ON THE ROAD: Wayne Rooney faces his toughest test as Derby has one chance to avoid relegation

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Wayne Rooney faces his toughest test after defeat at Swansea … rookie boss has one more chance to prevent Derby from plunging to third level for the first time in 37 years

  • Wayne Rooney faces his toughest test in his young management career next week
  • Derby County is in danger of being relegated to League One after a defeat at Swansea
  • All eyes will be on Rooney on the last day given play status and success

Wayne Rooney went to South Wales and it was, as one of his mentors would say, peeping time.

That will continue through Saturday after this sixth consecutive defeat that set up a relegation shoot-out with Sheffield Wednesday, part of a three-way scrap that includes Rotherham.

On a holiday weekend that was so cold and wet that it would deter the most determined day tripper, a hard rain continued to fall during Rooney’s first season in management.

Wayne Rooney's first season as a manager is pushed to the limit in a relegation battle

Wayne Rooney’s first season as a manager is pushed to the limit in a relegation battle

Derby was leading in Swansea but eventually lost in South Wales and remains in real danger

Derby was leading in Swansea but eventually lost in South Wales and remains in real danger

Derby was leading in Swansea but eventually lost in South Wales and remains in real danger

His rookie leadership skills will now undergo their toughest test as he tries to revive a group based on trust and, based on this evidence, somehow on their luck as well.

“This Saturday game is not about me, it’s about the players making sure they do their best for this football club,” he summarized afterwards.

The problem is, his profile means it will be largely focused on him, especially as Derby lands on the third level for the first time in 37 years.

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

The debate about whether great players are good managers is perennial and fascinating, but there is no conclusive answer. There are clear comparisons to Rooney’s English contemporaries who have tried it, such as Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, not to mention Sol Campbell.

But perhaps the most fitting parallel in Rooney’s case might be Sir Bobby Charlton. At the same age, 35, he took over at Preston and led the relegation in his first season. He barely took a year and a half to leave the transfer squabble, never to return to management.

This Saturday may still determine the entire course of Rooney’s future career.

Rooney has been trying to inspire since replacing Phillip Cocu, but he hasn't gotten enough points

Rooney has been trying to inspire since replacing Phillip Cocu, but he hasn't gotten enough points

Rooney has been trying to inspire since replacing Phillip Cocu, but he hasn’t gotten enough points

He’s already experienced all the pressure and exaggeration that football can throw on him, and he seems to have taken the keep-calm-and-carry-on response.

He cut a phlegmatic figure in the technical box, allowed himself a smile when his team rightly led 1-0 after half-time, and limited himself to a softly mumbled expletive when they fell to two quick Swansea goals 15 minutes later.

In his short interview round after that, he was attentive and spoke softly. The only time he betrayed the slightest irritation was when he was asked twice about the decision to bring the players to South Wales for the previous four days to prepare them.

“I knew it would be a great idea if we win,” he said regretfully.

Now he must try to think of another way to contain the series of losses for Wednesday’s visit.

“You will certainly see who the men are, who will rise and be numbered,” he said. ‘I’ve never been in a last day fight to stay in the league. You can ask other people for their opinion, but I am not other people, I am my own person. I knew the job when I took it. I’ve had my time as a player, I’ve enjoyed it, now is my time to become a manager. ‘

Derby has worked hard but is still in danger of plunging to League One for the first time in 37 years

Derby has worked hard but is still in danger of plunging to League One for the first time in 37 years

Derby has worked hard but is still in danger of plunging to League One for the first time in 37 years

When Sir Bobby went to Preston, he took Nobby Stiles as an assistant (Gerrard and Lampard also brought trusted lieutenants with them). Rooney was unable to name such a figure and inherited a heavy coaching staff, which was supplemented with the arrival of Steve McClaren. Between them, the brain’s trust has failed to find a way to keep leads from being given away.

A total of 37 players have been used as the first launch of the dire situation that Rooney inherited from Phillip Cocu has become a race to the bottom. An ownership saga growls on, along with the threat of point deductions due to accounting practices and doubts about wage payments.

In any case, Derby supporters can be encouraged by the fact that their players’ commitment was not an issue here. Take away the disastrous three minutes that came just after the hour and they looked a more diligent team than their playoff opponents.

As Swansea manager Steve Cooper said, not wanting to add to his opponent’s pain, “It was a difficult game. I didn’t see a team give up, I didn’t feel like we were playing against a team that wasn’t fighting to the end. ‘

It was late heartbreak in Wales, but also a hard lesson of how tough the championship can be

It was late heartbreak in Wales, but also a hard lesson of how tough the championship can be

It was late heartbreak in Wales, but also a hard lesson of how tough the championship can be

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