Northampton boss Keith Curle insists he would have relished facing Wayne Rooney in his playing days but is hoping the former England captain is rested when Derby visit in the FA Cup fourth round.
It remains to be seen if Rooney, who won the competition in 2016, will feature for the Rams at the PTS Academy Stadium under the lights and in front of the television cameras on Friday night.
The 34-year-old has started all four games since becoming eligible to turn out for the Sky Bet Championship side following his move from DC United, including the 1-0 win over top-flight Crystal Palace in round three.
Rooney could be rested this time out, however, as manager Phillip Cocu looks to manage his squad and Curle admits seeing the team sheet without England’s all-time leading goalscorer would be a massive boost for the Cobblers.
Asked if, given the occasion and the gravitas Rooney would bring, he would rather see him in or out of the Derby side, Curle told the PA news agency: “Out, a million per cent.
“Going back to my days, I probably wouldn’t have minded playing against him but in those days you were allowed to tackle.
“Wherever Wayne goes he is going to get the attention and he has had that throughout his entire career so he knows how to conduct himself.
“Most importantly, the lad has still got a passion to play football and perform and I think that is admirable – when he is on the pitch he wants to play and he wants to win.”
Despite becoming both Manchester United and England’s record goalscorer and lifting 16 trophies during his time at Old Trafford, Rooney has faced criticism from detractors for much of his career.
But Curle, who reached the semi-finals of the FA Cup as Wolves captain in 1998, is not one of them and was full of praise for Rooney’s achievements.
“The lad as an individual, when he is on the pitch your goal is accessible. He is a great talent, a marvel to watch – his instinctive play and the ability and enthusiasm he has,” he added.
“He will raise the standards of that football club and the individuals because players there will want to impress Wayne Rooney.
“Don’t be surprised if our players want to get close to Wayne Rooney because there might be a chance for them to get a picture in the paper, an action photo with them competing on the same pitch of Wayne Rooney.
“We went through it, we thought, ‘we need to stop him doing that, put two men on him, three to stop the overloads’ then we realised we had 14 players on the pitch!”
Curle also recognised how big a game this is for his squad when he arrived for training on Thursday morning, revealing: “I spent this morning going in and checking out some of the new haircuts, the beards have been trimmed and they know they are going to be on TV.
“It is that excitement that we don’t shy away from, this is a massive opportunity for us to go out and compete. They know how we operate – Thursday they can do their grooming, Friday is work day.”
Northampton will be hoping to cause an upset and be on the first names in the hat for round five – with QPR hosting fellow Sky Bet Championship side Sheffield Wednesday in Friday’s other fourth-round clash.