Wayne Rooney is showing his class at Derby County and played a key part in fightback against Forest… parallels to Rams legend Dave Mackay are impossible to avoid
- Wayne Rooney is exerting his influence on Derby County’s promotion push
- The England legend played an important part in the Ram’s late derby leveller
- The 34-year-old has shades of Pride Park hero Dave Mackay under Brian Clough
Wayne Rooney’s last brush with an English derby did not go to plan. Hauled off after less than an hour by Sam Allardyce, he turned the air Everton blue as he steamed down the tunnel at Goodison Park.
Two years on, wearing Derby white in his first East Midlands duel, he pushed his legs through to the final whistle for the first time since football’s resumption. This time, he was able to exert some influence on the result.
Rooney’s free-kick caused the scramble which led to an equaliser against Nottingham Forest, bundled over the line by Chris Martin in the seventh minute of stoppage time.
Wayne Rooney is showing his class at Derby County as Rams continue their promotion push
Derby’s run of five Championship wins on the bounce came to an end, but the spirit is healthy and promotion hopes remain.
‘I prefer to have him on the pitch for 90 minutes,’ said boss Phillip Cocu. ‘In the games before it was not possible but he is improving, his fitness is improving. He is important for the team, keeping them together, set-plays — and he proved it again.’
At 34, Rooney is a more solid presence than ever, heavily bearded and strong on the ball, thicker around the middle than in his prime but every touch is true and each pass weighted with precision.
There is still dynamite in his boots. When he wants to power through the ball, it explodes. But he prefers to move it short, searching for a change of angle and the chance to release the youngsters around him with more pace in their legs.
There are coaching duties, too. At the first water break, with Derby trailing to a wonderful goal by Joe Lolley, Cocu spoke only to Rooney and, when they were done, the captain made a beeline for 19-year-old Jason Knight to cajole and instruct.
The England legend did the full 90 minutes against Nottingham Forest and played a major part
He is a midfield general these days, although that was not the plan when he arrived from DC United in the US. ‘My thoughts were for him to be more of a striker or a No 10 as his first option, and he agreed,’ said Cocu. ‘Maybe it was a surprise for both of us that he’s ended up playing almost like a holding midfielder, and he does it so well with his decisions and his passing game.
‘Sometimes, later in your career, you can get another position and surprise yourself.’
Parallels to Dave Mackay are impossible to avoid. Mackay was already a champion and a legend when Brian Clough persuaded him to leave Tottenham for Derby at the age of 34, drop into the second tier and adapt from midfield to central defence.
Dave Mackay was already a legend when he moved from Tottenham to Brian Clough’s Derby
‘The best day’s work of my life,’ Clough called it. Mackay embraced the challenge, led them to promotion and a fourth-place finish in the top flight.
He left his mark on young players such as Roy McFarland. ‘What a leader he was,’ said McFarland. ‘The pictures you see of Dave are with his chest out — that’s how he played and lived his life.’
Mackay had left to pursue his managerial ambitions by the time Derby won the title in 1972, but he returned to secure his place in Derby folklore by leaving the Forest dugout to replace Clough and take them to their second title, in 1975.
Mackay returned to dugout to replace Clough a few years later to lead them to their 1975 title
Images of these times at the Baseball Ground are plastered on the walls at Pride Park. A statue of Mackay guards the players’ entrance and a flag in his honour was draped across empty seats in the South Stand, behind the goal into which Martin bundled the equaliser on Saturday, once Forest goalkeeper Brice Samba had failed to gather Rooney’s deep free-kick.
England’s record goalscorer did not add to his tally of six goals for Derby and nor did he enjoy his most effective display. Forest worked hard to nullify his threat and denied him channels in which to pass.
Indeed, Derby may fall short of promotion this season, but as with Mackay, Rooney is leading with his chest out.
He made sure they did not give in. Not even when down to 10 men following Martyn Waghorn’s red card for a dangerous tackle. And this time, he was still there at the end as they scrapped for a vital point.