Wayne Rooney: Man Utd legend ready for Premier League job despite setback after setback with Derby


Wayne Rooney’s office at the Derby County training ground is spartan and bare. There are no pictures on the walls. There are no mementoes on the desk. There are no trophies to remind him of past glories. There are none of the motivational slogans so beloved by so many modern managers. There is no television screen, no yellow ticker, no breaking news.

The only adornment is a thin, white plastic tactics board behind him with round blue discs for players and, now and again, he gets up and moves them around to illustrate how he wants his team to play. On another wall, there is a stopped clock with its hands stuck at 10 to 11. Given the doomsday situation Rooney has inherited at Derby, five to midnight might be more appropriate.

The club have been in administration since September, they are facing substantial compensation claims from Middlesbrough and Wycombe Wanderers, they owe the taxman £28m, they have been docked 21 points this season and 10 days ago, it was saved, for now, from the prospect of liquidation when the club’s administrators were given an extra month to provide proof they have funds to see out the season.

Wayne Rooney is bidding to pull off a remarkable escape with Derby County this season

Wayne Rooney is bidding to pull off a remarkable escape with Derby County this season

At a time when one boulder after another is being placed in his path, when he desperately needs reinforcements, Rooney is having players sold out from under him all the time. Nine left in January alone. On transfer deadline day last week, he went to bed at 10pm believing he had assurances no more players would be sold. He woke up the next morning to discover young prospect Luke Plange had been sold to Crystal Palace. ‘At least they loaned him back to us for the rest of the season,’ says Rooney.

When the extent of Derby’s problems began to become clear, many believed Rooney would simply walk away. Plenty of others would have done. It was the opposite of the gilded opportunity that a superstar former player who is Manchester United and England’s record goalscorer might have expected to be handed as a first managerial job.

Instead, Rooney set about the seemingly impossible job of wiping out that 21-point deficit and trying to keep Derby in the Championship. Few believed he had a chance. Rooney has been a victim of a kind of snobbery his whole career, as though his upbringing in a tough part of Liverpool should be enough to damn him on and off the pitch, and that snobbery only increased when he embarked on a career in management.

Rooney has been dealt setback after setback with the Rams, who sit 23rd in the Championship

Rooney has been dealt setback after setback with the Rams, who sit 23rd in the Championship

He saw a number of important players leave in January, including young prospect Luke Plange

He saw a number of important players leave in January, including young prospect Luke Plange

But Rooney is still hellbent on completing the impossible job of keeping Derby afloat

But Rooney is still hellbent on completing the impossible job of keeping Derby afloat

Many doubted he would make it as a manager at any level, but he has surprised them all. Under his calm, intelligent and methodical leadership, adjectives that were rarely applied to him in his playing career, Derby have refused to fall apart. Playing with a mix of kids and veterans, they have won matches against all odds and staged stirring comebacks when all seemed lost. They have been edging towards a miracle.

And late last month, something wonderful happened. When Everton sacked Rafa Benitez and began casting around for a new manager, Rooney was installed as one of the favourites. Many thought the lure of taking the reins at his boyhood club and stepping up to the Premier League would be too much for Rooney to resist. Again, people misjudged him.

At a scheduled pre-match press conference, Rooney announced that he had turned down the chance to be interviewed for the Everton job. He said he was committed to Derby and he wanted to see the job through. He would not desert the club in its hour of greatest need. Once more, many seemed surprised. Loyalty in football is a rare trait and Rooney was praised to the skies by many who might once have criticised him for being feckless.

He refused to abandon them in their hour of need despite interest from former club Everton

He refused to abandon them in their hour of need despite interest from former club Everton

‘I have been here now for over three years as player and manager,’ says Rooney as he sits beneath the stopped clock, ‘and you build relationships up with players, first of all as team-mates, then as manager, and with staff. Everything I am asking of those players in terms of hard work, honesty, trust, commitment…if I was just to turn round and say “I have had an offer, I’m off”, I honestly couldn’t do that to the players and the staff.

‘I could see once Benitez was sacked and my name was getting linked with Everton that the staff were down and they were scared that if I left, where did that leave the club. I know they have been looking to me to try and help rebuild this club. I spoke to the staff and said: “I am stood in front of you and I am with you. Whatever is being said out there, I am with you.” I think that was big for them.

‘With the situation we are in, we have to fight. Nothing is getting given to us. You have got to take it. You feel like everyone’s against us. I say that to the players: “Listen, all the obstacles being put in front of us, it’s on us, no one is going to give us anything. Do you want to stay in this division? Do you want to fight through it? Do you want to create a legacy at this club? Because you have got an opportunity to do that.

‘Some players see success as winning trophies but the achievement of staying in the division, after everything we have had to deal with, would be one of the best in the club’s history. That is the opportunity we have. It’s better than saying “we’re minus 21 points, we’re down, let’s just play the games and enjoy it”. Some people are saying there is no pressure on us but there is always pressure.

Rooney says avoiding relegation will be one of the best achievements in Derby's history

Rooney says avoiding relegation will be one of the best achievements in Derby’s history

‘I have got a responsibility to the club and the fans. For last weekend’s game against Birmingham City, we had the highest attendance in the Championship in the last four years. I was a bit disappointed because I saw Neil Warnock say I wouldn’t get an easier job because there’s no pressure. If he came in here, he’d drive in, have a look around and drive straight back out.

‘Of course there’s pressure. There is pressure for the staff. Are they going to get paid? Are they going to lose their jobs? There is pressure for everyone at the club and I have to try and keep all that together.’

Rooney’s task grew a little harder on Wednesday night when Derby played heroically for 87 minutes with 10 men after an early sending-off and kept the scores level away to high-flying Huddersfield Town until they fell to two late goals. The defeat left them seven points clear of safety with 17 games of their season remaining.

But Rooney was not discouraged. He has been consistently positive throughout his time in charge at Pride Park and has sought to avoid blaming defeats on the club’s circumstances. He has managed intelligently, too, knowing that he has a first class and highly regarded assistant manager in Liam Rosenior and being smart enough to delegate responsibility to him when he needs to.

Their task became a little harder when they fell to a late defeat away at Huddersfield

Their task became a little harder when they fell to a late defeat away at Huddersfield

But Rooney has not given up hope of pulling the cash-strapped club out of the relegation zone

But Rooney has not given up hope of pulling the cash-strapped club out of the relegation zone

None of it is an accident. It is not something he just fell into. He has planned for this years. Even his move to DC United towards the end of his career was made with managing in England in mind. ‘You know what,’ he says, ‘and this is me being truthful, I never really thought “S**t, I could be finished playing in a couple of years time”. I’ve always tried to plan.

‘So when Louis van Gaal came into Man United in 2014, that’s when I knew I wanted to be a manager. I’d sit in with Ryan Giggs and we’d sit for two or three hours analysing the opposition, coming up with ideas. Then, when I moved back to Everton, I began getting on with my coaching badges.

‘I got offered a lot of money to go to China to play, like stupid money — and I know the money in football is crazy anyway — but we’re talking really stupid money. But I wanted to go to the States because I always thought my first job was going to be in League One or the Championship. I knew you don’t just go straight into a Premier League job. So I went there to almost get to understand that level of player more.

The England legend began preparing for life as a coach towards the end of his Man Utd stint

The England legend began preparing for life as a coach towards the end of his Man Utd stint

‘That was almost training for me. And when Derby came in, I thought it was the perfect move. I’d get to come back to England, which my family wanted, but I’d be in the Championship. Even learning about small things, like playing Saturday, Tuesday, Saturday, Tuesday, how all the preparations for that work.

‘I came in as player coach and didn’t do much from a coaching point of view but I was getting to understand more, how the doctors work, the physios…and then when Phillip Cocu left I felt I’d gained enough from that point of view to put my name forward. It meant I had to retire from playing but I felt ready to do that, and ready to do the job.’

‘Rooney’, the documentary about his life and career that has its premiere in Manchester this week and will be released on Amazon on Friday does not cover Rooney’s move into management but it provides a fascinating study in the differences between Rooney the player and Rooney the manager. Anger was never far from the surface when Rooney played. As a manager, at this time of his life, he seems more content. He seems more in control. More able to be himself.

‘Everything that has happened at Derby has made me think even more that I can have a good career in management,’ says Rooney. ‘I believe that 100 per cent. I believe we will stay up. I think I could go into the Premier League and manage at a top club now. I have no worries about that. I know what my strengths are and more importantly, I know what my weaknesses are.

He prepared diligently for his new calling in the dug-out and is now reaping the rewards

He prepared diligently for his new calling in the dug-out and is now reaping the rewards

Rooney wore his heart on his sleeve as a player and anger was never far from the surface

Rooney wore his heart on his sleeve as a player and anger was never far from the surface

As a manager, the United legend seems a lot more content and in control of his life

As a manager, the United legend seems a lot more content and in control of his life

‘I’m really good at delegating to my staff. If I think there’s a member of my staff who can give a message better to a particular individual — and that might be because of the player’s background, or just that they’re better at understanding them — then I’ll let them do it.

‘I think man-management is my greatest strength. I think it’s not just players but my staff. Your coaches, how you manage them. As you can see in the office, there’s nothing here. There’s nothing. The coaches’ room is in there. I don’t hide stuff — I go in there and discuss it. I put the team up and say “What do you think?” And if the staff disagree, that’s fine. You’re not always right.

‘Rooney’ is available to watch on Amazon Prime Video from Friday, February 11

‘Rooney’ is available to watch on Amazon Prime Video from Friday, February 11

‘There are times when you have to make decisions, of course, but we all work closely together. I have the final say on what the team is going to be but I’m really open to their ideas and thoughts as well. I have seen stuff about how Steven Gerrard works with the people around him, like Michael Beale, and it sounds very similar to the set-up we have here.

‘I spoke to Stevie yesterday and he was trying to set up a match between us and Villa this weekend but we couldn’t do it because we have a match on Tuesday but the set-ups do sound similar. I know Liam Rosenior is a better coach than I am. When I first came in, I was really new to coaching so the last thing I was going to do was say “Right, I’m taking every session, I’m doing it all now”. So Liam will set up the session and I’ll step in and work more on details.

‘In pre-season, I sat down with the staff and said this was how I wanted the team to look. Someone said: “Do you think we can play this way with the players we have got?” I said: “We are playing this way, we have to teach them, we have to coach them to play this way. And the growth from the players has been enormous. It could be Curtis Davies’ best ever season.’

Before he gets up to go, Rooney thinks about whether management has replaced the adrenaline of playing. He does not fall back on the normal response that nothing can replace playing. ‘When you lose as a manager, it’s worse than when you lose as a player,’ he says, ‘because you’re making all the decisions. You think “Should I have played this player, should I have done this?” There’s a lot going through your mind. But when you win a game as manager, it’s better than when you won as a player.’

‘Rooney’ is available to watch on Amazon Prime Video from Friday, February 11.



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