- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
It is around six o'clock in the morning when Wayne Rooney leaves his Cheshire home to travel to Derby’s training ground on the outskirts of the city.
The 130-mile round trip is a grind — even with a chauffeur doing the driving — but Rooney does not let the time go to waste. Instead, he ensures that every minute is spent plotting and preparing for the next chapter in his stellar career.
Next week Rooney will present his future plans and philosophy for the Championship club to the board, and incoming new owners Bin Zayed International, and stake a claim to land the job permanently as manager.
He is now in pole position to take his first managerial role, and the prospect of retirement as a footballer, after 19 years as a professional, is looming large in his rear-view mirrors.
Since taking the lead as Derby’s interim manager, the club are unbeaten in six games with two wins and four draws. On Wednesday evening, they produced their best performance of the season to beat Swansea 2-0.
Crucially, Derby have also managed four clean sheets in a row, tightening up at the back and removing one of the key issues which led to Phillip Cocu’s demise.
Those nagging fears that Rooney, 35, was simply being promoted due to his name and reputation are proving unfounded so far. What appeared unlikely last month now appears inevitable.
“I feel my future is in management and I’m ready to do it on a full-time basis,” he said on Friday, over Zoom. “As a player, I was prepared to put myself forward and not hide behind other people — it’s the same for this job.
“I want to go into management full-time and there will be no excuses if it doesn’t work out. There has been a lot of pressure and if it didn’t go well it wouldn’t look great on me or my future ambitions to be a manager.
“But I believe in myself and I’m confident in my abilities. I’ve been around for a long time: I’ve captained my country and United. I’ll do the best I can to get this club back where it belongs.”
Rooney takes Derby to Rotherham this weekend and another victory will only further his chances of being named manager, ahead of the anticipated takeover next week.
If he is appointed, his days as a player will be behind him. He is England and United’s record goalscorer but took the decision to solely focus on management after the 3-0 defeat at Middlesbrough last month. After nearly two decades, does he miss playing at all?
“If I’m being honest, no!” he says, smiling. “Everyone wants to play as long as they can, but I think I’m ready for that next step.
“I’m enjoying the preparations and tactically trying to get one over your opponent. It’s in some ways more satisfying winning a game as a manager because you’ve got full responsibility for the team.
“When you win the game it’s a great feeling, not only for me but the other coaches who put a lot of hard work in.”
Rooney will be the first to admit Derby’s recent resurgence is not all down to him. Steve McClaren’s return as technical director has been vital, with Rooney regularly leaning on the former England manager for advice on tactics and team selection.
Liam Rosenior is a highly capable first-team coach who completed his Pro-license when Rooney was still playing for United. Rosenior knows the Championship inside out, while the other two coaches, Shay Given and Justin Walker, have also proved invaluable.
Yet Rooney is unquestionably the “big man in town” and has provided the spark behind Derby’s revival. He is fully invested in the job, and acutely aware of the complexities of management beyond getting results on a match-day.
He keeps it simple for the players, with uncomplicated instructions and messages. While Cocu’s determination to instil a identity was admirable, he often left many players confused over their exact role in the team by passing on too much information.
The 4-3-3 formation introduced against Swansea in midweek has been rarely seen in recent times. Rooney also operates an “open-door” policy, giving any player who is dropped the reasons why.
It is not only the first-team where he devotes his time, recognising Derby’s plan to provide a clear pathway from the academy to the senior squad.
Earlier this month, Rooney gave an impromptu team-talk to Derby’s under-18s before their FA Youth Cup tie against Cardiff City. On Monday night, he was at Loughborough University to watch the under-23s.
He regularly speaks to the club’s academy coaches, and has already demonstrated a commitment to young players. Jack Stretton and Kornell McDonald, both 19, have made their debuts under Rooney, ahead of players with significantly more experience.
Rooney has also been making plans for the January transfer window, and is working under the assumption that he will be the one bringing players in.
It raises the question as to whether Rooney ever finds time to relax. “They are long days but I’m not 24-7 and my head is spinning around,” he says. “At home I’ll continue to do my work but I’m pretty good at switching my mind off. I’ve got four young children at home to deal with!”
There was a proud moment for the family, when his eldest son, Kai, signed for Manchester United this week after impressing on trial. As for dad — the next stage of his own footballing journey could soon be upon us.