How? When? Why? And who saw this coming? Our reporter Rob Dorsett was at Wayne Rooney’s news conference on Tuesday. Here he fills us in on some of the reasons behind his shock return to English football with Derby County…
The pressures of living in America, away from friends and loved ones, have been the driving force behind Wayne Rooney and his family’s return to the UK.
Wife Coleen has struggled to settle into life in the US capital and last month Rooney was given what DC United manager Ben Olsen called “a mental and physical break” from the MLS campaign, adding there were “signs of wear and tear” as the 33-year-old entered his second year at Audi Field.
During his break back at their Cheshire home, Sky Sports News understands Wayne and Coleen agreed that life for them and their four young children would be better back in the UK.
Keen to find a quick solution to an unexpected problem, Rooney’s agent Paul Stretford set about exploring new challenges back in England, leading to the extraordinary developments in Derby.
On the field, Rooney has been worth every penny of his two-and-a-half-year, £10.7m deal, lifting DC United from the bottom of their league to the play-offs and scoring 23 goals in 42 games.
However, off the field, life has proven to be more of a challenge. Rooney was arrested in January after being drunk on a flight and he was detained at Dulles Airport in Virginia, for public intoxication and swearing.
Keen not to let DC United down, Rooney agreed a financial deal with club officials guaranteeing he would stay until the end of the campaign – which could stretch to November – but insisting there was no transfer fee for Derby to pay.
Rooney has started his coaching badges and will continue them while he is still in Washington. He says he will have completed them by the time he joins up with Derby in January.
How can Derby afford it?
We know Derby are sailing quite close to the wind in terms of Financial Fair Play – the EFL’s profitability and sustainability rules as they are now called – but owner Mel Morris is adamant this will make Derby County money rather than lose it.
The extra commercial opportunities, the extra sponsorship, I think they are still discussing image rights and details to that end. But all that financial business that goes on in the periphery of football, Morris thinks they can actually make a profit on Wayne Rooney and still pay him those extraordinarily high wages.
A lot of people in the Championship will raise their eyebrows and say it’s Derby spending big bucks again. It is, but let’s see if Morris is right and they will actually be able to offset it with gains elsewhere.
Why has Rooney chosen Derby?
Rooney was a big admirer of Louis van Gaal’s coaching methods when he was at Manchester United and it’s thought he has been convinced Derby’s current boss, Phillip Cocu, has a similar approach to his countryman.
Potential future parallels with the rapid rise of Frank Lampard, promoted this summer to Chelsea head coach after a single season in management at Derby, are also impossible to ignore.
Rooney was impressed by the grounding in coaching Lampard got at Derby as well as his relationship with Morris.
In fact, it was Rooney’s representatives who first contacted Derby about the possibility because it seemed the perfect level, both in a playing sense and a coaching sense, for Rooney to develop.
Has England’s ‘Golden Generation’ been recast?
Rooney’s foray into coaching follows something of a trend by his former England team-mates. Of the so-called ‘Golden Generation’ which played for England between 2002 and 2006, Lampard has already joined the ranks of Premier League managers, Steven Gerrard is in charge of Rangers, John Terry is assistant head coach at Aston Villa and Phil Neville manages England Women.
How did the Rooney deal happen?
According to Morris, Rooney’s shock return has “only been a couple of days in the offing [and] the starting point was that Wayne was keen to return to the UK”.
Derby’s chief executive Stephen Pearce flew out to Washington on Friday to meet Rooney and his representatives – such was Derby’s concern that they may miss out on him if another club came in to poach him.
Pearce was with Rooney’s camp when a number of interested parties, both in England and abroad, called to try and begin negotiations, but Rooney remained steadfast in his desire to join Derby. Pearce “baby-sat” Rooney all the way to England and was with him almost constantly until the moment he signed the contract on Tuesday.
When will he join?
Rooney will not start his new role with Derby until January in order to complete DC’s 2019 season, which is due to finish no later than November.
This return to DC suits all parties – if Rooney joined Derby now and started playing straight away it would mean he played half a season in the USA, followed immediately by up to 45 league games for Derby. That’s 68 games without a break.
The plan is to complete the US season, have a brief holiday, then begin a mini pre-season with Derby in late November/early December so he is fit and ready to play in January.
As things stand he won’t be eligible for Derby’s game at home to Barnsley on New Year’s Day because that is the first day he can register as a player with the EFL. However, if that game is selected by Sky Sports to be a live game on January 2, or later, he could then make his debut. Otherwise his first availability will be the FA Cup third-round tie on the weekend of January 4/5.
Has Rooney been a success in MLS?
Rooney is set to leave DC United without having led them to a trophy – but his impact Stateside should not be underestimated. There have been stunning highlights and the stats confirm him as one of the standout players in MLS during his spell in the US.
From the goal he scored in his own half in June to the outrageous tackle and long-range match-winning assist in August 2018, some of Rooney’s play has made waves way beyond the boundaries of MLS.
He arrived in June 2018 with DC United bottom of the Eastern Conference but he inspired them to a surge into the play-off places and picked up a nomination for the MLS MVP (player of the year) award after scoring 12 goals and recording seven assists in 20 regular season games.