The trials and tribulations of Wayne Rooney

2002 was Power Line’s inaugural year. It was also the year Wayne Rooney burst onto the English soccer scene as a 16 year-old phenom for Everton.

We have followed Rooney’s career ever since — his sensational performance at Euro 2004, his exit from Everton the same year, his champagne play at Manchester United for whom he is the all-time leading scorer (as he is for the English national team), his return to Everton, his brief but unforgettable stint with D.C. United before “the missus” decided the family needed to move back to England, and his entrance into coaching as assistant manager at Derby County.

When we last reported on Rooney, he had taken over as head man at Derby County, and managed to keep that once-proud and now deeply-troubled team in England’s second tier of football. A late goal in Derby’s final game, coupled with a late goal in another key match, produced a great escape from relegation.

Afterwards, I wondered whether Rooney would be back for more of this. Derby County is in great financial peril. Given how bad the team was in 2020-21 and given the lack of resources with which to strengthen the side, trying to avoid relegation in 2021-22 looked like a fool’s errand.

Rooney came back, though, and against the odds the Rams got off to a solid start. In the early going, they were comfortably in mid-table.

But then, last Friday night, the powers-that-be lowered the boom. They hit Derby County with a 12-point deduction for breach of financial regulations. That deduction is the equivalent of taking away four wins or three wins and three draws, for example. The club was also placed in administration.

Rooney received news of these crushing developments via television.

The team had a match to play the following day. Rooney took the news in stride, or pretended to. He prepared the team as he usually does on matchday, and assured the players he wasn’t going to leave — that he would stand with them and fight.

A short while later, Derby County defeated a good Stoke City team, 2-1.

Can Derby County survive the 12-point deduction? Had it suffered such a deduction last year, when some say it should have, Derby County would have finished dead last, ten points from safety.

Moreover, Derby will be hard pressed to strengthen its squad during this season because the team is flat broke. On the contrary, the Rams will almost certainly be sellers as teams try to pluck their best players at cut-rate prices when the transfer window opens in January.

On the other hand, the Rams are currently are within nine points of the safety zone with a game in hand and 38 more to play. If they continue to play reasonably good football and get through the January transfer window relatively undamaged, they might make up the 12 deducted points and produce a sequel to last year’s great escape.

Unfortunately, there are rumors that Derby County may face an additional deduction of points. That would almost surely end any dream of remaining in Tier 2.

There’s also a chance that Rooney will leave the club. Yes, he promised the players he would stick it out. But that was before owner Mel Morris refused to take Rooney’s calls. Rooney called Morris because he wanted clarification that would enable him to answer questions from players and staff. In the end, he was only able to reach Morris by calling on the team doctor’s phone. The owner was willing to talk to the doc, but was dodging his manager.

Rooney hasn’t forgotten where he came from. He said:

My mum’s been in exactly the same position [as the worried Derby County staff members]. She’s working at the school I went to as a dinner lady, and there’s discussions about whether that school will close down. She’s in the same position as some of the staff round here. She doesn’t know if she’s going to have a job or not.

I know how life works, the struggles which people have with the bills, the mortgage, putting food on the table. I’ve gone through that first-hand as a child, and I know a lot of people in my family as well who go through that on a daily basis.

The best way to handle that is to be open, to be honest with people, because if you’re not then people will see right through you, and that transparency of communication and honesty, it doesn’t matter what, even if it’s a tough decision that gets made where people lose their jobs, people need to know that you’re being honest and open with them.

Rooney says he doubts he would have taken the Derby County job if he had known what was in store. However, he added, “I have said how committed I am to this job and this club. Nothing changes. . . .we have to move on and put Mel Morris to the back of our minds.”

At this point, few would blame Rooney if he moved on from Derby County. In a sense, however, the current mess is a win-win for him. He’ll get credit if he sticks it out this season and plaudits if the Rams play well under these circumstances, even if they are relegated.

Thus, Rooney might be well positioned for a better job next season, if he wishes to remain in management. The saga continues.

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