Derby County’s Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round tie against Manchester United this week is certainly a mouth-watering prospect.
A place in the Quarter Finals of English football’s most-illustrious cup competition is up for grabs and the two sides will go head-to-head before a sold-out Pride Park Stadium on Thursday (7:45pm kick-off).
It’s an occasion to relish for the Rams as they look to once again test themselves against top-flight opposition, having defeated Premier League Crystal Palace in the Third Round back in January.
On top of that, an exciting sub-plot will see Derby captain Wayne Rooney come up against his former club.
The 34-year-old played 559 times for the Premier League giants between 2004-2017 and is their all-time leading goal scorer with 253 goals in all competitions.
He is firmly into United’s Hall of Fame for his outstanding achievements with the Red Devils.
Rooney joined the Rams in January and has played in each of the 14 matches he has been available for in all competitions, scoring four times.
He has quickly established himself as a key player in Phillip Cocu’s side following his arrival and the majority of his performances have been in the holding midfield position.
The former England international is looking forward to taking on his former club and admits Derby will face a ‘big challenge’ against the 12-times winners of the FA Cup.
While Manchester United will forever hold a place in his heart, Rooney insists his focus is on the here and now as the Rams look to reach the last eight of the competition for the first time since 1999.
“Manchester United weren’t in the greatest run of form when the draw was made in January, but they have picked up in recent weeks,” Rooney told RamsTV.
“For me, it’s a big game. They are my former club but it’s a big challenge for us here against a very good team. They will be favourites, so we just have to try and take our chances and stay in the game.
“For us as players, we want to go out on the pitch and get a good result. It’s a big day for the football club and it’s a big challenge for us.”
He added: “It is always strange if you play against a former team, especially as I was at Manchester United for such a long time, but it’s football.
“I love Manchester United and I want the team to do well and win, but for these 90 or 120 minutes, I want them to lose and for us to go through to the next round.”
Rooney’s distinguished career began at Everton in 2002 at the age of 16 and he burst onto the first-team scene as one of the most exciting prospects in English football.
Despite his young age, he made 77 appearances for the Toffees and his eye-catching potential saw him join Manchester United in 2004, then managed by Sir Alex Ferguson.
He went on enjoy 13 trophy-laden seasons at Old Trafford and performed at the highest level as the Reds competed for major honours.
His club-record 253 goals for United came in 559 appearances and he also regularly wore the captain’s armband.
He lifted the Premier League trophy five times during his time at Old Trafford, as well as the FA Cup once and the EFL Cup on three occasions.
He was also a Champions League winner in 2007/08, as well as winning the Europa League during 2016/17 in his final season at Old Trafford.
Other honours included the Community Shield four times and the FIFA Club World Cup once.
Rooney returned to Everton ahead of the 2017/18 season, before moving to DC United in the summer of 2018 to begin a new chapter in Major League Soccer prior to linking up with Derby on the first day of 2020.
Rooney only has happy memories from his time at Old Trafford and he said: “My time there was great.
“We won Premier Leagues, Champions Leagues and everything there is to win, but we also had some low moments as well.
“I enjoyed my time there, going in and working every day at the club and it’s always something I look back on with fond memories.”
The FA Cup eluded Rooney until May 2016 when United overcame Crystal Palace at Wembley Stadium.
He had endured two defeats in the Final of the competition earlier in his United career, against Arsenal in 2005 and Chelsea in 2007, but it was a case of third time lucky four years ago.
As United’s captain, he lifted the trophy after running out 2-1 winners after extra-time.
United’s had fallen behind with only 12 minutes left to a Jason Puncheon goal, but they responded within four minutes to level through Juan Mata.
One-time Derby loanee Jesse Lingard got the winner in extra-time as United got their hands on the trophy for the first time since 2004.
Rooney admitted: “The FA Cup is right up there with the other trophies that I’ve won.
“My biggest memory as a fan was in 1995 when Everton won it against Manchester United.
“I lost two finals before winning one, so to go and win it as captain as well was a huge honour for me. “