Written on 10th February
After Mel Morris left Derby County in administration in September, few could have predicted the events that have transpired ever since. The club, first, has had 12 points deducted from them for going into administration and then a further 9 in November for Financial Fair Play rules breach. Even after getting near 4 strong bidders, Derby County is still without a new owner and are currently facing the prospect of liquidation if they are unable to prove they have the funds to last the whole season. Moreover, the club is currently under a transfer embargo, meaning they are not able to sign new players and face the prospect of their current players leaving for peanuts.
So, with a 21 point deduction, a club in administration, a transfer embargo, a debt of more than £60m and no potential new owner in sight, it is safe to say Derby County’s off the field issues have left the club in turmoil. However, when The Rams step out onto the football pitch, they act like anything but.
Even after their points deduction, Derby County are currently off the bottom of the table for the first time since September and 4 points off safety. Pundits and journalists described Derby’s season as ‘finished’ when their deduction total reached 21 in November, but they now have a glimmer of hope of surviving in the English second tier in the most extraordinary circumstances. And the person responsible for this is their manager Wayne Rooney.
One could say that Rooney kind of stumbled onto the managerial job at Derby County. His predecessor, Philip Cocu, after a run of unimpressive form and results, had left Derby County at the bottom of the table at the start of the 2020-21 season. Cocu was sacked and he was replaced by an interim management team of Liam Rosenoir, Shay Given, Justin Walker and Wayne Rooney. Rooney was still a player-coach at the time. However, after 2 straight losses for the interim coaching team which left Derby 6 points off safety, Rooney announced that he would be taking the command as manager full-time and subsequently, announced his retirement as a player.
Derby went on an impressive run under their new manager. They were out of the relegation spots by January after being 6 points adrift of safety at the time of Rooney’s appointment. On January 15, the Englishman was given the job on a permanent basis. By the end of February, Derby were 18th, 8 points clear of the relegation spots and having amassed 38 out of 54 points available. Rooney was slowly converting the doubters into believers. However, Derby then went on a torrid run of form and were pulled back into the relegation battle, winning only one out of their last 14 games of the season. A 3-3 draw on the final day of the season against Sheffield Wednesday helped them secure Championship football for another year.
Although, the doubts over Rooney’s capabilities as a manager only grew. The 36-year old received heavy criticism for his poor in-game management, his slightly ‘drab’ brand of football and ‘accepting defeat’ before the final whistle. On the flip side, it was also noted that the Englishman has had to make the best out of an imbalanced and injury-depleted squad with some players also failing to put on a consistent run of form.
Wayne Rooney continued as the manager going into the new season as the previous owner, Mel Morris, had his hands full in dealing with the off-the-field issues that are still haunting the club. Subsequently, the club was put into administration by Morris in September and the points deduction was confirmed.
The situation was so bad that Morris didn’t even inform Rooney that the club had gone into administration. Rooney got to know about the news via Sky Sports and when Rooney tried to contact Morris, he wouldn’t take his calls. Rooney claims that Mel Morris is the reason why Derby are in this situation and it is hard to disagree on that.
“Mel addressed the players and the staff as a group on Tuesday, which obviously I was in on that meeting, but in a one-on-one conversation, I still haven’t had anything – no phone call, no message. In my opinion, it wasn’t sincere, it was not heartfelt enough and it was not done with enough honesty. He has obviously moved on and we have to move on and put Mel Morris to the back of our minds and look forward.” -Wayne Rooney speaking to the Guardian in September
And he did move on.
So, a dishonest owner, a transfer embargo, a club in administration and a 21 point deduction. A handful few could have criticised Rooney if he walked away from the club in that situation. He doesn’t need the money, he believes he could manage in the PL or anywhere else and he definitely doesn’t need a relegation on his managerial CV in his first job.
But if Rooney’s playing career has taught us anything, it is that he is a fighter and fighters don’t walk away when the going gets tough. So, Wayne being Wayne, he stayed and he has helped the club in more ways than one.
“I am committed to this football club. I grew up on a council estate in Liverpool. I know how tough life can be. What kind of person would I be if I went and laid on a beach for a few weeks.” -Wayne Rooney
Rooney has paid for extra training equipment, paid for the away trips when the club did not have enough money. There was a video Rio Ferdinand made where a drone was seen being used in training. A coach later confirmed that Rooney was the one who bought it. Rooney has worked overtime and even slept in his office to prepare the team for their matches and give them the best chance of succeeding. Wayne Rooney has also given his personal phone number to the Derby County supporters club. “I’ve made contact with the supporters’ club and they have my phone number now. It’s nice they have that direct line to me.”
As for the results on the pitch this season, Derby aren’t doing too bad either. Derby have so far won 8, drawn 12 and lost 9 of their games. They are currently 23rd with 4 points off safety after the points deduction. If Derby did not have the points deduction, they would have been 16th, 19 points ahead of the relegation zone. So, in isolation, Wayne Rooney has done a much better job this season at Derby County with a considerably worse squad compared to the last season.
Considering the situation at the club, it is a testament to Rooney’s abilities as a manager that he has managed to keep this group of players motivated throughout the season. The players are playing with a true belief that the great escape is indeed a possibility. Derby has managed to snatch draws and wins from the jaws of defeat. Be it the win and draw against the promotion favourites Bournemouth and Fulham or the 2-2 draws against Reading and Birmingham after 2 quick late goals in both the matches. Or be it the victory against Sheffield United after being 2-1 down at halftime. The Rams simply won’t give up and that’s a credit to the players for fighting and the manager for making them believe. Derby may not have the best team in the league but they are ready to outrun, outfight and outbattle any team. Wayne Rooney’s man-management has received a lot of praise from pundits, fans and players. The players say that Wayne Rooney won’t allow Derby County players to give up and if their performances are anything to go by then it is pretty evident.
Besides his astute man-management and motivational skills, the Englishman is no slouch when it comes to tactics either. For instance, Rooney changed the formation and shape of the team against Sheffield United when they were losing 2-1 at halftime. The tactical tweak from a 4 man backline to a 3 man backline worked wonders as Derby were able to secure a 3-2 win. Derby County usually lines up in a 4-2-3-1 formation but at times change to a 4-4-2, 4-4-1-1, 4-3-3 and even a 3-4-1-2. Derby’s main strengths lie in their well-drilled defence and their low block. It just shows Rooney’s tactical flexibility and his ability to get the best out of his players despite the formation they play.
Of course, it goes without saying that if a team comprising of misfits, youth academy graduates and players in their twilight era are performing so well, it is somewhat down to the tactics as well. As current Bayern manager Julian Nagelsmann, has once said, “Football is 30% tactics and 70% man management” and Rooney seems to be excelling at both of them.
The current Derby squad is comprised of veteran players on free transfers and youth academy players. At the start of the season, Wayne Rooney had only 13 players at his disposal who could be considered as regular first-team players the English manager has given up to 20 debuts to players from the Derby County youth academy ever since. Rooney must have been hoping for the situation to improve come January so that he could extend short term contracts of Phil Jagielka and Sam Baldock but there was no improvement. Key players such as Graeme Shinnie and Phil Jagielka both left the club due to the current situation after Rooney received false reassurances from the board that no players would be leaving the club in January. Highly-rated young fullback Dylan Williams has also left the club to join Chelsea while no new players have joined the club and as it stands, there isn’t a bidder who can take over the club and secure the future of the Rams.
Derby County is a club in turmoil but Rooney has been the glue at the club. His commitment to Derby after so many setbacks is remarkable and deserves nothing but praise. Even in such an awful toxic environment, Rooney has managed to motivate this squad and instil belief in them that they can pull off the ‘great escape’.
Wayne Rooney has traditionally been associated with an image of someone who may not be that bright in the English media. His tweets and his famous (or infamous) ‘Erm…’ during interviews as a player does not help his case either. Surely, Rooney is now accustomed to the type of snark humour he gets from the press. Although, anyone who has managed or worked with him has always maintained that his image in the media is a stark contrast to what the reality is. He is a lot sharper than how he comes across and Wayne Rooney, the manager, just proves that. If we look at his work at Derby County, the way he handles the media, the way he motivates the players and the way he prepares for games, gives signs of an intelligent manager. Even Rio Ferdinand, after visiting Derby’s training, admitted that Wayne Rooney, the manager is completely different to Wayne Rooney, the player.
It is likely that Derby County may end up getting relegated. It is also possible that the club may cease to exist if they are not able to find a bidder soon. But, as things stand, Derby County are 4 points off safety, a feat even the most optimistic of Derby fans couldn’t have imagined at the start of the season. As it stands, Wayne Rooney is in contention to be Championship manager of the season, which is not bad for someone who is 36, in his first managerial job, working in Derby County a club which could be a bestselling manual for how not to run a football club.
But above all, Wayne Rooney has given Derby County fans something that cannot be measured. He has given them faith that their club will not go down without a fight. He has given them hope that the great escape is indeed possible. He has given them hope that when the tide turns, they are in for much better times. As the old saying goes, ‘There is always light at the end of the tunnel’.
So, the players will once again roll up their sleeves, ignore the noise and go out of the tunnel at Pride Park in search of the light. Wayne Rooney will once again stand in the dugout hoping to move one step closer towards the greatest achievement of his career, or so he says. Derby County will once again go out there to prove that they are not going anywhere without a proper fight.
Written by Hrishikesh Dabir | Feature Image by (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
El Arte Del Futbol is an official content creator for OneFootball. Find more Original features, Player profiles, Manager Profiles and Tactical Analysis’ on www.elartedf.com. If you are reading this on our website, we’d like to thank you for your continuous support! Follow us on Twitter to stay updated