Wayne Rooney’s surprise return to English football as a player-coach at Derby will shift attention to his post-playing future but the former England captain insists he still has plenty to offer on the pitch first.
Rooney will cut short his 18-month American adventure with DC United at the end of the MLS season to join Derby in January 2020.
The 33-year-old’s player-coach status will allow him to build his credentials as a future manager under the tutelage of Phillip Cocu, but Rooney believes he can help fire the Rams into the Premier League on the pitch too.
“First and foremost I’m a player and that’s what my main focus is on,” said Rooney, who has agreed an 18-month deal with an option for a further season.
“As Phillip says, it’s about learning that (coaching) role, but I’m coming here to play and help the team and hopefully push for promotion.
“Being out of the country for a short period of time, you want to come back and prove yourself again. That’s my sole focus at the minute.”
Rooney admitted his family situation was key to his desire to return to England two years ahead of schedule, but also indicated the opportunity to learn from Cocu was too good to turn down.
“There were other clubs making offers and enquiring about me but I made the decision to come here and that was it, I wasn’t going to go back on my decision,” Rooney said.
“The opportunity to come back to England and play, but also to take up a coaching role with the club and work under Phillip, was too great for me to turn down.”
Cocu said he was excited to work with a player of Rooney’s quality and experience, and the Dutchman said he was ready to pass on the lessons he received at a similar stage of his career when then PSV Eindhoven boss Guus Hiddink began to give him pointers for his post-playing days.
“I will give him all the insights I can on the management part and the coaching part of football,” he said. “I believe there is always a transition when you stop playing, in the first period after you stop you still feel like 95 per cent a player and five per cent a coach.
“In this period you start to look at the game a little bit differently than as a player and I’m sure we, not only me but our staff, can help him in this period.”
Rooney has seen a number of his former England team-mates move into management of late, most recently Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard.
Indeed, Lampard guided Derby to the Championship play-off final as manager last season before leaving for Chelsea, and Rooney’s arrival alongside that of Cocu continues owner Mel Morris’ approach of appointing high-profile names in pursuit of returning the club to the Premier League.
Though DC United will allow Rooney to leave two years ahead of schedule without demanding a transfer fee, the commitment in wages is still considerable for Derby.
Morris said the deal to sign Rooney would benefit Derby both on and off the pitch, and said the contract had already led to a “record-breaking sponsorship deal” with the club’s existing shirt sponsor 32Red, which could be key to satisfying Financial Fair Play rules.
While no direct link was confirmed, it is notable that Rooney’s squad number at Pride Park will be 32.
“The number that I wear is not a big deal,” Rooney said. “I’ve worn many numbers, 18, eight, nine, 23 and now 32. For me the important thing is to come back here and play and try to help the team.
“I think the number is not a big deal, whatever it is.”
Rooney’s desire to move into management has been apparent for some time and he said he was progressing well with his coaching badges, which he expects to have completed by the time he arrives at Pride Park in January.
Rooney said he used to spend time with Ryan Giggs when the now Wales boss was analysing opponents for Louis Van Gaal at Manchester United, and has spent time talking to his managers and coaches at both Everton and then DC United about how to set up teams and prepare for matches.
He was coy when asked what he had learned, saying: “I think the important thing is to learn from coaches what not to do. I think that’s more important than learning what to do.”
But asked for the best bit of advice he had received, he singled out something he hopes can lead him to further success both as a player and beyond.
“I always remember Sir Alex Ferguson saying, the hardest thing to do in life is to work hard,” he said. “I think it’s true, no matter what you do. Whether it’s on football or you’ve got a day job in an office, the most difficult thing to do is to stay motivated and to work hard.
“If you can do that it’s a great quality to have.”
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