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What does the future hold for Derby County manager Wayne Rooney?

Wayne Rooney has shown immense class in a dire situation
Wayne Rooney has shown immense class in a dire situation

It started so well.

From the point Wayne Rooney dropped the kit and grabbed the tracksuit, Derby County picked up 32 points from 19 games, conceding just 13 goals in that period, fewer than any other Championship side.

What followed was a run of 10 defeats in 13, prior to a final day 3-3 draw with Sheffield Wednesday in which the Rams stayed up courtesy of two late goals: one being Martyn Waghorn’s penalty, the other Marlon Pack’s equaliser for Cardiff against relegation rivals Rotherham.

The subsequent relief on the streets of the city, though, could last for only so long, because what followed was a summer of turbulence.

No senior signings could be made until August due to off-field issues, yet the club was unable to raise any funds via player sales, despite possessing talents that should interest Premier League clubs in Max Bird, Louie Sibley, Jason Knight and Lee Buchanan.

Championship Odds

Mel Morris’ statement

On Friday, Derby County released a statement – almost certainly from Mel Morris – which effectively announced that the club are going into administration.

The statement has used COVID, and the physical and mental hurt the pandemic has caused to communities and families across the country, as an excuse for the club’s woes.

While it is true that losing a key source of revenue is of course going to have an impact on any business, very few EFL clubs have suffered in the same way because others have managed their finances sensibly.

Since becoming owner in 2015, Morris has thrown a combined £30 million on Bradley Johnson, Jacob Butterfield, Andre Wisdom, Nick Blackman, Ikechi Anya, Martyn Waghorn, Florian Jozefzoon and Jack Marriott alone, not to mention reportedly giving over £50K per week to a 38-year-old Ashley Cole.

Are there questions to ask of the EFL in their role of allowing this to happen? 

Perhaps. However, the £8.3 million of “financial assistance” that Morris describes has been given to the other 23 Championship clubs is a loan, to temporarily allow them to pay their PAYE tax bills, not a donation.

It may be that the banks did not have enough evidence that the £8.3 million, if lent to Derby for short-term purposes, would be returned.

The fact the money was not forthcoming, therefore, adds to the notion that Morris is at fault for the club’s woes because of his mismanagement of the club.

And yet, the owner continues to deflect blame from himself for the situation. He continually rejects opportunities to apologize for his role in the mess.

Lifelong supporters are now worried about the club’s future, devoted employees could lose their jobs while there are concerns over how wages can be paid over the next few months up until the January window, when the club can sell key assets.

How Rooney found out

The key to a healthy relationship between chairman and head coach is trust, honesty, transparency and respect.

In many cases, a coach can accept a difficult situation if the main people they are working with provide regular contact, keep them updated with all areas of the club – positive and negative – and most importantly, own their responsibility for any problems.

Where there is clarity, there is progressive dialogue and trust can be maintained.

In Rooney’s case, though, he and the players found out that Derby were in administration by watching Sky Sports News.

What does that say about Mel Morris? It tells us that he is a man who has difficulty facing difficult conversations, that he has little respect for the rights of others to crucial information, and that he seems to comfort himself in his own bubble rather than address hard realities and how they affect those around him.

The lack of communication, especially on such a crucial issue, is an insult to Rooney, who has worked tirelessly for the club and is now put in a situation whereby he has to do elements of an owner’s job, as well as that of a head coach.

Galvanising the team

Kick-off against Stoke on Saturday came within 24 hours of Rooney and the team finding out about the news of Derby going into administration.

Rather than accept Chief Executive Stephen Pearce’s offer to speak to the players and apologise for the lack of answers, the former forward opted to minimise distractions ahead of the game.

Sure enough, the Rams won 2-1 thanks to goals from Max Bird and Curtis Davies in a battling performance, with the players thanked by staff for showing a united front.

In fact, Derby have a habit of producing displays of defiance just after some bad news: last season’s 1-0 victory over Bournemouth, for example, came within two days of reports that a big-money takeover had fallen through.

If Rooney is to one day have a managerial career capable of matching up anywhere close to his playing days, then this situation at Derby – if far from ideal – may help further build his character and stiffen his resolve.

Tightening up

In Derby’s 2-0 loss at Birmingham City, they had 67% possession but it never went anywhere.

In fact, 187 of their 552 passes were completed by centre-backs Phil Jagielka and Curtis Davies, who were often playing the ball between one another.

Rooney might want to build a reputation as a head coach who gets his teams playing expansive football, but he has to have the right personnel for that – especially in defence.

Jagielka and Davies, 39 and 36 respectively, lack the agility, ball-playing ability and mobility to start off attacks effectively, which is why Blues punished the East Midlanders with a high press.

For the following game, against pressing specialists West Brom, Rooney embraced a more compact setup, forcing full-backs into protective mode and instructing midfielders to stay deep, meaning Jagielka and Davies simply had to head balls away from their penalty area and defend with defiance.

When it comes to the raw fundamentals, Jagielka and Davies remain effective, which is why Derby have taken four points from their last two games, with 36% and 32% possession.

Reviving Ravel

The story of Ravel Morrison’s career so far is, sadly, one of wasted potential.

Morrison is often described as one of the most prodigious talents to come through the Manchester United academy, somebody with the potential to be world-class, but who never quite grabbed his opportunity.

Now 28, Morrison has at least one final chance at Derby to earn the right to play in the Premier League and light up the game’s top table, as he once promised he would do.

The attacking midfielder pulled the strings in the first half with some delightful passing, ahead of the more disciplined Graeme Shinnie.

Morrison would have rued his miss at the start of the second half had Derby not gone on to win, but his all-round performance held huge promise.

Many managers across the continent have struggled to coax the best out of Morrison and if Rooney can do that, it is a huge feather in his coaching cap.

Bird flying

Derby have an excellent academy and Max Bird is one of the most exciting prospects to come out of it.

The midfielder enjoyed some substitute appearances and cup starts under Frank Lampard in the 2018-19 Play-Off campaign, but has truly come to the fore in the previous two campaigns.

At just 21, Bird has already made 42 appearances for the Rams and shown the ability to control plenty of those games.

While the Burton-born playmaker might not possess the most extensive passing range, he more than makes up for that with the rare gift of being equally comfortable on either foot.

Because of this, it is difficult for opposing teams to dictate the direction of his passes, because if they close him down from one side, he can use his neat footwork to turn onto the other.

While this problem can be overcome by opponents closing him down from both sides, this cause requires more numbers, meaning that if Bird uses the ball well from that point then Derby have an opportunity to play around the other team and get into a more advanced position.

Using the academy

The circumstances at Derby mean Rooney cannot afford peak-age performers: of the match-day squad that beat Stoke, only right-back Nathan Byrne, midfielder Shinnie plus wide forwards Tom Lawrence and Kamil Jóźwiak are at an age at which they could be producing the best football of their respective careers.

Much of the squad is veterans well past their best, while another key component of it is academy graduates finding their way.

Bird, left-footed creator Louie Sibley, athletic left-back Lee Buchanan and energetic presser Jason Knight might have a reasonable level of first team exposure by this stage, but each remains a work-in-progress.

Rooney must hope speedy right-sider Festy Ebosele, forward Jack Stretton – having enjoyed a positive loan spell last season at Stockport County – and talented left-back Dylan Williams, among others, can progress at a similar rate.

If Derby’s deduction reaches 21 points, then this season will essentially become about preparing for life in League One in 2022-23, whilst hoping the right takeover can materialize in time to prevent more damage to the club and initiate a substantial, structural rebuild.

At the moment, Derby are a lost cause: but the good news is that Rooney ain’t giving up without a fight.

Championship Relegation Odds

  • PROB
    %
Derby
WIN PROB: 58%
Peterborough
WIN PROB: 33%
Blackpool
WIN PROB: 33%
Nottingham Forest
WIN PROB: 27%
Hull City
WIN PROB: 25%
Reading
WIN PROB: 25%
Preston
WIN PROB: 22%
Swansea City
WIN PROB: 20%
Bristol City
WIN PROB: 18%
Huddersfield
WIN PROB: 15%
Luton
WIN PROB: 12%
Millwall
WIN PROB: 9%
Barnsley
WIN PROB: 9%
Middlesbrough
WIN PROB: 8%
Coventry
WIN PROB: 8%
Birmingham
WIN PROB: 7%
Blackburn
WIN PROB: 6%
Sheffield United
WIN PROB: 4%
Cardiff
WIN PROB: 4%
Queens Park Rangers
WIN PROB: 3%
Stoke City
WIN PROB: 1%
AFC Bournemouth
WIN PROB: 1%
West Bromwich Albion
WIN PROB: 0%
Fulham
WIN PROB: 0%
Show More
Odds correct as of 2021-09-12 17:20 Odds subject to change.
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