Why Derby County’s relegation isn’t a fair reflection of Wayne Rooney’s managerial talents

Wayne Rooney is about to complete a first full season as manager of Derby County - and he is already starting to make a name for himself in the dugout, just as he did as a player two decades ago.

“Remember the name, Wayne Rooney!” roared out from the television.

It’s hard to believe it’s almost 20 years since ITV commentator Clive Tyldesley uttered those memorable words seconds after English football’s great new hope announced himself on the Premier League scene in a remarkable fashion.

The noise surrounding Rooney had grown during his time in the youth setup at Everton and it reached fever pitch when he crashed home his first senior goal against Arsenal on a bright and sunny Saturday afternoon at Goodison Park.

Just months later, after continuing a magical opening to his top-flight career, a 17-year-old Rooney sat in front of the national press after putting pen-to-paper on a lucrative three-year deal.

Questions over his future ambitions and his love for his boyhood club were met with short, mumbled responses as Rooney showed his confidence in front of the cameras was limited to on-field matters.

Wayne Rooney at Everton in 2002.Wayne Rooney at Everton in 2002.
Wayne Rooney at Everton in 2002.

The contrast between Rooney’s first major public appearance and the display he made in front of players and key members of staff at Derby County earlier this week could not be more stark.

The humility was still there but the confidence and belief were all too evident as he addressed a packed room following the Rams relegation into League One.

“I just want to say thank you from myself and the coaches, whether that’s the chefs, the dinner ladies, the kitmen, whoever it is, you all know you played a big part in what we tried to achieve,” explained Rooney as he kept his emotion under wraps.

“It’s been a tough year, a tough year trying to deal with everything we’ve gone through, try and get over the issues we’ve had to deal with.”

No longer the force of nature he was in his early years as a breakthrough talent, Rooney showed he is now a calm, assured figure that has stood firm in the face of a chaotic season at Pride Park.

Still only in his first full season as Rams boss, the former England and Manchester United star has endured something of a crash course into life in the dugout.

At times during his player, Rooney, for all of his obvious passion, showed signs of petulance when things went against him and was often accused of lashing out in times of pressure.

But the maturity and warmth he has shown to guide the Rams through arguably the most turbulent season in their history hints at better things to come for manager and club.

Relegation may well feel like failure - but in truth, the manner of their demotion and the never-say-die spirit shown in a battle against the odds says so much more about Rooney and his Rams squad.

Relegation to League One - crisi-torn Derby CountyRelegation to League One - crisi-torn Derby County
Relegation to League One - crisi-torn Derby County

A 21-point deduction imposed when the club were placed in administration in November last year felt like a mortal blow to their hopes of survival in the Championship.

Players have been sold to ease at least some of the financial burden, deadlines over possible takeovers have come and gone and speculation over his own future has proven to be a distraction to what felt like mission impossible.

Yet inspired by the surprisingly cool, calm and collected leadership of Rooney, Derby took their battle against the drop into the final weeks of the season.

Starting next season in English football’s third tier would be new ground for Rooney - but the immediate concern is safeguarding the club’s future as American businessman Chris Kirchner looks to complete a takeover in the coming weeks.

Rooney seems to have formed a bond with players, staff and supporters at Pride Park and many speak warmly of a man that has managed to reconnect all parties behind one common cause.

Chris Kirchner looks on before the Sky Bet Championship match between Derby County and Queens Park Rangers.Chris Kirchner looks on before the Sky Bet Championship match between Derby County and Queens Park Rangers.
Chris Kirchner looks on before the Sky Bet Championship match between Derby County and Queens Park Rangers.

Should Kirchner be successful in his takeover of the Rams, allowing Rooney to continue his managerial career with the club should be at the very top of his list of priorities.

Surprisingly, for someone that remains England’s all-time record goalscorer and won multiple trophies with Manchester United, Rooney still seems to divide opinion when it comes to his playing career.

Yet surely there can be little division when it comes to assessing his obvious potential for life in the dugout - even if his managerial career is still in its formative years.

Remember the name, Wayne Rooney - because he could be about to make a big impression as a promising young manager.