Rooney Faces Ambitious Challenge at Birmingham as New Manager

Some of the best coaches, both from the past and present, were brilliant footballers in their day. Take Johan Cruyff, Pep Guardiola, Diego Simeone, Didier Deschamps, Carlo Ancelotti or Zinedine Zidane. Yet from Diego Maradona and John Barnes through to Thierry Henry, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard or Andrea Pirlo, there is also a wealth of evidence to show that top footballers do not always make top coaches.

Owners and directors, however, continue to trust former greats with masterminding their teams despite having scarce or unconvincing track records in the dugout. Birmingham City are the latest club to put their eggs in the basket of one of the best players of the modern era after hiring Wayne Rooney.

Rooney’s predecessor, John Eustace, had made a strong start to the season and taken the Blues to sixth position in the Championship, with realistic hopes of qualifying for the play-offs. In his last two outings as manager, he had overseen big wins over Huddersfield Town and local rivals West Brom.

Eustace’s reward was to be booted out of his job and replaced by Rooney, whose D.C. United had just finished ninth in their MLS Eastern Conference and failed to make the play-offs. His two-year stint in charge of Derby County, meanwhile, ultimately ended in relegation, albeit in very challenging circumstances.

Rooney’s appointment will undoubtedly further raise the global profile of Birmingham, whose new American owners, which include NFL legend Tom Brady, have huge ambitions. But hiring him is also a huge gamble. Rooney has so far built his coaching reputation on fighting fires and damage limitation. Now his task is to lead Birmingham back to the Premier League for the first time in 13 years. Falling below the sixth place Eustace had achieved and missing out on the play-offs would be seen as a huge failure.

So how good a coach is Rooney and is he likely to fall into the category of Cruyff and Zidane, or Henry and Lampard?

Wayne Rooney Derby 2021-22

Leading Derby to safety… just

Rooney cut his coaching teeth with Derby, first as a part-time player, part-time assistant coach to Philippe Cocu, and then as permanent manager after the Dutchman was sacked.

The Rams were bottom of the Championship when Rooney made the transition, having taken six points from 11 matches. Under Rooney, who was interim boss for two weeks before taking the role permanently, they picked up 40 points from 35 games and ended the campaign one place and one point above the relegation zone.

It was not exactly a great escape, however. Derby lost six of their final seven matches and only achieved survival on the final day of the season after the most frantic of finishes. They snatched a 3-3 draw against fellow relegation contenders Sheffield Wednesday with a late equaliser from the penalty spot, sending the Owls down instead.

They also had to rely on Cardiff City equalising in the 88th minute against Rotherham United, who would otherwise have stayed up and relegated Derby.