An updated look at the next Derby County manager market: Featuring Rafa Benitez, Wayne Rooney, Steve Cooper, John Gregory and Slavisa Jokanovic

Jack Kitson by Jack Kitson / 20 November 2020, 09:26

It’s fast approaching a week since Derby County cut ties with Dutchman Phillip Cocu.

Since the news broke last Saturday night, a multitude of managers have been linked with the post: We’ve had a former England boss feature alongside former England players, a Champions League winner up against an Indian Super League victor, rookies, veterans, both the employed and jobless have been linked, as has a World Cup winner.

What makes the next Derby County manager market more fascinating than most is the imminent arrival of new Pride Park owners - spearheaded by Dubai-based Abu Dhabi royal Sheikh Khaled bin Zayed Al Nehayan (cousin of Man City owner Sheikh Mansour) - who just so happen to be drenched in cash.

At the moment the managerial qualities they seek are unknown. They could well be eager to lure over a blockbuster name who, like Marcelo Bielsa at Leeds United, can drag Derby up out of the Championship and into the Premier League; a division The Rams have been painfully absent from since 2008.

If that’s the avenue they decide to go down then look no further than the current bookmakers’ favourite: Rafa Benitez.

When Derby fans awoke on Sunday morning, flicked on the kettle, popped in the toast and tapped into their technological device of choice, they would have been flabbergasted to see Benitez’s name in the top echelons of the betting.

But now, nearly a week later and the former Newcastle and Liverpool boss is pinned to the summit of the market. While an appointment may have seemed farfetched at first, over the course of the week there has been a growing chorus of: ‘could this actually happen?’.

But while we don’t want to completely burst any bubbles, a move at this moment does appear fairly remote, especially given Benitez’s comments on Thursday:

"No, not really,” Benitez said on BBC Radio 5Live's Euro Leagues Show when asked if he was interested in the Derby post.

"It is a big club and I have a lot of respect for them but at the moment I am focused on trying to pass my quarantine here, spend a little time in England and prepare the next season.

"You never know because football and life is changing so much but at the moment, no."

A glimmer of hope in his final sentence perhaps, but for the time being at least it doesn’t look like the Spaniard will be jetting over to Derbyshire anytime soon.

While Benitez has managed in multiple countries and won the Champions League, league titles and domestic cups, over on the other side of the managerial spectrum we have the likes of Wayne Rooney, John Terry and Liam Rosenior who each have ambitions of branching into the chaotic world of management.

Terry has been learning the ropes under Dean Smith at Aston Villa, but could he now follow in the footsteps of his mate Frank Lampard and take charge of Derby? He’s currently a best-priced 10/1 to do just that.

Not only does Terry’s old England teammate Rooney play and coach at The Rams, but is part of a quartet of interim coaches - alongside Rosenior, Shay Given and Justin Walker - who have been temporarily tasked with overseeing the first-team.

Of the four, Rooney has inevitably grabbed the spotlight. The former England skipper has done absolutely nothing to swat away the rumour mill after he proclaimed on Thursday: "I am ambitious and I want to go into management. I have been quite open about that. I don't know how long this situation [at Derby] is going to last but I wouldn't be an ambitious person if I said I didn't want the job."

We love that. Rooney clearly has the appetite and confidence for life in the managerial arena and while he will no doubt still feel he has more to offer on the pitch, this could be the ideal time to make the jump into the dugout - providing he has the right people around him. An experienced head or two would do him no harm. Afterall, he’s yet to complete his coaching badges.

Rosenior, who does have his badges, has also stated his own intentions when it comes to management. “I want to be a head coach and a manager. But it is one thing wanting the job, it is another whether you are the right man for the job. There is a bigger picture here than just me or Wayne being the manager."

Rosenior - son of former Torquay manager Leroy - may yet to have taken a senior job but he has worked under Chris Hughton at Brighton and now Phillip Cocu at Derby.

Through his work as a TV pundit and writer for the Guardian he’s always come across as an extremely intelligent, erudite, driven and focused, with strong interpersonal skills. 

While Rooney would be the glamour pick, Rosenior would be the logical option.

Sam Allardyce and Steve Cooper have both managed England. While Big Sam can lay claim to managing the senior team, Cooper led the U17s to World Cup glory and has since impressed in his first senior position at Swansea, with whom he led into the play-offs last season, while they are within three points of top spot this term.

Paul Cook, Lee Johnson, Danny Cowley all have Championship experience on their CV, and are each likely to be keen on the vacancy, as would the newly unemployed Garry Monk, who was sacked by Sheffield Wednesday last week.

A couple of outsiders, in the betting at least, to keep an eye on are Slavisa Jokanovic and David Wagner, each available at a juicy 33/1. 

In three full Championship seasons, Jokanovic has achieved two promotions with Watford and Fulham. While focused on results, Jokanovic likes to implement an attacking and entertaining brand of football, which is music to the ears of Derby fans whose side have failed to score more than a single goal in 17 of their last 18 Championship games. However, a potential stumbling block is the fact he’s currently in charge of Qatari side Al-Gharafa SC.

On the other hand Wagner is available for hire, having left Schalke at the start of the season, and like Jokanovic he also has a Championship promotion on his CV - who could forget that memorable double achievement of propelling Huddersfield into the Premier League, then preserving their status the following season.

Could Steve McClaren be in line to return for a third spell at the club? Probably not, but we’d love to see it. Whereas Nigel Pearson could have something to prove at Derby having previously overseen the club back in 2016 for all of five months.

While we’re hesitant to rule anyone out at this stage, it does appear that Eddie Howe is waiting it out for another Premier League post. 

Meanwhile, John Gregory raised eyebrows to Carlo Ancelotti extremes on Thursday evening when his name suddenly cropped up at 4/1 in the betting. Whether that’s the result of insider knowledge or a few cheeky outside bets we don’t know, however it would come as a huge shock if he returned to a post he left 17 years ago.

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Darren Moore
Darren Moore
(Doncaster Rovers)
1st March
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