Wayne Rooney: How impressive interim Derby County spell led to permanent manager's job

By Simon StoneBBC Sport
'I've had my time' - Rooney becomes Derby's new manager

They know what's coming at Derby County.

After appointing Wayne Rooney as manager on Friday, and with Rooney confirming the end of his illustrious playing career, the Rams accept virtually every time they play an away game for the remainder of this season there will be the inevitable question to their new leader: "Do you miss playing?"

It comes with the territory when you appoint a legendary former England player, straight out of retirement. It was the same with Frank Lampard.

"His boots are in the loft," says Steve Nicholson, the highly respected, long-serving football correspondent of the Derby Telegraph. "He knows this is the time."

And so the curtain falls on a career that amassed 120 England caps, 763 senior appearances for four different clubs, five Premier League titles, an FA Cup, three EFL Cups, a Champions League, a Europa League and during which Rooney become England and Manchester United's record goalscorer.

Now, having had his interim role made permanent, he will be judged on his achievements in a different job and whether, like Carlo Ancelotti and Pep Guardiola for instance, he makes the transition from brilliant player to brilliant manager.

Or, as was the case with former Old Trafford team-mate Gary Neville, will he find the task too tough?

Instant impact

Prior to the FA Cup defeat at non-league Chorley when Rooney, his entire coaching staff and Derby's first-team squad were at home self-isolating after numerous positive coronavirus tests, the 35-year-old had been in sole charge for nine games.

A return of three wins and four draws was more than double the six points amassed in 11 games this season prior to Phillip Cocu's dismissal. It has not been enough to pull Derby out of the Championship's relegation zone but gives credence to Rooney's assertion that he is "100% certain" the club will not drop into the third tier of English football for the first time since 1986.

Of equal importance, he has changed the minds of sceptical fans who, when he spoke immediately after Cocu's departure and said "a change was needed", felt that captain and best player Rooney needed to take his share of the blame for the dire position Derby found themselves in.

"He has got a reaction from the players," said Nicholson. "There is no doubt about that."

What Rooney has done, according to sources who have seen him operate at close quarters, is strip everything back to basics.

The feeling was, under Cocu, the tactics were over-complicated. Rooney has gone for the simplistic model - work hard, train hard, show me you should be in the team, get in the team, show me you should stay there.

He is organised. He understands the game. Despite his own scoring achievements, he accepts the reality of a team that has scored the fewest number of goals in the league. Going with the principle that if you can't score, don't concede, Derby have tightened up at the back. Prior to Chorley, under Rooney they have not conceded more than a single goal in a game.

Calm and straightforward - the Rooney way

In an era where managers are judged by their demeanour on the touchline as well as results on the pitch, Rooney comes across as studious. He is not chasing every ball, like Antonio Conte and Diego Simeone, nor does he continually point and bark instructions, like Guardiola. Rooney observes.

His preferred method of watching the game is to remain in his technical area, coat unzipped, hands in pockets. He does rant occasionally but his mood, at least outwardly, tends to remain the same, win or lose.

There are other aspects of Rooney's approach to management that bode well for the future.

During the 20-minute void during the pre-match warm-up, where managers generally stay hidden, Rooney is out watching, much like Jurgen Klopp does. If he spots something he is not happy with, it can be addressed once his players are back in the dressing room.

When he is delivering bad news over team selection, he does it face to face. There are no grey areas. Decisions are explained. Ways to address problems are highlighted.

Confused communication was one of the factors Rooney said had become an issue when he was initially named as one part of an evidently unworkable four-man coaching team - with Liam Rosenior, Shay Given and Justin Walker - in the immediate aftermath of Cocu's exit.

Rooney is now in charge. There is no room for debate.

In another move that has been welcomed by those who care for the club, both inside and outside Pride Park, Rooney pays close attention to what is happening away from the first team.

He has been spotted at Loughborough University watching the under-23s - and he does invite younger players into first-team training, hence why there were so few available at Chorley after the coronavirus pandemic hit the senior camp.

Until last Saturday, 19-year-old Jason Knight was an ever-present this season. At Birmingham in December, 16-year-old midfielder Kaide Gordon became the fourth-youngest player to appear in a first-team match. This is one of four debuts given already to academy products.

This commitment to youth is borne partly of necessity given he simply does not have the personnel to choose from and partly from Rooney's own career, which also began as a 16-year-old.

McClaren's significant presence

Steve McClaren and Wayne Rooney
Two-time Derby County manager Steve McClaren returned to Pride Park as technical director in November

It has been emphasised Rooney is inheriting a very different Derby to the one Lampard came into.

While it is thought likely he will follow his former England team-mate by calling in a few favours to bring in players on loan, a relegation battle and the fact the squad already has a young average age means experience is anticipated to be the focus as he approaches short-term recruitment this month.

And there is also one further significant difference - the presence of Steve McClaren as Derby's technical director.

His appointment on 24 November was taken as a signal Rooney was going to get the job. As manager twice, player and coach, few know Derby as well as McClaren. His relationship with Rooney was established during Sven-Goran Eriksson's time in charge of England, where McClaren operated as assistant manager.

It is already evident the pair get on.

Before the draw at Brentford last month, as the warm-up continued, they were spotted having a tactical conversation about a plan to be implemented in what turned out to be a very creditable goalless draw.

In the directors' box during games, McClaren analyses and offers the kind of useful input Rooney needs as he takes his first tentative steps in his new career.

Not the gamble option

There are no guarantees in football. No appointment comes without its headaches.

At Derby that will include changing all the branding created around Rooney, who was signed from Major League Soccer outfit DC United 18 months ago as a player.

But there is virtual unanimity his appointment is the right one, one which offers Derby's new owners an element of stardust to go with their arrival, as well as providing their team with the best chance of preserving their Championship status.

"People talk about it as a gamble," said Nicholson. "But from what I have seen and what I hear from the fans, it would be a bigger gamble to change rather than keep Wayne as manager."

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