Wayne Rooney went almost his entire playing career without any real brush with relegation. Moving into management at Derby County this season will have been a rude awakening to what professional football is like at the sharp end for him.
Scraping a 3-3 draw with Sheffield Wednesday at Pride Park on the final day of the EFL Championship season, relegating the Owls in place of Rooney’s Rams, is a far cry from major international tournaments with England and playing in Europe at Manchester United. Had Rotherham not succumbed to a late equaliser at Cardiff City, then the result in the East Midlands would’ve seen both sides drop into League One.
— Wayne Rooney (@WayneRooney) May 9, 2021
Rooney and Derby live to fight another day, however, and this new experience ought to stand him in good stead for the rigours of coaching. There have been instances where players’ wages at Pride Park haven’t been paid on time and a proposed takeover fell through in what has been a rollercoaster ride of his first six months as a manager, after succeeding Phillip Cocu in November.
It’s a good thing County avoided relegation too, as there are fewer League One games broadcast on TV, which means less revenue from that source. The final day decider was available on a number of live football streaming options and it’s likely to be the same next season for the pivotal matches, at the very least.
A rebuilding job
A number of senior players are out of contract with the Rams this summer, either because their loan spells come to an end or their deals are up. They include defensive duo Andre Wisdom and Curtis Davies, who captained the team until rupturing his Achilles before Christmas.
Nobody was prolific in attack for Derby this season, but forwards Martyn Waghorn and Lee Gregory got eight between them. Take out their contributions and, moving forward, Rooney looks heavily reliant upon Tom Lawrence and Colin Kazim-Richards for goals.
Without new investment in County, it is hard to see them becoming consistent challengers for promotion again. Between 2014 and 2019, the club made the Championship play-offs four times in six seasons, but that looks little more than an aspiration rather than an achievable target right now.
Teams have bounced back from finishing in the lower reaches of this division one season, only to improve out of all recognition the next. Huddersfield Town and Cardiff City are recent examples of surprise promotions from the Championship that nobody really saw coming. Barnsley are looking to seal a similar fate, having made the play-offs after finishing the 2019-20 campaign fourth from bottom.
This is a 30-year low ebb for Derby, though, after nearly dropping into the third tier for the first time since 1986.
Rooney won’t want to be beaten with the same stick that so many great players suffer when they go into management. The top coaches weren’t necessarily the best on the pitch, but nobody can take away this survival bid from the rookie Rams boss.
His margin for error was great, and Rooney put his footballing reputation on the line by taking Derby on in difficult circumstances. Where he can take them from here may end up defining his career in the dugout.