Wayne Rooney said he had plenty of offers as he sought a return to England but the opportunity to work as a player-coach under Derby manager Phillip Cocu was “too great to turn down”.
The Rams on Tuesday completed a surprise move for the former England captain, who will join Derby in January 2020 on an initial 18-month contract that allows him to continue his playing career but also build his credentials as a future manager.
Rooney, who admitted his family’s situation was key to the decision to cut short his American adventure, will see out the MLS season with DC United before heading to Pride Park.
“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.”
Rooney has made no secret of his ambitions to move into management once his playing days are over, but insisted he still has plenty to give on the pitch.
“Firstly I’m a player,” he said. “I feel I’ve got a lot of quality I can bring to the squad.
“First and foremost I’m coming to play and to help the team, and second I want to learn off Phillip and his staff, to gain experience for when I do stop playing and go on to that next step.”
The intensity of the Championship fixture list could come as a shock to the 33-year-old’s system after 18 months in the United States, and Rooney admitted he may not be able to play every match.
“Football is what I have done my whole life and what I love,” he said. “I will keep playing until my body says I can’t anymore.
“I’m a player who knows their body. I’m experienced enough to know if I need to sit out a game.”
Rooney has seen a number of his former England team-mates move into management of late, most recently Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard, but said that was not the source of his own ambitions.
“I think it’s great to see them going into management but it’s not just about what they’re doing now,” he said.
“This is something I always had as an ambition to do. It’s great these young English managers are getting opportunities.
“Over the last 15 or 20 years we’ve not seen so many great ex-England players coming through so it’s great to see them doing that.”
Indeed, Lampard was the Derby manager until he moved to Chelsea earlier this summer, 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.
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.
While no direct link was confirmed, it is notable that Rooney’s squad number at Pride Park will be 32.
That may be key in helping Derby pay Rooney’s wages while remaining within Financial Fair Play rules.
“We’ve maintained all along that we want to be compliant with FFP and I don’t see anything in this deal that would change that,” Morris said on TalkSport.
Though Rooney will cut short his United contract, Derby will not be required to pay a transfer fee as the American club accepted his request to be allowed to return to England.
“After speaking to Wayne and understanding his difficult situation of being so far away from his family, we have accepted that this is the best decision for all parties,” the club’s co-chairmen Steve Kaplan and Jason Levien said in a statement.
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