Wayne Rooney never had a problem coping with pressure as a player. On the eve of his first Champions League final, he reclined in his Moscow hotel room and watched Whoopi Goldberg on the run from the mob in Sister Act.
‘I’ll do something similar,’ said Rooney, when asked how he planned to spend the night before Saturday’s relegation showdown between his Derby side and Sheffield Wednesday.
‘I’ll lie in my bed and I won’t watch Sister Act again but I might watch a different movie.’
Wayne Rooney’s Derby face relegation rivals Sheffield Wednesday in a crunch final-day
Unlike 2008, however, he is responsible for others as well as himself and, only six months into the job, the outcome of this one crucial game could come to define his managerial career.
‘Feeling great,’ said Rooney. ‘Refreshed, excited, looking forward to it. We’re in a cup final, a game where if you win you get your rewards and if you lose you’re in a difficult place.’
They will be. Derby have not been plunged into the third tier since 1984. They were bottom with six points when Phillip Cocu was fired and Rooney took charge on an interim basis.
An upturn in form saw him confirmed as permanent boss amid an air of cautious optimism. Then a proposed takeover bid by Saudi-backed Derventio Holdings collapsed, key players were injured and results crashed. They have taken six points from the last 42 and Rooney’s management has come under scrutiny.
The Rams will head into the Saturday’s showdown on the back of six successive defeats
The relegation decider is arguably one of the biggest games in the ex-United player’s career
Is his heart in it? Is he out of his depth? His relationship has become strained with Steve McClaren, who returned to the club as technical director soon after Cocu’s exit. He was meant to be a source of wisdom for an inexperienced coaching team.
Management at this level is a testing business. Rooney insisted on Friday that he was not about to walk away. ‘Regardless of where we are at, my future is at Derby County,’ he said. ‘I’m never one to walk away from a challenge.’
Derby’s fate, at least, is in their own hands. A win and they escape the drop. Then, maybe they can plot again for the Premier League. The trouble is they have won only once in 14 games and lost their last six.
Therein lies hope for the visitors. Wednesday have won three of their last nine, despite the absence of boss Darren Moore, who suffered pneumonia and blood clots on his lungs after contracting Covid.
Moore’s illness is the latest disruption at Hillsborough. The campaign started with a 12-point deduction, reduced to six on appeal, for financial irregularities around the sale of the stadium to owner Dejphon Chansiri.
The former Manchester United star never had a problem coping with pressure as a player
But with so much at stake against Sheffield Wednesday, it is bound to be a nerve-wracking day
There have been three different permanent bosses, one long-term caretaker and two emergency stand-ins due to Covid issues, the latest of which is Moore’s assistant Jamie Smith.
Money continues to drain away. Not for the first time, there were claims the players had not been paid in full last month, and there are fears for what the future will hold if they are relegated.
The ongoing shambles at Wednesday makes Derby’s season seem one of serenity, even though Erik Alonso, a Spanish sports agent and boxing promoter, is still awaiting clearance to buy out owner Mel Morris.
Alonso latched on to Wednesday chairman Chansiri as an ‘advisor’ in mid-season, while playing the fans on social media and allowing speculation to circulate that he was interested in buying the club. He was sniffing around Birmingham City at the same time. Now it is Derby in his quest to sidle into English football via a vulnerable crisis club in the depths of the Championship.
Alarm bells will be ringing at Pride Park, however, after Sportsmail’s revelations this week about how he has yet to provide the EFL with proof of funds and has been trying to secure a huge loan against the stadium, to cover a £17.5million debt currently guaranteed personally by Morris.
Derby’s fate remains in Derby’s hands despite a tough season – a win and they escape the drop
Morris paid the wages from his own pocket last month, fearing it would lead to a points deduction by the EFL if he did not. ‘Just one more victory,’ tweeted Alonso, after Rotherham’s draw at Luton on Tuesday.
Rotherham are the minnows of Saturday’s relegation triangle. Their campaign has been devastated by Covid postponements and a backlog of fixtures, meaning the draw at Luton was their 10th game in 33 days. The backlog has not helped manager Paul Warne but he can beat the drop if his team win at Cardiff and Derby fail to win, sending the heavyweights down with Wycombe.
It promises to be a nerve- jangling day for all concerned and the repercussions will go on.