He put the team first again, as he always did. The day Wayne Rooney moved into management permanently with Derby, he announced his time as a player was done.
From here, he will focus completely on his executive role, and it is a big one. There has been evidence of an upturn since Rooney became Derby’s caretaker manager, but the club still resides in the Championship’s bottom three and Rotherham, three points behind them, have two games in hand.
There may be bold new investors on the horizon but the team he inherits hasn’t always been paid as the takeover proceeds, and the under-23s lost last week to Chorley in the FA Cup.
It says much about Rooney that this is the challenge he wishes to take on, when there is good money to be made in America, or beyond. Rooney had a very decent record at DC United – 25 goals in 52 games – but returned to play for Derby and take his first steps as a coach. In less than 18 months that has morphed into a manager’s role meaning after 883 games and 366 goals we have finally seen the last of Rooney the player, both man and boy.
Wayne Rooney has called an end to his marvellous playing career after taking the Derby job
Rooney was earmarked for a great career with expectations high for the gifted teenager
Rooney secured his big move, joining Manchester United for a record fee in August 2004
There will always be those who expected more from him, having scored one of the most memorable goals in Premier League history at the age of 16, but who truly could live up to his start in the game?
Not just his teenage street footballer persona at Everton, but the impact he made on the world stage. Rooney’s greatest international tournament was also his first – the 2004 European Championships – and his performances there drew comparisons with Pele’s impact at the 1958 World Cup. He was just 18, and at the same age left Everton for Manchester United.
We all know what followed: the Champions League, Europa League and Club World Cup; five Premier League titles; the FA Cup; three League Cups; Manchester United’s all-time top goalscorer; England’s all-time top goalscorer; England’s all-time top goalscorer in competitive matches; England’s most-capped outfield player; FWA Footballer of the Year; PFA Players’ Player of the Year; PFA Young Player of the Year, twice. To list the individual records would take a whole column.
Rooney’s accolades are endless, breaking a whole host of records throughout his career
The Englishman helped United to no fewer than five Premier League titles during his time there
Rooney also lifted the Champions League trophy after helping beat Chelsea in Moscow
Nobody has scored more Premier League goals for one club than Rooney, nobody has scored more away goals in the Premier League than Rooney, nobody has reached double figures in more Premier League seasons. He is the second highest Premier League goalscorer of all time, its third highest goal creator, and the only player to score over 200 goals and make over 100 assists. There are other milestones, but let’s stop there.
Put like that, it doesn’t sound too bad. Yet even this roll of honour isn’t the whole story. For Rooney’s career was also one of selflessness. He played on the flank when Sir Alex Ferguson did not want to burden Cristiano Ronaldo with defensive duties, he could play number ten or number nine as the situation demanded.
Ferguson recalled that if the team had injuries at, for instance, right back, Rooney invariably offered to provide the solution, appearing on the manager’s shoulder at the end of training. ‘You need a right-back? I can play right-back. I’m a good right-back.’ And he was a much smarter presence on the field, than was acknowledged. Not the quickest learner, according to Ferguson, but his instincts were unsurpassed.
‘The toughest I played against,’ said former Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech. ‘I had to make sure I was aware every time he had the ball, because he was very unpredictable and very clever. He could chase, he could fight, he could run, he was clever with his shot. He could score from the halfway line, he would try to chip you if you were too high. It was always a challenge.’
Is there such a thing as an instinctive manager, though? This is what Derby are going to find out. This is a very different job to the one Frank Lampard took on at Pride Park in 2018. That was before the season began, 24 teams starting level. Rooney’s Derby are very much not level, and the consequences if he fails to steer them from the bottom three are ruinous, with or without a takeover.
He scored one of the greatest Premier League goals, a bicycle kick against Manchester City
Rooney scored from the spot to become England’s all-time record goalscorer in 2016
Rooney captained United to the Europa League title under Jose Mourinho in 2017
He wrote his name in the history books again, becoming United’s record goalscorer in 2017
League One now operates under a £2.5m annual salary cap, averaging £1,700 per player per week. This does not apply to existing contracts – if a player currently earns £3,000-per-week, only £1,700 will count – but all new contracts must conform.
The investment of Derby’s potential new owners will be rendered pretty worthless by a tumble into League One. No matter the international pull of a marquee name – and Rooney is going to attract a lot more global attention than the traditional management firefighter, a Neil Warnock figure – this is a huge gamble by Derby, hoping a novice can move them safely up the table.
New managers require time; but Derby haven’t got time. Some need patience and indulgence, too, but Derby cannot afford that either. They must hope that the green shoots of a 2-0 win over promotion-chasing Swansea and a 4-0 victory at Birmingham under Rooney continue to grow. And that growth must be seen on Saturday, when Derby host Rotherham in a match that would see the teams swap positions in the event of an away win.
And so it begins. Rooney’s leap into the deep end. ‘Being a player-manager was impossible, it was too much,’ he said. ‘I know people have done it in the past but I had to play or manage, I couldn’t do both. So this moment has been coming. I have come to terms with that. It’s something I have been working towards for a few years now. It is what I want to do. I am ready. It’s a big moment for me, and the club.’
He sounded happy, decided and optimistic. Of course, they all start out like that.
The Liverpudlian got his long-desired return to Everton after falling down the pecking order
Many felt his move to the MLS would be the last stop in Rooney’s fabulous playing career
However, Rooney returned to second-tier Derby County in a player-coaching role in 2020
Rooney now has a big job to avoid relegation and get Derby back into the Premier League