How will Derby and Phillip Cocu manage the world of Wayne Rooney? | Football
Remember the name? Wayne Rooney, the all-time leading goalscorer for England and Manchester United, is coming home from the US. It was always going to happen – that fair skin could not stay in the Washington heat for ever – but after 18 months Rooney will return from DC United to England in the new year and get stuck into the next stage of his career, as a coach. In fact he will do more than that. He will still be a player.
In announcing the January move Derby’s manager, Phillip Cocu, spoke about the “positive contribution” he felt Rooney could make across the club. As for the player-coach himself, he talked about making a “big contribution”. Note the small difference in language there. It is a good illustration of how, while there are a few aspects to this move that make obvious sense, there are others that set off all the alarms one might have rigged up in case of an outbreak of Modern Football.
Taking the positives first, Derby have got themselves a world-class striker. He is pretty much a straight replacement for David Nugent which, with all respect to the latter, is something of an upgrade.
That is with caveats of course. Rooney’s legs went some time ago. Louis van Gaal famously told this paper in June that the striker was “over the hill” by 2014. However, Van Gaal added that, despite this, the striker remained one of his best players and Rooney scored 44 goals for United in the Dutchman’s two seasons at the club. He has scored 23 in 42 appearances for DC United, too (yes, the level is not quite so good). Regardless of age, size or attitude, the boy knows where the goal is.
Then there is the attitude. In terms of commitment, on the pitch and the training field, it is top-notch (the extracurricular activities can wait). José Mourinho, whose martial approach to football meant he was not that keen on Anthony, tried to sign Rooney for Chelsea and, when he allowed him to leave Old Trafford for Everton, called him a “model professional” whose “experience, focus and determination will be missed”. That is what a team like Derby County, accustomed to getting close to the line but not over it, will be adding to their setup.
This leads to the less energising aspects of the arrangement. Player-managers one can just about understand although, Kenny Dalglish excepted, they do not have a great reputation. And player‑coach is a more complicated beast altogether. A player-manager might pick himself ahead of another. But, if a manager chooses not to pick his player-coach, he has not only a disgruntled player to worry about but a disgruntled coach. In this instance, that is not only a disgruntled player and a disgruntled coach but one who won the Premier League’s Goal of the 20 Seasons award to boot.
There is also the question of how Rooney will enjoy being a trophy scalp for some of the Championship’s tougher nuts when he does play. Or quite what contribution he will have to the coaching setup. It is certain that Cocu sees Rooney as being there to share his experience. Will that be enough for a man who makes no secret of his wish to move into management soon?
A lot of these concerns are, to a certain extent, irrelevant. For the biggest alarm-bell ringer of the lot is that this deal has been done, at least in part, out of commercial interest. The video on social media announcing Rooney’s arrival began with a lengthy shot of the initials WR32. That is Rooney’s new squad number, which just happens to chime with that of the club sponsor, 32Red.
Derby’s executive chairman, Mel Morris, who this year sold Pride Park to himself, was quite upfront about the commercial opportunities the signing presented. “On the back of Wayne joining the club, we have just been offered a record‑breaking sponsorship deal with our principal shirt sponsor, 32Red,” he said. It seems fair to assume that Derby have since accepted that offer.
Signing Rooney will bring money into Derby (though, if they get anywhere near paying his £100,000-per-week salary at DC, it will also mean money going out). That money will require, at least some of the time, that Rooney is a present, visible part of the club. If the England icon falls out of form, for example, or gets arrested for a drinking-related misdemeanour (as he has been twice in the past two years) then what does Cocu do then?
The Derby manager is himself no footballing small fry and, as a Dutchman, will not be shy about expressing his own feelings should the moment require it. Whether this deal is successful will come down in many ways to perception and Cocu will be the guy who has to manage that. Good luck, Phillip!