ON THE ROAD: Rookie Rooney facing toughest test in relegation fight

Wayne Rooney is facing his toughest test after defeat at Swansea… rookie boss has one shot left to stop Derby plunging into the third tier for the first time in 37 YEARS

  • Wayne Rooney faces his toughest test in his young managerial career next week
  • Derby County are at risk of relegation to League One after defeat at Swansea 
  • All eyes will be on Rooney on the last day given playing stature and success

Wayne Rooney went to south Wales and it was, as one of his mentors might say, squeaky bum time.

It will remain that way through to Saturday after this sixth successive defeat set up a relegation shootout with Sheffield Wednesday, part of a three-way scrap that includes Rotherham.

On a Bank Holiday weekend so cold and wet it would dissuade the most determined daytripper, a hard rain continued to fall on Rooney’s first season in management.


Wayne Rooney’s first season as a manager is being pushed to the edge in a relegation fight

Derby were leading at Swansea but eventually lost in South Wales and remain in real danger

His rookie leadership skills will now receive their sternest test as he tries to revive a group down on confidence and, on this evidence, somewhat down on their luck as well.

‘This game on Saturday is not about me, it’s about the players making sure they do the best they can for this football club,’ he summarised afterwards.

The trouble is that his profile means it will be largely centred on him, especially if Derby end up plunging into the third tier for the first time in 37 years.

His whole association with the club was facilitated by a betting sponsor, and a gamble it has turned out to be.

The debate about whether great players make good managers is an eternal and fascinating one, although it has no conclusive answer. There are obvious comparisons with Rooney’s England contemporaries who have tried their hand at it, such as Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, not to mention Sol Campbell.

Yet perhaps the most apt parallel in Rooney’s case might end up being Sir Bobby Charlton. At the same age, 35, he took over at Preston and presided over relegation in his first season. He lasted barely 18 months before leaving over transfer wrangles, never to return to management.

Next Saturday might yet determine the whole course of Rooney’s future career.

Rooney has tried to inspire since replacing Phillip Cocu but he has not managed enough points

He has already experienced all the pressure and hyperbole that football can throw at him, and he appears to have adopted the keep-calm-and-carry-on response.

He cut a phlegmatic figure in the technical box, allowing himself a smile when his team deservedly went 1-0 up after half-time, and restricting himself to a quietly muttered expletive when they fell to two quick Swansea goals, 15 minutes later.

In his brief round of interviews afterwards he was thoughtful and softly-spoken. The only time he betrayed the slightest irritation was when asked twice about the decision to take the players down to south Wales for the four previous days to prepare them. 

‘I knew myself that if we win it’s a great idea,’ he said ruefully.

Now he has to try to figure out a different way to stem the run of losses for the visit of Wednesday. 

‘You’ll certainly see who the men are, who’ll stand up and be counted,’ he said. ‘I’ve never been in a last-day battle to stay in the league. You can ask other people for their opinions, but I’m not other people, I am my own person. I knew the job when I took it. I’ve had my time as a player, enjoyed it, now it’s my time to be a manager.’

Derby worked hard but are still at risk of plunging to League One for first time in 37 years

When Sir Bobby went to Preston he took Nobby Stiles with him as assistant (Gerrard and Lampard also brought trusted lieutenants). Rooney has not been able to appoint such a figure and inherited a weighty coaching staff, who have been supplemented by the arrival of Steve McClaren. Between them the brains trust have failed to find a way to stop leads being given away.

In all, 37 players have been used as the initial lift-off from the dire situation Rooney inherited from Phillip Cocu has turned into a race to the bottom. An ownership saga has been rumbling on, along with the threat of points deductions due to accounting practices and doubts about wage payments.

Derby supporters can, at least, be encouraged by the fact that their players’ effort was not an issue here. Take away the catastrophic three minutes that came just after the hour mark and they looked a more industrious team than their play-off-assured opponents.

As Swansea manager Steve Cooper said, not wishing to add to his opposite number’s pain: ‘It was a difficult game. I didn’t see a team giving up, I didn’t feel like we were playing a team who weren’t fighting until the end.’

It was late heartache in Wales but also a harsh lesson of how tough the Championship can be

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