JONATHAN WOODGATE will be trying to come up with a plan to prevent Wayne Rooney dictating play from the heart of the Derby County midfield this afternoon – but the Middlesbrough head coach can envisage a situation in the not-too-distant future where he is pitting his wits against the former England skipper in the technical area.

Having been named as the Championship Manager of the Month for December, Woodgate is part of a crop of young English bosses making a name for themselves this season. His former England team-mate, Frank Lampard, is impressing at Chelsea, while another of his ex-international colleagues, Steven Gerrard, is challenging for the SPL title with Rangers.

Rooney has not made the step into management yet, but the 34-year-old clearly sees his current player-coach role with Derby as a stepping stone to a more senior coaching position.

Woodgate started his coaching career in Middlesbrough’s academy, progressing to the first team under Tony Pulis, and regards his early days on the training ground as an extremely influential part of his development.

He feels Rooney will benefit greatly from working under Phillip Cocu, even if he is mindful of the Liverpudlian’s enduring threat on the pitch this afternoon.

“It’s good that more young English coaches are getting a chance, and I think it’s good Wayne’s doing that, if it’s something he wants to do,” said Woodgate, who is hoping to guide his Boro side to a fifth successive win. “It’s difficult to go straight in.

“I wouldn’t have been able to go straight in. I cut my teeth in the academy, working with the younger age groups for a couple of years. That isn’t management, but you learn a lot, and I learned a lot under Steve Agnew and Tony Pulis. You learn what you can, and you do what you can, and it prepares you a bit for management.”

Woodgate has plenty of experience of tackling Rooney the player, having played in an era when the former Manchester United and Everton forward was one of English football’s leading lights.

He never relished marking him, regarding him as highly as any of the forwards he came up against during more than a decade of playing at the highest level.

“Wayne Rooney is a brilliant player, one of the best in the Premier League era,” he said. “He had everything as a nine or a ten, and never let you rest all game.

“He’s a proper footballer, one of the toughest opponents you would ever come up against. He was non-stop on the pitch, and has all the qualities to really kill you.

“He had everything. Look at him now, playing centre midfield and pulling the strings - you could put him at centre-half and he would still be good. He was non-stop, he would run himself into the ground, and he really understands the game.”

That understanding has enabled Rooney to settle seamlessly into his new midfield role, with his first two appearances in a Derby shirt helping victories over Barnsley and Crystal Palace.

Inevitably, he has lost some of the pace he was exhibiting in the early stage of his career, but the vision and creativity is still there, not to mention the ferocious will to win that has always made him such a formidable opponent.

“He’s changed his role over the years,” said Woodgate. “He’s been a nine and a ten, and now he is playing in a deep diamond. You need to stop him getting on the ball, stop him playing it, but that’s easy to say.”

Rooney has joined a Derby side that is struggling to live up to last season’s exploits, when Lampard led the Rams to the play-off final.

Cocu has found things rather more difficult, with Derby starting today’s game level on points with Boro. However, with some high-profile loan players having left Pride Park last summer, Woodgate always felt it would take time for Derby to regenerate the momentum that powered them to the play-offs last term.

“If you lose Mason Mount, (Fikayo) Tomori, Harry Wilson, how many goals does that take out of your team? How much creativity does it take out? It is difficult to manage that,” said Woodgate. “It’s a real challenge for them, but they are a good team with some very good players and this isn’t going to be an easy game.

“They’ve lost a lot of exciting players, but they’re still trying to play passing football, they try to get high up the pitch. They’ve lost seven players, look at how many we’ve lost. That is difficult to manage in one season.”

Middlesbrough are still without injured centre-half Daniel Ayala, so Paddy McNair and Jonny Howson will continue as part of the back three. Britt Assombalonga is also still absent, but while he will not line up against Tottenham, Boro’s leading scorer could return in Friday’s trip to Fulham.

Middlesbrough (3-4-2-1): Pears; Howson, McNair, Fry; Spence, Clayton, Saville, Coulson; Roberts, Tavernier; Fletcher.