Curtis Davies has admitted that being unable to play his part in the second half of Derby County’s 2020/21 season was difficult to take.
The vastly experienced defender suffered damage to his achilles in the Rams’ 0-0 draw at Brentford last December and was required to undergo surgery.
That injury was set to rule him out for the rest of the season, but the 36-year-old made a heroic return as a late substitute in Derby’s 3-3 draw against Sheffield Wednesday on the final day of the season.
Davies openly admitted after the game that he was nowhere near being match-fit and had not even taken part in a training session - but he was determined to help the side avoid relegation on a pivotal afternoon.
Prior to his injury, he had been an important player under Rooney as Derby began to move up the Sky Bet Championship table and he regularly wore the captain’s armband.
While Davies continued to contribute off the field where he could, being unable to contribute on the pitch when the side was crying out for results and experience was a big mental challenge to overcome.
“It has been a very difficult season for myself as well as the team,” Davies told The Derby County Show.
“I am an insider, but I have been an outsider as well because having played a part in the first half of the season, and we were still disappointed in the position we were in then, I missed almost all of the second half of the season.
“Wayne Rooney took over in November and we were on an upward trajectory and things started going well. For myself I then got injured and from that point I was on the outside looking in.
“That is the frustrating part. In the good times you are all good, you are enjoying it watching the lads and seeing them do so well, but when the bad times come you start thinking to yourself: ‘I could have done better there - or I could have done that’. That is the frustrating part, and it is not saying you could, but it is about wanting to help the team.
“It was really, really difficult, but I am just glad that come the last day of the season we had a chance and we managed to stay up.”
Davies has watched with interest how manager Wayne Rooney has handled the transition from player to manager over the course of the last few months.
Rooney started the season as a player and Derby’s captain, but by November he had played his last game in professional football as he began the next stage of his career in the game.
Davies is confident that the 35-year-old will only grow as a manager for the challenges he faced over the course of the 2020/21 season.
“When Wayne was the captain firstly, and also as a player who has had the career that Wayne’s had, he had the buy in straight away,” Davies said.
“He was the same on the pitch, so when he stepped to the side and started giving the orders as the manager, it was no different.
“You respect him and you want to work for him and in terms of that side it was quite an easy transition.
“We started off really well and then there was the difficult point where we started going through some tough results.
“It was an interesting dynamic because the manager was probably going against what he would usually do. He would usually have a bit of a go as a player and start to shout a bit, but he was trying to be more methodical, more thoughtful and a bit calmer.
“It was about trying to get that balance between his character and getting it across to the team. Now he has got through this season, he has got a lot of experience under his belt of what has worked and what hasn’t worked this season and next year it is all about him growing as a manager and this club growing with him.”
He added: “Next season might be a bit different, and he will get a squad in that will more likely suit the way he wants to do things.
“Wayne didn’t start at ground zero and then think he was going to re-invent the wheel, he went back to basics got us going and I think that is the biggest credit I can give to him for this season.”
Davies is out of contract this summer after four seasons at Pride Park Stadium.
No matter what the future holds, Derby County will always hold a special place in his heart.
He said: “My time here has had highs, lows and everything in between.
“There have been situations that, in a way, bring you closer to the football club because you know you have had the highs of play-off campaigns with Gary Rowett and Frank Lampard and falling short of it with Phillip Cocu, but we did rally towards the end of the season.
“At the start of this season and the way it went and the injuries too, I have had a bit of everything here but all in all I have loved my time at the football club.
“I hope it is not the last season I am here but, if not, I will always look on as an admirer and a fan of Derby County.”