again turned down.

Lambert brought in three new midfielders over the summer and by the time Russell's expired on June 30, there was no way back, leaving Preston boss Darren Ferguson to snap him up on a free, ahead of a number of other Championship clubs, believe to have included Leeds and Burnley again.

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“It was a no-brainer decision from a footballing point of view,” said Russell yesterday. “It looks like a club that are trying to play in the right way which is a big thing and they have the right mentality of trying to bring the young lads through and progress that way.

“The plan for every team is to try and reach that promised land. I don't think anyone starting this season from day one doesn't have that objective, if you don't have that aim and objective then I don't think you should be in this league, the whole idea is to compete for major honours in this division. My aims and ambitions are exactly the same and I am sure from speaking to Darren Ferguson that he is very enthusiastic about doing that and achieving that as soon as possible.”

Russell came through the ranks at City and made more than 100 appearances in six years before joining Stoke in 2003 - the year before City won promotion to the top flight. He was in the Potteries for four years before returning to Norfolk in 2007 - a year before Stoke were promoted to the Premier League.

Yesterday's deal ended a long wait for Ferguson.

“We've managed to sign him up, he's a big, big signing for us,” Ferguson said. “He's one I have been after for about seven months now, I tried to get him in January, but there was no way Norwich were going to let him go then, he is one I have interested in a while and I am really pleased to get him on board.

“He was a real key one for me, I know it has taken a while but between myself and the chairman we have persevered and we have got there.

“He's 29 but he is a really fit lad, he brings that experience that we are going to need, in an area that I think we need it.

“We have got three young ones in there so I was keen to get an experienced one.

“He has got good energies, he is fit, he will get up and down, he will put a tackle in, he is different to what we have got, that was key to it as well. He got promotion last year, so he has got that winning mentality so he ticks all the boxes and I am delighted to get him in.”

Russell could make his debut when Preston open their campaign at home to Doncaster on Saturday.

“He will be involved on Saturday,” Ferguson said. “He has done all the testing and the medicals and come through that with flying colours and I wouldn't have a problem chucking him on.

“His experience is key, he can do either role. I wouldn't say he is a defensive midfield player, he can do that role, there is no doubt, as he proved last year with Norwich but with his energies you can get more out of him than that. He is not here to just sit in front of the back four, he likes the ideas of where we are going as a club, what we are trying to do, he is going to be a big one for us, there is no doubt about that.”

Ferguson added: “Burnley had a bid rejected for him last summer, I don't know what happened there. I think Blackpool were interested in him this summer and a couple of other Championship clubs.

“He was taken by what we are trying to do, he knows he is joining a good established Championship club and he wants to get to where everyone wants to get to, the Premiership, the lad is ambitious.”