The Scottish Mail on Sunday


No fans waiting at the training ground. No club merchandis­e with his name. But Rooney is making the most of life out of the public eye

- By Ian Herbert

THE trappings of his former life include a driver who chauffeurs him from a rural village near Knutsford to the Derby County training ground. It’s an early start — soon after 7.30am each day to reach an unremarkab­le East Midlands suburb by 9am and be on the training pitches by 9.30am — so there’s the chance of some sleep on the way.

But Wayne Rooney’s world is otherwise unrecognis­able from anything he has known in football. No fans wait outside the training ground, as they did at Manchester United’s Carrington. No merchandis­e bears his name in the club shop because Derby don’t do player-specific kit. At 7.30pm last Tuesday, as he warmed up inside a stone-cold Pride Park, the funereal silence was punctured by a loud visiting contingent from League Two club Northampto­n singing a familiar and particular­ly unflatteri­ng song about him. That song was usually drowned out at Old Trafford.

The spotlight is to become his once more when, courtesy of Derby’s win over Northampto­n, Manchester United will arrive at Pride Park for an FA Cup fifth-round tie, in 23 days’ time. Yet he seems to savour the relative obscurity which the world beyond the Premier League offers. Just as he did in Washington DC, when walking into a Starbucks, ordering a flat-white coffee and not being noticed was one of life’s new pleasures.

It was his wife Coleen, up early to take the elder of their four boys, Kai and Klay, to school but then confronted with endless empty days, who developed cabin fever and wanted to get back.

The benefits of that return include the relatively short 80-minute drive to Derby from Cheshire — the Rooneys’ new mansion, including land, is 10 minutes from the M6 — and some nearby British theme parks. After Rooney had flown in overnight and signed for Derby last August, he headed straight back to join the family at Chessingto­n Park in Kent.

He had anticipate­d playing for Frank Lampard — who was still manager when initial conversati­ons with him took place in June — and a promotion challenge, since the club had finished sixth in the previous two seasons. But Lampard departed for Chelsea, leaving Rooney with one telephone call on which to form an assessment of his successor Phillip Cocu. West Brom’s sporting director Luke Dowling made a counter offer. Derby chairman Mel Morris says there was no attempt to negotiate wages up.

The challenges have included, as yet, none of the anticipate­d investment from SwissTurk

entreprene­ur Henry Gabay, late payment of players’ wages in December and the sacking of the captain for his part in a drinkdrivi­ng scandal. A new world, in every sense.

But staff at the club have been surprised by Rooney’s commitment. His MLS duties extended until late October but he watched all his new team’s games in that time and spoke to Tom Lawrence and Mason Bennett, both of whom pleaded guilty to drink-driving charges after a disastrous bonding session in October.

By November, two months before he was contracted by Derby, he was showing up daily at the training ground and was a regular presence on the second row of the home dugout on matchdays.

Above all else, the 33-year-old is clearly desperate to play football, just as always. The pre-match warm-ups tell the story. Rooney kicks every ball, throws himself into the rondos and, though rarely to be seen in the penalty box now, he provides a pre-match shooting routine to savour for those in Derby’s South Stand. He waits in line for the moment the ball is rolled his way and scores in the corner or in off the post of a five-a-side goal virtually every time. He is yet to miss a training session and has played all 90 minutes of every Derby match bar one.

It felt like a Royal visit after he had first been driven into the Moor Farm training base in a black Mercedes Viano at noon on Monday, August 5. The academy players, who share the first team’s training facility, could be heard chanting ‘Roo-ney’ as he spoke to one of the staff at the training ground bistro where he now dines daily.

But every inquiry about what kind of player-coach he is turning out to be yields the same reply, about humility and a common touch. ‘Not big time.’ His appreciati­on of space, angles, trajectori­es, the ebb and flow of a match and exploiting weakness are not something he has ever had to explain. He is doing so without any air of superiorit­y.

‘He’ll have a conversati­on unrelated to football, form a connection, and then when he has something to say about a pass, positionin­g, work, it comes across,’ says one source.

Cocu has observed the same. ‘During a break in the training session or afterwards, when he’s observed something, he will step up and have the conversati­on with the player about it,’ he says. ‘But he will have already got to know the player.’

Rooney is not leading coaching sessions. The agreement with Cocu is that he gets the chance to input into formation, tactics and analysis in pre-match planning sessions. Halftime intervals under Cocu sometimes involve viewing video clips which the Dutchman, not the new playercoac­h, talks the players through.

Yet a transfer of knowledge takes place in plain sight, on the field. In a 4-0 win over Stoke, Rooney pulls the strings and runs the game with barely perceptibl­e gestures.

On his instructio­n, 19-year-old Max Bird, alongside him in defensive midfield, draws a Stoke forward away and creates space for a Derby throw-in taker who has no options. Another Rooney gesture sees Lawrence fractional­ly alter his defensive position to make the angle more difficult for a Stoke free-kick taker. Cocu says this reminds him a little of Pep Guardiola, the player.

‘He coaches on the pitch,’ says the former Stoke manager Nathan Jones.

Then there is his footballin­g contributi­on. He always did have a wondrous dexterity and vision when it came to finding a pass within a confined space but, at times in the past few weeks, he has made the task look easy.

‘He’s difficult to play against because he does pick up unnatural positions at times and drifts into areas that makes it difficult to get up and put pressure on him,’ says Stoke boss Michael O’Neill. ‘At times, he drifts into almost like a left-back position to get the ball which disrupts your shape trying to get pressure on him. Top players know where space is and are able to find it. He has that extra half second.’

His vulnerabil­ity to pace is the challenge. He will need young legs around him if United are not to exploit it. He glittered against Crystal Palace in the FA Cup third round but was isolated as a No10 against Middlesbro­ugh.

The old inclinatio­n to go ballistic is very much intact, too. Eye-witnesses describe him in the tunnel after the 3-2 away defeat by bottom club Luton last month, remonstrat­ing with the fourth official about the quality of the referee, Andy Davis.

‘He’s a disgrace,’ is the printable version. ‘He wasn’t happy,’ says Rams midfielder Graeme Shinnie. ‘He was the first to speak and he didn’t hold back. We’d conceded within a few minutes of scoring. He told us that you have to keep the ball out for 10 minutes after you score. That we had to do better.’

Rooney has been pursuing coaching qualificat­ions for two years, and an FA instructor flew to the United States to oversee his progress. The notion of a future coaching role is thought to have been put to him by Everton during his 18 months back there.

Some will question whether he has what it takes. But Rooney did not need to put himself through the 7am routine and yet he has. One of the jokes doing the rounds of the coaching staff last week was whether Rooney ‘might be rested for Manchester United’. It would take a very brave individual to suggest so.


 ??  ?? VALUES: Rooney is thriving at Derby, but it was Coleen (inset, with their four children) who wanted to return to England
VALUES: Rooney is thriving at Derby, but it was Coleen (inset, with their four children) who wanted to return to England
 ??  ?? GUIDANCE: Rooney with Jason Knight
GUIDANCE: Rooney with Jason Knight

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