The former Manchester United great could suffer the first-ever relegation of his career with Derby County, but he has a long-term vision for the club that allows him to see past their current troubles
Wayne Rooney was never under any illusions as to the size of the opportunity that had suddenly presented itself to him.
The finest goalscorer of his generation, and one of the greatest English players of all time, was offered the chance to become Derby County manager in January 2021.
It was probably earlier than he anticipated, at the age of just 35. Indeed, he had shown earlier that season that he still had more than enough talent to compete on the playing side of things.
But he sensed it was a golden chance to lay the foundations for a bright future in the dugout. Long-term planning clearly played its part in Rooney taking on the job with the Championship side full-time.
Speaking after his unveiling, following a period as interim boss, he said: “When I first arrived back in the United Kingdom (after playing in America) I was completely blown away by the potential of Derby County.
“The stadium, training ground, the quality of the playing staff and the young players coming through and of course the fan base that has remained loyal and supportive. Despite other offers, I knew instinctively Derby County was the place for me.”
What has followed in the ensuing 15 months would seldom be experienced by many managers in their entire careers. Failed takeovers, administration, points deductions, transfer embargoes. You name it, Rooney has had to deal with it.
Derby survived by the skin of their teeth on the final day of last season but last year was a walk in the park compared to the current campaign.
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Not many would have blamed Rooney for walking away. At various junctures he must have felt like it.
But he has kept faith with the club and rightfully won plenty of plaudits for his management of the whole messy situation.
The 21-point handicap was always going to be a huge deficit to overcome, and despite Friday’s brilliant win over a Fulham side on the brink of promotion – a result which showed the fight Rooney has instilled – Derby’s seemingly inevitable relegation would be confirmed today if they fail to beat Queens Park Rangers and Reading get a superior result at home to Swansea.
The Royals are nine points clear of the Rams with each club having four matches left to play.
Despite that, Rooney has made all the right sounds with regards sticking with the club even if they do drop into the third tier for the first time since 1986.
Chris Kirchner’s prospective takeover appears to have re-energised Rooney and Derby supporters, who are hoping the American can get a deal completed in time to make a genuine promotion push from League One next term.
“I have been in constant conversation with Chris for eight months, really,” Rooney said this week. “I know the direction he wants to go, we want to move this club forward. I think it is good to have a young ambitious owner who is willing to put his money in to get this club back. We have to make sure we do things in the right way and make sure we rebuild it, and make sure the club stays in a stable position.
“I think he [Chris Kirchner] has openly said he wants me to be here next season and I have been completely honest with my answers and responses to questions on it. We need it [the takeover] to be completed.”
Sources close to the Kirchner deal have told Mirror Football that the deal is going through all the necessary checks and are hopeful it can be completed soon, amid the backdrop of a tight timescale. Kirchner’s period of exclusivity ends on May 7 – the final day of the Championship season.
Despite all the problems behind the scenes, Rooney’s words about seeing the potential of the club still ring true.
Perhaps expectantly, he says: “Hopefully when this deal goes through, I am here next season to make sure we can bounce back if we do get relegated or we can build a squad which is capable of competing in the Championship.”