- Wayne Rooney makes winning start at Derby
- Set up opener in debut match
- Beat Crystal Palace away in FA Cup upset
- Potential to move up the league after slow start
It was back in August when Wayne Rooney agreed a return to English football with Championship side Derby County in a player-coach capacity, set to join up in January 2020. He made his first appearance for the club on January 2nd, making an instant impact – with Derby performing below expectations so far this season, could the former Man United forward give the Rams new impetus to progress?
Rooney and Derby – a good match?
Rooney has had an peculiar few years. Bursting onto the scene as a teenager in the 2000s, his decline as he entered his thirties was evident, and in part prompted his move back to boyhood club Everton in 2017. A transfer to the US with D.C. United came a year later as he scored almost one goal every other game in the MLS, before his first experience in the Championship with Derby.
Rooney joining up with Derby couldn’t have come at a better time for the club. After making the play-offs under Frank Lampard last term they’ve seemingly regressed with new manager Phillip Cocu at the helm, the former Dutch international struggling to really stamp his influence on the team. In 17th place, almost equidistant in points between the play-offs and relegation, it’s been a struggle at Pride Park for the last few months. It feels as if this can be a beneficial move for both parties, as Rooney looks to prove that he can still compete in English football after his MLS spell.
In Rooney’s debut against league strugglers Barnsley, it wasn’t as easy a fixture as it perhaps first appeared. The Tykes were in their best form of the season going into the game, but were no match for a Rooney-inspired Derby, as he started the match and set up Jack Marriott’s opener, as well as captaining the side after taking the armband from Curtis Davies.
Since his debut, he also played in the third-round fixture away at Premier League team Crystal Palace, as the Rams won 1-0 in a surprise result. He played in a deeper role as has become more common as he’s aged, in midfield alongside former England teammate Tom Huddlestone, and was praised by Cocu after the game.
However, it was a good performance from the whole Derby team, not just Rooney. Chris Martin scored the only goal of the game after 32 minutes of play, and his side could have had more, Martyn Waghorn hitting the post amongst other attempts on goal. Boss Cocu described it as an “excellent team performance”, particularly singling out Rooney and Huddlestone as “senior players” who “need to teach the younger guys”.
Rooney might not be the same player as the one who’d score almost 30 goals a season for Man United in the early 2010s, but he’s no doubt having an important effect on this Derby team. In the summer, Derby were about 11/2 to get promoted – ninth favourites – but are currently as far as 125/1 with some bookmakers.
It feels as if Derby get tipped for promotion every season, often falling just short of the play-offs, or falling at the final hurdle itself. Is their current squad the strongest they’ve had in recent years? Probably not, but there’s enough quality there to argue that the team are definitely underperforming. Rooney’s influence could be just what they need.
Comparisons can be drawn between Rooney’s arrival at Derby and Jermain Defoe joining Sunderland, at the time a Premier League team, in 2015. Two English veterans of the Premier League re-joining English football from North America, being transferred to unfashionable teams in their early thirties. Defoe’s impact at Sunderland needs no introduction, scoring 15 goals in each of his two full seasons with the Wearside club as they struggled near the foot of the Premier League. Of course, it’s still early in Rooney’s time at Derby, but he could well prove a similarly influential addition.
How far can they go?
Of course, should Derby begin to really kick on in the second half of the season, it shouldn’t just be Rooney getting all of the plaudits. There’s usually a team who shoot up from mid-table obscurity to the play-offs – or better – and who’s to say that Derby wouldn’t have been that team with or without Rooney’s input? A number of the teams above them, from Blackburn Rovers in 13th to Sheffield Wednesday in 8th are in somewhat rocky form, and this is something that Derby could have capitalised on regardless.
Ultimately though, Rooney – arguably one of the best footballers of his generation – is a very good player at this level, and has the sort of experience that will definitely influence his new teammates. More to the point, he’s been at Derby in a coaching capacity since November, being pictured training at the club. Derby are a decent side, but Rooney has that spark that can really set their season alight. Could we see England’s all-time top scorer in the Premier League once more? Stranger things have happened.