Steve McClaren seeks Wembley redemption with Derby against QPR
Former England manager leads his side against Harry Redknapp's in play-off final
Steve McClaren plans to exorcise the ghosts of his Wembley nightmare by leading Derby County back into the Premier League with victory over QPR in the Championship play-off final on Saturday.
The stakes are sky-high at Wembley as McClaren's side face Harry Redknapp's QPR in the single richest club fixture in world soccer.
Given the vast financial rewards on offer to teams in the Premier League, it is estimated that a win in the second tier finale will be worth £120 million (HK$1.5 billion) to Derby and £80 million to QPR, whose revenue boost would be lower because if they do not go up they will still benefit from parachute payments after relegation in 2013.
But amid the frenzied desire to secure the lucrative winning ticket in the promotion lottery, McClaren's tale of personal redemption lends a more human side to the dash for cash.
It will be McClaren's first time in the Wembley dugout since his underwhelming spell as England manager came to a farcical end with the coach lampooned as the "Wally with the brolly" after he huddled under an umbrella during a 3-2 defeat against Croatia that shattered his country's hopes of qualifying for Euro 2008.
McClaren has spent the past seven years attempting to rehabilitate his reputation via that title-winning spell in the Netherlands at FC Twente and less successful stints with Wolfsburg and Nottingham Forest.
McClaren is relatively sanguine about the abuse he took following his England exit and is even willing to joke about the umbrella incident.
"I won't be taking a bloody brolly," he said with a smile when asked if he was planning to guard against wet weather today.
But McClaren is a serious soccer man at heart and he would dearly love to showcase his managerial abilities in the Premier League for the first time since he quit Middlesbrough to take the England job after the 2006 World Cup.
"I love working with this group. They play exactly how I want them to and its wonderful," McClaren said. "We've excited the fans. The question is can we go one further? It's a great challenge. Nobody expected this six months ago.
"It's the occasion we've got to handle. I'm looking forward to it - we all are. We're a bit like the swan on the river - cool and calm on the surface but underneath paddling like hell."
McClaren has been keen to embrace Derby's thriving youth policy as he bids to return the club to the top tier after a six-year absence and the 10 outfield players in his expected team have an average age of less than 25.
But McClaren is cautious about his young group's chances of seeing off a far more experienced QPR side featuring battle-hardened stars like Joey Barton, Richard Dunne and Niko Kranjcar, as well as prolific striker Charlie Austin, whose double secured a 2-1 aggregate victory over Wigan in the play-off semi-finals.
"Just because we finished third and quite a few points in front of the other teams, it doesn't mean we will go up, football isn't like that," McClaren added.
Derby finished third in the table, while QPR were five points behind them in fourth spot.
There have been reports Redknapp may even be ready to quit management if QPR don't secure promotion.
But, asked about his future this week, he said: "It's a massive game. Obviously, we want to get back into the Premier League, so there is a lot at stake. My focus is getting a result on Saturday, then we can all sit down and start planning for the future."