Wayne Rooney has worked miracles at Derby… so will Everton come calling?
A grand old club that has fallen on hard times, floundering towards the bottom end of the table and unable to sign anyone.
Nobody would compare Everton’s present situation to the horrific state of affairs at Derby County, whose very existence is in doubt.
But it’s clear a certain someone who connects the two clubs is pretty handy in a crisis. For those who have followed Wayne Rooney’s progress at Derby, it comes as little surprise to see him among the bookmakers’ favourites to replace Rafa Benitez at Goodison Park.
Wayne Rooney’s first taste of management at Derby County has been a baptism of fire but the former England captain relishes the challenge
The Rams still have a chance of survival in the Championship despite a 21-point deduction
Rooney the manager reflects Rooney the player. A fighter who doesn’t give up easily, fully committed to a cause and rolling with the punches a daunting first job in the dug-out has sent his way.
Lesser characters than the 36-year-old former England captain would have folded by now given the truly desperate situation at Pride Park that seemingly deteriorates with every passing week.
But Rooney, learning quickly on the job, simply knuckles down and gets on with it. The grey hairs in his beard are inevitable given the circumstances.
As he said at the beginning of the season, when he spent several nights on the sofa in his office at Derby’s training ground while working round the clock to bolster his squad: ‘I’m a fighter. I grew up on a council estate in Liverpool – I don’t walk away from challenges easily.’
Rooney spent most of his career working under the greatest manager of them all. Sir Alex Ferguson was expert at creating the bunker mentality that made players believe the whole world was conspiring against Manchester United.
Everton fired Rafael Benitez at the weekend and Rooney is among the potential replacements
Having worked wonders at Derby, Rooney could lead another rescue mission at Everton
Naturally, he has been in touch with Ferguson and also David Moyes to ask for advice on occasion and holds Zoom calls with fellow managers to share advice and best practice.
Rooney has absorbed and applied some of Ferguson’s man-management techniques – after all, who better to learn from?
When he first came into Derby, initially as a player with meaningful input into formation, tactics and video analysis within Philip Cocu’s coaching staff, Rooney established connections with his new team-mates by talking casually about non-footballing topics.
With the connection made, conversations over on-pitch matters became easier, not least because of the natural sense of awe among young players who grew up watching Rooney’s stellar career.
The enthusiasm with which Rooney threw himself into every training exercise and match as a Derby player reinforced the sense of respect when he became manager.
Not that it’s been a case of Rooney prefixing every bit of advice with ‘when I was with United’. By all accounts, he has been modest about his own achievements and up front with his players about what they’re doing wrong.
Like Ferguson, delegation has also been important. Rooney is happy to be more of a manager than a coach, leaving some aspects of training and tactical preparation to assistant Liam Rosenior and other staff.
Rooney has drawn on the advice of legendary boss Sir Alex Ferguson but has no ‘hairdryer’
Rooney has also been in touch with David Moyes, his former boss at Everton and Man United
Rooney’s managerial record at Derby
Win percentage 27.7
It was obvious from the outset that Rooney wasn’t at the club for one final £100,000-a-week payday leveraged by a gambling firm’s ‘star player clause’ in his contract.
But his fortitude has come in most handy at Derby, where Rooney’s twilight years as a midfield schemer suddenly transformed into the toughest managerial job currently in football when Cocu was fired in November 2020.
The Rams were bottom of the Championship but picked up enough results with Rooney as caretaker manager to see him appointed permanently in the January.
In the end, they stayed up by the skin of their teeth, drawing 3-3 with Sheffield Wednesday on the final day of last season and thankful that a late Cardiff equaliser sent Rotherham down instead.
Then the real trouble began. Already under a partial transfer embargo from the EFL that made strengthening the squad virtually impossible, Derby were deducted 12 points for entering administration in September.
They were in financial meltdown as owner Mel Morris left, saying the club had lost him over £200million since 2015, including £20m in lost revenue while Pride Park sat empty during the Covid pandemic.
That sent Derby to the foot of the table and worse followed in November with a further nine-point deduction after the club admitted breaching EFL accounting rules.
Rooney was initially a Derby player but took over as manager when Phillip Cocu was fired
Despite a 21-point deduction, Derby moved off the bottom of the table at the weekend
Without the points deduction for financial trouble, Derby could be 11th rather than 23rd
As the search for new investment and ownership continues at a frustratingly slow pace, the EFL have now requested proof money will be coming into the club to sustain them until May.
Former Newcastle owner Mike Ashley is one potential saviour but the spectre of liquidation now looms over Derby. This is very much an existential crisis now.
Rooney has never tried to sugar coat what is a dire situation for Derby. Left frustrated at the lack of communication with Morris, he has actively sought out updates from administrators Quantuma and kept players in the loop.
Against this dismal backdrop, the club have been forced to let go senior players to balance the books. Veteran defender Phil Jagielka and midfielder Graeme Shinnie have left in recent days.
Yet astonishingly, despite all this, Rooney continues to work miracles on the field.
With crystal clear focus he has blocked out the external noise and used the dwindling squad resources at his disposal to win four of the last five games.
Former Newcastle owner Mike Ashley has been linked with a buy-out of Derby County
Saturday’s 2-0 home win over Sheffield United lifted Derby off the bottom of the table and if it wasn’t for their lost 21 points, they’d currently sit 11th in the Championship.
So it’s little wonder that Everton may think, looking beyond the obvious romantic aspect to his return, that Rooney has the managerial skills to turn their ailing season around.
Rooney rarely raised his voice above a mumble and insists he doesn’t have a ‘hairdryer’ but he has shown a ruthless streak in reprimanding those who aren’t prepared to listen to him.
Martyn Waghorn felt his cold shoulder when he was dropped last season for not taking a training session seriously enough.
Rooney is popular with the Derby fans but nobody would begrudge him joining Everton
Ferguson liked to bring through young talents and given them their chance to impress. Rooney has had little choice. The paucity of Derby’s squad means he has given debuts to almost 20 academy graduates.
Rooney has relished imparting his wisdom to them. As he said in one recent interview: ‘What you find with the young lads is they listen.’
The young lads could be all Derby are left with by the end of the month as players abandon the sinking ship. The EFL have also imposed a second transfer embargo in 12 months, leaving Rooney to rip up his list of January targets.
Rooney may be offered an escape rope soon as well, though Belgium boss Roberto Martinez is the favourite to take over at Everton.
Despite reiterating his commitment to Derby at every turn this season and not giving up on pulling off the most miraculous of relegation escapes, nobody would blame Rooney for moving.
What is for sure is that his first foray into management has been a true baptism of fire. Whichever job comes next for Rooney, it won’t have half the hassle of this one.
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