Derby County manager Wayne Rooney has revealed that he gave the players extra days off during their preparation for what was a season-defining clash against Sheffield Wednesday.
The Rams went into the final day showdown against Sheffield Wednesday with all of the pressure on them, with Rooney’s side having been dragged right into the thick of the relegation battle and knowing that a defeat would have sent them down. Derby’s awful form heading into the game meant it was always going to be a very nervous match for them.
Rooney’s side were inside the bottom three for spells of their game with Sheffield Wednesday after Rotherham United had taken the lead at Cardiff City and the Rams were trailing against the Owls. However, in the end, a 3-3 draw was enough to keep them up at the expense of their opponents.
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In his latest column for The Sunday Times, Rooney has now revealed that he decided to give his players three days off during the build-up to the game because he felt they would be best served spending time apart and to relieve some of the pressure.
He wrote: “It might sound strange but in the week of our final game, versus Sheffield Wednesday, I gave the players three days off.
“A manager needs to ‘feel’ where a group is and my sense was that the worst thing would be for the lads to be around each other constantly. If they could relax, it would benefit them. Me? I felt chilled. Confident.
“I told the players: ‘This is a pressure moment but I’ve dealt with pressure since I was 16 and I’m loving this. I’m excited. I honestly can’t wait for this game. I believe in you.’
“And at half-time, at 1-0 down, I spoke about pressure again. I asked the players, ‘do one thing for me — calm down. This game is chaos. You’re frantic. Relax and make two passes — and honestly if you do that, there’s so much space for you play in’.
“We scored twice in the first five minutes of the second half, then conceded twice, and then Martyn Waghorn kept us up from the spot.”
This was a major decision to make for Rooney and it was one that would not have reflected well on him had the Rams gone on to be relegated down to League One. There will be many supporters perhaps feeling that the players should have been doing everything to prepare for the game and ensuring that they knew their jobs inside out ahead of such a massive fixture.
However, Rooney can perhaps now argue that it was the right decision to make after the Rams managed to ensure their survival on the final day. Derby do deserve credit for not letting the pressure of trailing get to them and for being able to find a way back from behind in that crucial match against Sheffield Wednesday.
Rooney will need to show that he can continue to develop his managerial abilities and he needs to get decisions right on and off the field next term if he is to avoid scrutiny from supporters. This update though will leave some still questioning him heading into next term.