Wayne Rooney is “excited” by the challenge of leading Derby back to the Championship but insists both his and the club’s future rests on the completion of a takeover.
The Rams, deducted 21 points this season after going into administration, were relegated to League One with three games remaining after losing 1-0 to QPR.
Defeat left them 10 points behind Reading, who came from 4-1 down to snatch a last-gasp draw with Swansea.
Rooney said: “I am disappointed, sad, angry, upset, but ultimately proud of the players, staff and fans, who have been excellent.
“I said to the players after the game, ‘When you walk out of that dressing room, walk out with your head high. Don’t let your heads drop’.
Accounting breaches under previous owner Mel Morris added a further nine points to the standard 12-point administration penalty, and without the combined deduction Rooney’s side would be comfortably safe on 52 points.
Rooney added: “We know we’d be safe without the penalties we’ve had. This is where we’ve been left by the previous owner and we’ve been trying to pick up the pieces from that and trying to pull off something really special. We’ve got close and haven’t managed to do it.
“I’m sure Mr Morris watched the game at home. He’ll be disappointed himself, because we’ve tried to fix the mess he’s left us in as best we can.”
Derby’s joint administrators have named Chris Kirchner as the preferred bidder for the club and entered a period of exclusivity aimed at ending a protracted takeover process.
And Rooney emphasised the importance of a deal being completed – and soon.
“It has to happen quickly,” he said.
“I’m not stupid. I know Premier League teams and top clubs in the Championship are looking at some of our players.
“I need to be able to give them something, to offer them something to stay.
“We’ve really got a good foundation. The foundations are there of a really good team. I need to be able to add to that squad.
“I know what players I want to bring in in League One and I need to be able to get that moving quick to make sure we have the best chance of coming straight back up.
“I need to be able to bring the right players in for League One to make sure that we move this club forward again.
“I’m excited to get my teeth into it and bring players I want to bring in and try to develop them and try to be a successful team.
“I want to rebuild this club. But the takeover has to happen. If it doesn’t, I’m really unsure of my future and the club’s future. This takeover has to happen quick.”
QPR secured victory thanks to Luke Amos’ late goal and manager Mark Warburton believes Rooney deserves credit for the job he has done.
“He’s probably experienced more as a manager in these nine to 12 months than most experience in nine or 12 years,” Warburton said.
“All credit to Wayne and his staff for keeping a squad together, keeping the belief there and producing the level of performances that they have home and away. They deserve so much credit for that.
“There’s so much going on that has been out of their control, but they’ve maintained their standards throughout.”
On the game, Warburton admitted: “We won ugly. They were the better team in the second half.
“They were fresh from a good win against Fulham, full of adrenaline and they had to win to stay up. We knew what we faced.
“In the first half we had some chances but didn’t take them and then in the second half we were second best in terms of having the ball.
“But they were always going to commit bodies forward and take risks, so we could hurt them on the counter – and that was the case.”