Wayne Rooney's managerial career has been rocky, but the Manchester United great says he's up for the fight.
Second-tier Derby barely avoided relegation and Rooney didn't help himself early this campaign when he injured a promising young midfielder with a hard challenge during preseason training before publicly apologizing after photos of him at a private party surfaced online.
The club has now been taken over by administrators due to financial problems and was hit with a 12-point deduction that leaves the team at the bottom of the Championship, with the possibility of another points deduction looming as a knockout punch.
The 35-year-old Rooney took over Derby on an interim basis as player-coach then permanently in January upon his retirement as a player. He vowed to stay with the central England club even after learning that the Rams would enter administration — a form of bankruptcy protection — on television rather than in person.
With minus-2 points after eight games, Derby visits Sheffield United on Saturday.
“I’m committed to this football club. I’m ready to fight,” Rooney said Thursday. “I grew up on a council estate in Liverpool, I know how tough things can be. I know how tough life can be within a tough moment but if you put the work in, and you put the effort in, you can get through it.
“What type of person would I be if I walk away now and go and put my feet up, go on holiday and sit in the sun for a few weeks?” he continued. “I don’t think that’s the right way to deal with it.”
Other England greats of Rooney's generation have fared better as managers. Frank Lampard had a successful run at Derby before a season-and-a-half stint at Chelsea. Steven Gerrard led Rangers to their first Scottish Premiership title in 10 years last season.
Derby narrowly avoided relegation and Rooney was criticized as they earned just one point from their final seven games last season.
With a player shortage in the preseason, Rooney had joined in training sessions and ended up accidentally injuring midfielder Jason Knight. The 20-year-old Ireland international was sidelined for six weeks with an ankle injury. Soon after, Rooney publicly apologized after photos of him at a party appeared online.
Despite the setbacks, Derby was midtable this week when the club officially entered administration, triggering an automatic 12-point deduction. The club fell into financial problems during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Derby faces a further nine-point deduction as a penalty for breaching Financial Fair Play rules after the English Football League questioned the valuation of player registrations.
“With 12 points (deducted), we’re more than capable of getting out of it. With 21, it’s almost impossible,” Rooney said of the prospect of relegation to England's third tier, League One.
Derby, which played in the Premier League as recently as 2008, is up for sale, with two takeover bids collapsing this year. Administrators said they’ve already had inquiries from “credible” buyers.
Rooney, the record scorer for England and United, criticized Derby owner Mel Morris for a lack of transparency regarding the club's financial condition.
“I just found it, as manager of the football club, getting questions everyday from players, from staff (and) not being able to answer them, I was a little bit hurt by that,” Rooney said.
Morris has said Derby had a $27 million revenue loss from the pandemic. Administrators, appointed from business advisory firm Quantuma, confirmed that the club's debts are in the “tens of millions of pounds.”
Job cuts are likely but administrators said Thursday they're not considering firing Rooney, who said he wouldn't have taken the job had he known about the financial problems.
“But I took the job and I’m not prepared to walk away from it,” he said. “I’m here to fight for this club and for the staff who work for this club who have worked so hard over the years. They need someone who can lead them. That’s me, I wouldn’t leave them in the lurch. I believe we’ll come out of this better.”
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