By Craig Jones. April 8, 2020
When Championship side Derby County announced that Wayne Rooney would be joining the club during the 2019/20 season it was a move that stopped many in their tracks.
After spending two seasons at MLS side DC United, the 34-year-old former Man United superstar signed on to be player-coach at Derby, evidently looking to remain playing at a decent level while also having one eye on his future.
He agreed an 18-month deal with the Midlands’ side, beginning on January 1, 2020 and lasting for the remainder of this season and all of next.
Despite starting off with an assist in his Derby debut, Rooney scored just three goals in his first two and a half months at Pride Park.
So it’s fair to say we’ve not seen the best of the ex-England captain so far, and this current stoppage has prevented any chance of that happening this season even if football resumes.
Wayne Rooney signs 18-month Derby County contract as player-coach and is handed the No 32 shirt after club shamelessly lands 'record-breaking' sponsorship deal with online betting firm 32Red https://t.co/377zzSbxXF— MailOnline Sport (@MailSport) August 6, 2019
Rooney actually signed a deal to play for Derby back in August 2019, but as he was still playing for DC United in the United States he had to wait until the MLS season ended and the transfer window opened before he could play.
At the start of the season Rooney knew he was joining a team that had reached the playoff final in the previous campaign, with hopes to go close again. By the time he was able to play in January, things were very different.
The club was struggling in the bottom half of the table and in desperate need of a spark.
Rooney came at exactly the right time and the team won four, drew one and lost one of the first six games with him in the line-up.
Right now, Derby are five points off the playoffs with nine games to go. If those games take place then of course they cannot be discounted, but their chances of overtaking so many appear slim.
While Rooney is certainly comfortable at Derby and at the level he is playing right now there is no doubt he would have loved one last crack at the Premier League where he shone for some 16 years.
Regardless of whether this season continues or not, it is extremely likely we will see Rooney at Derby next season.
He is contracted to play for the club, so would have to move or retire to be released from that agreement and that seems unlikely.
Eleven league games with three goals and two assists while lacking a real match sharpness was more than a fair return during the short time we’ve had to watch his play this season.
Those goals and assists came from midfield too. On his return to English football Rooney dropped a little deeper, which certainly helps him though it has changed how Derby play.
Manager Phillip Cocu has allowed him to play in central midfield with a free role to alleviate the defensive responsibilities of someone normally in that position. He is often found drifting around to try and find space, though it does cause other players to work harder as cover for him.
The position that Rooney has created for himself at Derby is certainly one he can play in next season, during which he will turn 35.
Remaining at Derby will allow Rooney to continue his coaching role, gaining valuable experience for a possible managerial stint after hanging up his boots.
This is something he has hinted at and a reason why he went to Derby because it was part of the deal.
Whether it is at some point during next season if things don’t go to plan, or later, Derby wouldn’t be the worst place for Rooney to begin this next phase.
They took on a rookie boss in Frank Lampard recently, who brought them to the brink of the Premier League. After that experience, Derby would more than likely be happy to try it again.
Lampard is now managing Chelsea, a dream come true for the former player which gives Rooney someone to aspire to.
Whatever the dream job is for Rooney, whether it’s a return to Manchester United or childhood team Everton, Derby is proven to be a solid starting point.
Should Rooney manage Derby, no one would expect him to stay there for a long period, just like they didn’t with Frank Lampard. Selfishly, it could be the steppingstone that his career needs and it may present itself at exactly the right time.
"I don't see this as a risk."— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) July 4, 2019
New Chelsea boss Frank Lampard says he is not "fearful" of returning to his former side as manager, but admitted the Stamford Bridge job is the biggest challenge of his career.
Full story: https://t.co/21oKqVxlq4 #CFC pic.twitter.com/q0yDXq779G
One thing Wayne Rooney has is valuable experience under some of the best managers in the world. This will stand him in good stead moving forward.
His work with the youngsters at Derby has already been praised by Cocu, himself a man that has a wealth of experience.
It seems natural that Rooney will go into management at some point in the next two or three years. He’s never been a big hit with the media, so is unlikely to go into that kind of work.
Derby fans will be hoping he sticks around enough to become their manager, a distinct possibility right now. Wherever he goes, don’t be surprised if Rooney does follow in the footsteps of Frank Lampard and finds success before landing a big role.