Calling drink-drive stars from the US, instructing young players and not relying on his reputation… how Wayne Rooney has influenced Derby and shone on the pitch ahead of facing his old side Manchester United in FA Cup
- Wayne Rooney joined Championship side Derby County earlier this campaign
- He faces his old team Manchester United in the FA Cup fifth round on Thursday
- Rooney has had a huge influence both on and off the pitch for the Rams
- His arrival has coincided with an upturn in form and he has impressed there
The supporters chanted his name for months before he had even laced up his boots and his presence has been the highlight of a low season for Derby. Even if they’re destined for mid-table, Rams fans will remember the name Wayne Rooney.
If Rooney’s arrival at Pride Park was a surprise, then Thursday night will feel a bit like fate. A clash with his old side Manchester United awaits. Rooney, it seems, deserves it for the off-pitch impact he has had at Derby.
First, though, the on-pitch reality. Rooney was announced as a January arrival back in August and in the intervening period, the team fell apart. As Rooney cut short his spell in the United States, where he played for DC United, Richard Keogh was sacked after injuring himself on the night out that also led to doubts over Tom Lawrence and Mason Bennett.
Wayne Rooney has impressed both on and off the pitch since joining Derby in January
The veteran will take on his former side Manchester United in the FA Cup later this week
Rooney has helped Derby improve their form considerably since arriving at the club
It seemed as though Rooney would be entering a madhouse.
Rooney might have reasonably anticipated a promotion battle — understandable given the side reached the play-off final last season — but under Phillip Cocu, Derby were sinking.
They won just one out of the five games before he was available to play. The night before his debut, Sportsmail reported that players had been paid late due to a delay in an intended tranche of investment from Swiss-Turk entrepreneur Henry Gabay.
Relegation seemed a legitimate concern as they dropped down the table.
The 34-year-old had watched from the bench for weeks and made an immediate impact when he was allowed to be registered. They won three of their next four in the Championship to move into mid-table.
The 34-year-old spent weeks watching his team from the dugout before he was allowed to play
Rooney has starred while playing in a deeper role. People have taken to describing him as the quarterback of the Derby side, avoiding putting too many yards into those ageing legs while using his technical ability to spray passes around the park.
Any threat of a late charge for the play-offs has disappeared yet Cocu will appreciate how Rooney has helped results. Given Rooney initially assumed he would be joining his old England team-mate Frank Lampard, only for him to leave for Chelsea, stability in the dugout will be a positive to the midfielder.
What Cocu will also be a fan of is the influence Rooney is having off the pitch. It is easy to forget that part of Rooney’s remit at Derby is as a coach, with the former United man intending to learn the ropes ahead of his first steps into management.
He has been working on his coaching badges for years, with the FA sending a man over to America to oversee his progress while he was playing out there.
He has had a considerable influence on the younger players in the Derby dressing room
Rooney has had a huge influence already at Derby when it comes to the younger players in the side. Scott Parker explained it recently after his side Fulham faced the Rams.
He said: ‘He’s had a massive impact since he’s been here, it’s no surprise Derby’s upturn in form has coincided with Wayne coming to the club.
‘I have no doubt, I don’t know looking in from the outside, but when you bring in a player of Wayne Rooney’s calibre, you’re not just talking about his technique because that’s there for everyone to see.
‘But you bring a player into the building that has a mentality of knowing what it is about and driving standards every single day and he’s probably scooping a few up along the way.’
Rooney spoke to Tom Lawrence (No 10), who was involved in the Derby drink-drive incident last year, before he had arirved in the Midlands to take up the challenge at his new club
Rooney does not rely on his reputation when he speaks to players and has justified his role
They include Lawrence and Bennett, who Rooney spoke to after the drink-driving incident last year. He also did his research on his future team-mates, watching every game before his arrival.
Rooney has a particular appreciation for Max Bird, who plays alongside him in defensive midfield. The 19-year-old has to do a lot of running for him, but Rooney instructs and cajoles so the partnership works effectively.
The veteran was full of praise for Bird after the weekend’s win over Sheffield Wednesday. Rooney said: ‘As a young player, it is not easy to do the simple things, and that’s what (Max Bird) does.
‘He gets the ball and moves it on. He keeps it simple and defends well. He has been great, to play alongside him has made my job easier.’
There are times when his age catches up to him and he is not as effective on the pitch
Bird has improved tremendously since Rooney turned up. Jason Knight, an 18-year-old Republic of Ireland Under 21 star, has also benefited.
Yet Rooney has not rested on the laurels of his reputation. He may be the most decorated man in the dressing room and — while Cocu did have a fine playing career himself — in the dugout, but he does not assume that gives him the right to boss other team-mates around.
‘During a break in the training session or afterwards, when he has observed something, he will step up and have the conversation with the player about it,’ said Cocu. ‘But he will have already got to know the player.’
Cocu also explained how the dynamic between the two works when the team are playing. ‘Wayne provides quality, a class player, he has character and can also provide a link between the technical staff and the players,’ he said.
There are still those who seem starstruck when they face Rooney in the Championship
‘When we discuss options on the pitch before the game, I only have to wave and call his name. He gives something extra to us. He speaks a lot to the young players and gives us organisation. He shows how to press and push and on which side.’
Rooney uses that knowledge to position himself best on the pitch. He can often be seen dropping all over Derby’s half of the pitch to find the free yards he needs to make passes. His vision is brilliant, but not just in terms of where he might ping the ball.
As he roams around the pitch in that No 32 shirt — the result of a tie up with sponsors 32Red, who have paid a lot of his £100,000 a week wages — the flashes of his old quality are there, even if his fitness is not. He did, it must be said, make an error that led to the loss against QPR.
It is just one black mark on an otherwise spotless copybook though. His outlook and the manner in which he plays might not rest on his reputation but his fame still speaks for him at times.
When Rooney faces United, he will be crucial to any Derby attempt to cause an upset
The Championship has also been taken aback. Dominic Iorfa, who was on the losing side for Wednesday this weekend, said: ‘Growing up, watching Wayne Rooney, he is one of the best players this country has produced.
‘It was bitter-sweet. It was great to be playing against him, but I would rather have the win.’
United may not remember the game of Wayne Rooney when he faces them on Thursday. They will still, though, see the influencer they once knew. Derby’s record of five wins from 11 in the league with Rooney in the side shows his importance. As does the fact he has worn the armband since the day of his debut against Barnsley.
The FA Cup tends to throw up less shocks as the rounds go by but if the Rams upset United, it will almost certainly come down to Rooney and what he has brought to the club both as a player and as a man.
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