On Tuesday night at The Hawthorns, Wayne Rooney will take charge of his 45th game as Derby County manager.
It is fair to say when the former England captain thought about entering the most perilous of professions at the end of his stellar playing career, he did not imagine it would be quite like this.
Saved from relegation to League One by Martyn Waghorn’s 78th-minute penalty against Sheffield Wednesday on the final day of last season, Derby, with Rooney at the helm, have been wrestling with financial problems, a stalled takeover and a ban on recruitment to the very last days of the transfer window.
Main striker Colin Kazim-Richards is out for three months with an Achilles injury and a 12-point deduction hangs over them for accounting breaches that, if applied now under the terms offered by the English Football League, would send them to the foot of the Championship, eight points from safety.
There have been plenty of times since he took over from sacked Phillip Cocu, BBC Sport has been told, that Rooney has wondered if he was doing the right thing in continuing in the role he was initially given on 14 November 2020, when it was thought Derby were just days away from getting new owners.
Rooney and his team did their due diligence before returning to English football and join Derby from Major League Soccer outfit DC United to conclude his playing career at the end of 2019.
He always knew there was a chance he would be asked to step up as manager if things did not work out the way it was envisaged with Cocu. He was prepared for that.
What he could not have known was that the issues around the ownership of Mel Morris would drag on and on, leading to frustration for the EFL, fans and potential buyers.
Still no resolution is in sight and in the meantime, Rooney, at the age of 35, battles on as the public face of the club, confronting every challenge head on, just as he did as a player, wondering if he is being judged as a manager on circumstances it is impossible to conceive of anyone succeeding in.
Points deduction hangs over Derby
Derby visit Championship table-toppers and promotion favourites West Brom on Tuesday, 16th in the Championship on six points, two more than Reading, who, after six games of the new campaign, occupy the third relegation place.
But that position could change significantly.
Derby representatives are in talks with the EFL about a settlement over various financial breaches and an end to a dispute that has rumbled on since the club were initially charged in January 2020.
The EFL has proposed a 12-point deduction, three of which would be suspended, to cover any potential breaches from accounts still to be submitted. They also want Derby to agree to a business plan.
This, in theory, would allow the club to get their finances in order, submit overdue accounts to HMRC and proceed with takeover talks.
However, owner Morris is yet to agree, amid suggestions he feels the punishment is too heavy and the restrictions too onerous for a club whose sizeable supporter base meant they were affected more than most by the absence of fans during the coronavirus pandemic.
Morris has been talking to potential new owners but they are understood to be getting frustrated at the lack of progress.
With money owed to HMRC and US investment group MSD, fears are once again growing amongst fans that Derby may end up in administration.
Morris outlined the situation to half a dozen supporter representatives at a meeting on 5 August but attendees had to agree not to make details of the chat public.
On 6 September, supporters’ group RamsTrust issued an open letter to the club, asking a series of questions around their concerns for Derby.
So far, the letter has gone unanswered. Now there is talk of public demonstrations by fans against Morris.
Rooney’s resolve being tested
Derby’s next three opponents are West Brom, Stoke and Sheffield United. Either because of parachute payments through last season’s relegation or super-rich owners, they are three of the Championship clubs with the greatest level of funding.
In contrast, Rooney had to negotiate loans last January and was limited to offering short-term deals to out-of-contract players in the summer, and that was only to bring his squad up to the limit of 23 players ‘of professional standing’.
Thirty-nine-year-old former England defender Phil Jagielka started his fourth consecutive league game in Friday’s defeat at Birmingham.
Midfielder Ravel Morrison made his seventh appearance of the season at St Andrew’s Trillion Trophy Stadium – which is as many as he made in the previous season and a half during his spells with Middlesbrough and Dutch side ADO Den Haag.
Rooney’s resolve to persevere is testament to his desire to make it as a manager.
Never in his illustrious playing career was the idea of a season-long scrap to avoid relegation to the third tier of English football mentioned as a challenge he might wish to take on.
He is in one now though. And however it works out, Rooney can only hope judgement on whether he succeeds or fails takes into account the extraordinary circumstances he finds himself working in.