Wayne Rooney has revealed that he regularly went on secret two-day drinking binges at home as he struggled with the pressures of fame.
The former England and Manchester United captain said while it was common knowledge that he liked a drink, ‘there was a lot more to it than just that – it was what was going on in my head’.
In a soul-baring interview with Oliver Holt, The Mail on Sunday’s Chief Sports Writer, Rooney likened the anxieties that engulfed him early in his career to the build up of an ‘explosion’.
At just 16 when he became a Premier League player, he says he was unprepared for life in the spotlight and suffered mental anguish.
‘I would actually lock myself away and just drink to try to take all that away from my mind … Locking myself away made me forget some of the issues I was dealing with,’ he says.
‘It was like a binge. Normally, that’s with a group of lads but this was a self-binge.
‘I’d get a couple of days off and I wouldn’t want to be near anyone. I would sit in the house and for two days, I would just drink.
Wayne Rooney has revealed that he regularly went on secret two-day drinking binges at home as he struggled with the pressures of fame. In a soul-baring interview with Oliver Holt, The Mail on Sunday’s Chief Sports Writer, Rooney likened the anxieties that engulfed him early in his career to the build up of an ‘explosion’
‘Then on the third day, when I was back in training, I would have to dust myself down and put eye drops in and get through that week’s training. I was in a really bad place.’
Rooney’s relationship with alcohol and brushes with controversy are well documented, but never has he spoken with such candour about his frailties.
One drunken binge in 2016 saw him gatecrash a wedding at the England team hotel in Hertfordshire, resulting in an FA inquiry.
Rooney said it would have been impossible for him to share his feelings and problems ‘in the United dressing room’, adding: ‘Now people would be more empowered to speak about that kind of thing … then you would suffer internally rather than letting your thoughts out …
‘Growing up on a council estate, you would never actually go and speak to anyone. You would always find a way to deal with it yourself. It was trying to cope with it yourself rather than asking for help.’
Elsewhere in the interview, Rooney reflects on how he was beset by frequent bouts of anger which, while it caused problems when alcohol, actually helped his game.
Rooney likened the anxieties that engulfed him early in his career to the build up of an ‘explosion’. He says his wife Coleen, who has had to cope with a series of scandals involving alcohol and other women, sensed when those explosions were coming. Pictured: Wayne and Coleen Rooney at home with their children
‘It was almost as if being right in my head took a bit away from my game. Not being right in my head gave me that added unpredictability,’ he says.
‘I was always angry and aggressive when I was growing up. That was obvious when I came into football. It was obvious I had some issues which I had to try and deal with and now, thankfully, I have got them all under control.’
Admitting he has tried therapy, he adds: ‘What I learned was I could feel it coming, like an explosion. I used to hold almost everything in and keep it to myself and it would build up.’
He says his wife Coleen, who has had to cope with a series of scandals involving alcohol and other women, sensed when those explosions were coming.
‘I would say “F*** it” and go out and make silly mistakes with the explosion,’ he says.
‘I learned that when I felt that coming, I needed to sit down and talk to someone. That calmed things down. I spoke to Coleen quite a few times, her mum and dad and my mum and dad.’
The former England and Manchester United captain makes the revelations as he confronts his issues in the new documentary, ‘Rooney’, released on Amazon Prime on Friday. Pictured: Rooney reacts to a missed chance in Premiership tie against Birmingham City
Now manager of Championship side Derby County, he confronts his issues in the documentary, ‘Rooney’, released on Amazon Prime on Friday.
In one clip, he discusses the metatarsal injury sustained against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in April 2006 that almost ruled him out of that year’s World Cup – and says he blames himself for it.
‘I changed my studs before the game,’ he says. ‘I put longer studs in because I wanted to hurt someone.’
The clip then shows footage of Rooney stamping on John Terry’s foot which leaves the Chelsea defender requiring treatment, his sock reddened with blood.
‘If Chelsea won a point, they won the league,’ Rooney says. ‘At that time, I couldn’t take it. The studs were legal, they were a legal size, but they were bigger than what I would normally wear.’
‘I would lock myself away and drink for two days… the anger would build up to an explosion’: How Wayne Rooney battled his demons during a sensational career for Man United and England before finally finding inner peace
ByOliver Holt for the Mail on Sunday
Wayne Rooney scored more goals for England and for Manchester United than any other player.
For a short time, in his youth, it felt as if he could be anything he wanted to be, a rival to Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo. At Euro 2004, he played like a force of nature and it seemed that a door was opening to a time when England could be kings.
But even then, there was a shadow over him. There was always a shadow.
Wayne Rooney has opened up on how he battled his demons during his sensational career
Rooney had the world at his feet when he made his England breakthrough at Euro 2004
Remember the name! Rooney gets a lift from Kevin Campbell after his unforgettable breakthrough goal for Everton against Arsenal in 2002
Rooney, England’s most gifted player since Paul Gascoigne, has never talked about the anger and the pain that ran through so much of his playing career and made him react to scoring some of his greatest goals as if they were acts of revenge against an unseen enemy.
There was anger in his celebrations as well as his disappointments and it is only in recent years that that anger has ebbed away.
Even a casual observer of his career could see it ate at him, that it ruled him on the pitch, that it led him into misadventures off the pitch, that he was persecuted by it but that he needed it to function as a superstar footballer.
Everyone who watched him play knew that the rage was there but this is the first time he has explained it. Maybe it is because he has finally exorcised it that he is ready to talk about its source and what fuelled it.
It is no coincidence that the opening scene of ‘Rooney’, the documentary about his life and career that is released this week, looks like an homage to Raging Bull as Rooney, his face hidden by a hood, thuds punch after punch into a heavy bag that hangs in the garage of his home in Cheshire.
Rooney is seen wearing a hoodie and hitting a punch bag during the Amazon documentary
Rooney has never talked about the anger and the pain that ran through so much of his career
The rage he felt was rage against a machine that took a kid out of the rough, tough, hurly-burly of life in a deprived area of Liverpool, abandoned him in the spotlight at the age of 16, mocked him for the way he chewed gum on the television, satirised his accent, derided his appearance, patronised him and still expected him to cope.
It is a rage against people like Jonathan Ross, the chat-show host who was popular for a spell, who delighted in inanity and casual cruelty, and who characterised Rooney and his parents as sub-humans.
It is a rage against the media, who highlighted his off-the-field misdemeanours. It is a rage that made him lock himself away for days on end when he was at United, drinking himself into oblivion so he could forget.
Rooney, 36, has reached a point in his life where he is winning new admirers every day with the job he is doing as the manager of Derby County and where it feels to him as if it is a relief to talk about the anger that once threatened to consume him.
Conditioned by his background to bottle things up, to refuse to show vulnerability, to let the pressure build up until he blew, he has reached a point where he has let go of the rage and the pain.
Rooney is working miracles at crisis club Derby County, who are fighting for survival
Rooney with wife Coleen and their children Kai, Klay, Kit and Cass in a family Instagram snap
Rooney on Ronaldo
After I was sent off in the World Cup quarter-final against Portugal and we lost on penalties, I got Ronaldo out into the tunnel. I said: “Listen, you’re going to get a lot of stick from the press, I’m going to get a lot of stick from the press, my focus now is on Man United.”
“There is no issue with me whatsoever, I would have done exactly the same trying to get England a win against Portugal and this is a big year for us and we have every chance of winning the league.”
My attention, once we were out, completely flipped back to Manchester United. There was never any issue. I actually tried to get him booked in the first half for diving.
I’m playing for England, he’s playing for Portugal, do whatever you can to win. Honestly, I still don’t know whether I stamped on Carvalho on purpose or not. Still. I must have just had a blank.
Rooney on birth of his first child
I remember when Kai was born, just thinking “How am I meant to be responsible?”
After he was born, Alex Ferguson asked me to go home and leave Coleen in hospital because we were playing CSKA Moscow in the Champions League the next day.
I told him I hadn’t slept for two days but he said: “Go home, you’re playing.”
I got to the stadium and he put me on the bench — and rested Berbatov from the squad. I was fuming. He gave me a day off after that.
Rooney on religion
I’ve always been religious. I pray. It’s strange but my nan and Coleen’s sister, Rosie, I still feel they are a presence… don’t worry I’m not going mad. That might be something I’m clinging on to. It mightn’t be there. I get that. But I feel their presence.
Rooney on Gazza
Paul has had his issues for a long time and I can see how he’s got there, how it has happened. I’ve never seen myself going down that road.
Of course, you never know. You never know what happens in life and it could happen to anyone.
But I’ve never seen myself going down a route where you just drink, drink, drink. It was always something where I’d almost binge for a couple of days. And then be fine.
He has seen therapists, although never for a prolonged period of time. When former England manager Steve McClaren introduced psychologist Bill Beswick to the squad and suggested they have sessions with him, Rooney erupted with anger because he thought it was a ruse to get him some help. ‘That’s where I was at that point,’ he says.
To listen to him as he sits in a room high in a London skyscraper, and to understand that what he was going through for much of his career as the best English player of his generation was more of an ordeal than anything else, sometimes feels uncomfortable.
Maybe that is why when Rooney talks about the end of his playing career, there is little regret in his words. It is only now, as a father, as a husband, as a manager, later in his life, that he is finding peace.
‘We grew up in a council estate in Croxteth,’ says Rooney, ‘and when my grandad died, I spent a lot of time in my nan’s house on Armill Road. I was almost living with my nan. My mum was looking after me and my two brothers. I know now that we were hard work.
‘There was a lot of negativity in terms of my mum getting frustrated with us as kids, messing around all the time, smashing things in the house and my nan lived in the same road, a few houses down.
‘She died just before I made my debut for Everton in 2002. I was really close to her. I was devastated when she died. She was a big character.
‘When she died, it was a big loss to all the family. She would always buy football kits for me. Loads of the family would spend the day at my nan’s and then, of a night, when everybody had gone, I would go back over to my nan’s and sit up late with her. I used to watch Prisoner Cell Block H with her all the time.
‘My mum and dad never had a lot of money at all. It was difficult growing up there. I was always getting into fights and arguments in that area.
‘To go from that to having to deal with becoming a Premier League player at 16 and an international player was something I wasn’t prepared for.
‘I had never even thought about the other side of being a football player. I wasn’t prepared for that part of life.
‘It took a long time for me to get used to that and figure out how to deal with it. It was like being thrown in somewhere where you are just not comfortable. That was tough for me.
‘I had made a lot of mistakes when I was younger, some in the press and some not in the press, whether that’s fighting or whatever. For me to deal with that, deal with stuff that was in the newspapers, deal with the manager at the time, deal with family at the time, was very difficult.
‘In my early years at Manchester United, probably until we had my first son, Kai, I locked myself away really. I never went out.
‘There were times you’d get a couple of days off from football and I would actually lock myself away and just drink, to try to take all that away from my mind.
‘People might know that I liked a drink at times or went out but there was a lot more to it than just that. It was what was going on in my head.
‘Now, people would be more empowered to speak about that kind of thing. Back then, in my head and with other players, there was no way I could go into the United dressing room and start saying “This is how I am feeling” because you just wouldn’t do it. Then you would end up suffering internally rather than letting your thoughts out.
‘Locking myself away made me forget some of the issues I was dealing with. It was like a binge.
‘Normally, that’s with a group of lads but this was a self-binge, basically, which helps you forget things but when you come out of it, you are going back to work and it is still there so it was doing more damage than good.’
The former England skipper and his wife, Coleen, confronted his issues in the documentary, which will be released on Amazon Prime on Friday.
Rooney with his sons Kit and Kai, who both play in Manchester United’s academy teams
Some predicted the film would be an airbrushed public relations exercise but it is far from that. In many places, it is disarmingly honest.
It does not have the cool chic of the ‘Senna’ or ‘Diego Maradona’ documentaries but it would not have been true to its subject if it had.
Instead, it is unsparing and raw. There are moments when Rooney and his wife sit together and talk about the times he has embarrassed her with behaviour that she describes as ‘unacceptable’.
She talks about his relationship with alcohol and her unease about the effect some of his friends have on him. He talks about the culture of fighting that he grew up with, the passions that ruled him and his gratitude he has come out the other side and shed so much of the anger he felt.
‘It was just a build-up of everything,’ says Rooney, ‘pressure of playing for your country, playing for Manchester United, the pressure of some of the stuff which came out in the newspapers about my personal life, just trying to deal with all that pressure which builds up.
‘I was trying to figure out how to deal with it by myself. Growing up on a council estate, you would never actually go and speak to anyone. You would always find a way to deal with it yourself. It was trying to cope with it yourself rather than asking for help.
Wayne’s wife Coleen talks about his problems with alcohol in the raw Amazon documentary
Thomas and Jeanette Rooney, his parents, also appear in the Amazon biopic about their son
‘Early on in my career, I played with a lot more anger and picked up the odd red card. The anger was all the time when I was drinking, when I was having these moments. Still constantly in my head, I was raging.
‘When I learned to control it, it took that away from me. It was almost as if being right in my head took a bit away from my game. Not being right in my head gave me that added unpredictability.
‘I was always angry and aggressive when I was growing up. That was obvious when I came into football. It was obvious I had some issues which I had to try and deal with and now, thankfully, I have got them all under control.
‘You are always taught to fight for what you want when you are growing up and take what you want. You never got given anything.
Referee Valentin Ivanov feels the Rooney rage after showing him a yellow card in 2004
‘In some ways, that was good because it helped me play and a lot of the anger I felt was because I did things that enabled people to say things and write things about me that wasn’t really me but were isolated incidents I had got myself involved in. That was when I was drinking and hiding away. There was a lot of anger and pain.
‘When something happened, it was always involving drink. It’s never when I’m sober. That’s what I had to figure out: the places I go and the things I do.
‘My relationship with drink now is fine. No problems. I still have a drink now and again. Not like I used to. Not like when I was playing. It’s well in control.
‘It was never at a stage where I thought I was an alcoholic. If I saw a couple of days’ window, I thought “right, that’s a couple of days where I can go at it and try and forget things”. I would never be going into training drunk.
‘Part of the problem I have is that I do trust people. That was exactly my first message to the players here at Derby: “I will give you my trust but I need it back.”
‘Once that trust is broken, it is very difficult to recover. Yeah, people want stuff off you but I take responsibility for that because some of the stuff I have done is my decisions and that’s me leaving myself open.
‘I should have learned quicker than I did to adjust to that. Over the last 15 years, I haven’t had very many nights out. I might have had 10 nights out but the ones I have had… four or five of them have given people big exclusives.
Rooney looks up to see the red card brandished by referee Horacio Elizondo in the 2006 World Cup quarter-final against Portugal
Rooney’s Manchester United team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo protests to get him sent off
The rage gets the better of Rooney after the sending off in Germany as he boots a water bottle
‘In terms of therapy, I have spoken to a few different people. I have never done a period of time where I have done two years with someone and it has been ongoing.
‘What I learned was I could feel it coming, like an explosion. I used to hold almost everything in and keep it to myself and it would build up. I would deny it but Coleen could see it coming every time.
‘I would say “F*** it” and go out and make silly mistakes. I learned that when I felt that coming, I needed to sit down and talk to someone. That calmed things down.
‘I spoke to Coleen quite a few times, her mum and dad and my mum and dad. I only did that once when it got to a bad moment.
‘A bad moment? It could be anything. That you weren’t playing well, the pressure you put on yourself, which I always tried to hide. Sometimes I tried to hide it with over-confidence. Sometimes that’s to mask the pressure you feel.
‘It could have been when I had done something wrong off the field and pressure builds and even going into the local shops, you want to hide from everyone. It is embarrassing. I was embarrassed by it.
Rooney generally had a very good relationship with Man United boss Sir Alex Ferguson
Rooney scores one of the most famous goals of his career, an overhead kick against Manchester City at Old Trafford in 2011
‘I’d get a couple of days off and I wouldn’t want to be near anyone. I would sit in the house and for two days, I would just drink. Then on the third day, when I was back in training, I would have to dust myself down and put eye drops in and get through that week’s training. I was in a really bad place.
‘Then I had to get through training, through games. It was constant for about three or four years in that initial period of being at United.
‘That was the heart of it. And it was arguably the best I played in that period. That was part of the problem because you are playing OK and you think you can get away with it and that had an impact on me at the back end of my time at Man United because you can’t do that as an athlete.’
Rooney talks about the anger in his documentary, too. It is everywhere. Even one of the clips of him playing football in his childhood shows him being brutally taken out by another kid as he closes in on goal.
In the footage of Euro 2004, there are images of him smashing into France defender Lilian Thuram in a challenge he accepts would earn him a red card in today’s football.
In another clip, Rooney discusses the metatarsal injury he sustained against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in April 2006, which almost ruled him out of that year’s World Cup, and says he blames himself for it.
Rooney takes no prisoners as he smashes into France defender Lilian Thuram at Euro 2004
‘I changed my studs before the game,’ he says. ‘I put longer studs in because I wanted to hurt someone.’
The clip then shows footage of a clash between Rooney and John Terry that leaves Terry writhing on the floor in pain. Terry is shown having treatment, his sock soaked in blood.
‘If Chelsea won a point, they won the league,’ says Rooney. ‘At that time, I couldn’t take it. The studs were legal. They were a legal size. But they were bigger than what I would normally wear.’
He was injured later in the game when his boot twisted in the turf.
In another clip, he says that when he finally got to the World Cup in Germany, he suffered a tear in his groin muscle at the end of his first training session in Baden-Baden but was so desperate to play that he did not tell anyone.
He had a disappointing tournament and was sent off for a stamp on Ricardo Carvalho during England’s quarter-final defeat on penalties to Ronaldo’s Portugal.
John Terry goes in hard on Rooney during their meeting just before the 2006 World Cup
As for Jonathan Ross, Rooney is still stung by the way he mocked an image of him and his parents emerging from a dip in the ocean during a holiday to Cancun in 2003.
‘That’s the one thing that really p***ed me off,’ says Rooney. ‘Still, to this day, if I saw Jonathan Ross, I would speak to him and ask him why. Ten years ago, I wouldn’t have spoken to him. I would have hit him. If you are having a go at me, no problem. I’m in the public eye. I get it. But not my parents. I felt that was really unfair.’
He looks back on it all with a degree of equanimity now. Things are different. He has four sons, who take up plenty of his time and his two eldest boys, Kai and Klay, play for United’s young age group academy teams.
One scene from ‘Rooney’ shows him playing Snakes and Ladders with another son, Kit, and refusing to let the six-year-old boy beat him.
‘If you want it, you have to be able to take it,’ he says. “I say to them ‘if you can’t beat me now, you need to learn how to beat me. You need to learn how to get better.”
Rooney lifts the European Cup after Man United beat Chelsea on penalties in Moscow in 2008
Rooney and son Kai celebrate the final one of his Premier League titles in May 2013
‘And they get annoyed with it but I think that’s life. I think if I’m giving them things, nobody else is going to be giving them things in the outside world.’
He says he is happy with the way the documentary has turned out. He wanted it to be honest and he wanted to talk about things he has never talked about before and he feels the film has achieved that.
He is not particularly looking forward to the premiere at a Manchester cinema on Wednesday night because he still distrusts the spotlight but he and Coleen will both be there.
‘Rooney’ is available to watch on Amazon Prime Video from Friday, February 11
‘I wanted to speak about the good times and the bad times,’ he says. ‘What I have wanted for a long time is for people to actually know me as a person, not a football player. I wanted people to know me as a son and a dad and a husband.
‘There have been mistakes in the past, which I have always held my hands up to. When people get to know me as a person, they see a different person, I think.
‘It was tough for me to do it and for Coleen to do it. When tough moments have come up, we have sat down and spoke about them and figured out how we are going to get through it.
‘The first thing you see is her forgiving some of the stuff I’ve done but then we have always sat down and been open about it and figured out what is best for us as a family and we have taken that into the film.
‘My main concern about the documentary was that I’m quite a boring person. I don’t live a life where I am out constantly or a very excitable life.
‘I have always kept myself to myself. The fame comes from the football, which I have never really wanted but it comes. I go to work and I come home.
‘I have always had an image that I knew wasn’t me but I have put myself in that position with things I have done. I am different from that.
‘It was nice to get some things out and off my chest. It is almost like speaking to a therapist where it was nice to get it out and know that everyone will see that side of me.’
The transformation in him has encouraged those close to him, the way he is loving the challenge at Derby, the way he is throwing himself into the job and getting the rewards for it, the way so much of the anger has fallen away.
This is a man who is working harder than he ever worked but in other ways this is also a man who has found some peace. Finally, Rooney is at rest.
‘I spoke to the staff and said: “I am stood in front of you and I am with you. Whatever is being said out there, I am with you.” Why Wayne Rooney simply couldn’t leave the Derby job despite interest from his old club Everton
Wayne Rooney’s office at the Derby County training ground is spartan and bare.
There are no pictures on the walls. There are no mementoes on the desk. There are no trophies to remind him of past glories. There are none of the motivational slogans so beloved by so many modern managers. There is no television screen, no yellow ticker, no breaking news.
The only adornment is a thin, white plastic tactics board behind him with round blue discs for players and, now and again, he gets up and moves them around to illustrate how he wants his team to play.
Rooney has fully immersed himself into management and the job of saving Derby County
On another wall, there is a stopped clock with its hands stuck at 10 to 11. Given the doomsday situation Rooney has inherited at Derby, five to midnight might be more appropriate.
The club have been in administration since September, they are facing substantial compensation claims from Middlesbrough and Wycombe Wanderers, they owe the taxman £28m, they have been docked 21 points this season and 10 days ago, it was saved, for now, from the prospect of liquidation when the club’s administrators were given an extra month to provide proof they have funds to see out the season.
At a time when one boulder after another is being placed in his path, when he desperately needs reinforcements, Rooney is having players sold out from under him all the time. Nine left in January alone.
On transfer deadline day last week, he went to bed at 10pm believing he had assurances no more players would be sold.
He woke up the next morning to discover young prospect Luke Plange had been sold to Crystal Palace. ‘At least they loaned him back to us for the rest of the season,’ says Rooney.
Derby face an uphill struggle to stay up in the Championship after a disastrous season
When the extent of Derby’s problems began to become clear, many believed Rooney would simply walk away. Plenty of others would have done.
It was the opposite of the gilded opportunity that a superstar former player who is Manchester United and England’s record goalscorer might have expected to be handed as a first managerial job.
Instead, Rooney set about the seemingly impossible job of wiping out that 21-point deficit and trying to keep Derby in the Championship. Few believed he had a chance.
Rooney has been a victim of a kind of snobbery his whole career, as though his upbringing in a tough part of Liverpool should be enough to damn him on and off the pitch, and that snobbery only increased when he embarked on a career in management.
Many doubted he would make it as a manager at any level, but he has surprised them all. Under his calm, intelligent and methodical leadership, adjectives that were rarely applied to him in his playing career, Derby have refused to fall apart.
Rooney with his assistant Liam Rosenior on the sidelines at Huddersfield last week
Playing with a mix of kids and veterans, they have won matches against all odds and staged stirring comebacks when all seemed lost. They have been edging towards a miracle.
And late last month, something wonderful happened. When Everton sacked Rafa Benitez and began casting around for a new manager, Rooney was installed as one of the favourites.
Many thought the lure of taking the reins at his boyhood club and stepping up to the Premier League would be too much for Rooney to resist. Again, people misjudged him.
At a scheduled pre-match press conference, Rooney announced that he had turned down the chance to be interviewed for the Everton job. He said he was committed to Derby and he wanted to see the job through. He would not desert the club in its hour of greatest need.
Once more, many seemed surprised. Loyalty in football is a rare trait and Rooney was praised to the skies by many who might once have criticised him for being feckless.
Rooney was linked with the manager’s job at Everton but Frank Lampard has taken the job
‘I have been here now for over three years as player and manager,’ says Rooney as he sits beneath the stopped clock, ‘and you build relationships up with players, first of all as team-mates, then as manager, and with staff.
‘Everything I am asking of those players in terms of hard work, honesty, trust, commitment…if I was just to turn round and say “I have had an offer, I’m off”, I honestly couldn’t do that to the players and the staff.
‘I could see once Benitez was sacked and my name was getting linked with Everton that the staff were down and they were scared that if I left, where did that leave the club. I know they have been looking to me to try and help rebuild this club.
‘I spoke to the staff and said: “I am stood in front of you and I am with you. Whatever is being said out there, I am with you.” I think that was big for them.
‘With the situation we are in, we have to fight. Nothing is getting given to us. You have got to take it. You feel like everyone’s against us. I say that to the players: “Listen, all the obstacles being put in front of us, it’s on us, no one is going to give us anything. Do you want to stay in this division? Do you want to fight through it? Do you want to create a legacy at this club? Because you have got an opportunity to do that.”
‘Some players see success as winning trophies but the achievement of staying in the division, after everything we have had to deal with, would be one of the best in the club’s history. That is the opportunity we have.
Thousands of Derby County fans marched to Pride Park ahead of last weekend’s match
‘It’s better than saying “we’re minus 21 points, we’re down, let’s just play the games and enjoy it”. Some people are saying there is no pressure on us but there is always pressure.
‘I have got a responsibility to the club and the fans. For last weekend’s game against Birmingham City, we had the highest attendance in the Championship in the last four years.
‘I was a bit disappointed because I saw Neil Warnock say I wouldn’t get an easier job because there’s no pressure. If he came in here, he’d drive in, have a look around and drive straight back out.
‘Of course there’s pressure. There is pressure for the staff. Are they going to get paid? Are they going to lose their jobs? There is pressure for everyone at the club and I have to try and keep all that together.’
Rooney’s task grew a little harder on Wednesday night when Derby played heroically for 87 minutes with 10 men after an early sending-off and kept the scores level away to high-flying Huddersfield Town until they fell to two late goals. The defeat left them seven points clear of safety with 17 games of their season remaining.
But Rooney was not discouraged. He has been consistently positive throughout his time in charge at Pride Park and has sought to avoid blaming defeats on the club’s circumstances.
Deeply in debt, unable to sign players and with 21 points taken off, Derby are in a deep crisis
He has managed intelligently, too, knowing that he has a first class and highly regarded assistant manager in Liam Rosenior and being smart enough to delegate responsibility to him when he needs to.
None of it is an accident. It is not something he just fell into. He has planned for this years. Even his move to DC United towards the end of his career was made with managing in England in mind.
‘You know what,’ he says, ‘and this is me being truthful, I never really thought “S**t, I could be finished playing in a couple of years time”. I’ve always tried to plan.
‘So when Louis van Gaal came into Man United in 2014, that’s when I knew I wanted to be a manager. I’d sit in with Ryan Giggs and we’d sit for two or three hours analysing the opposition, coming up with ideas. Then, when I moved back to Everton, I began getting on with my coaching badges.
‘I got offered a lot of money to go to China to play, like stupid money — and I know the money in football is crazy anyway — but we’re talking really stupid money.
‘But I wanted to go to the States because I always thought my first job was going to be in League One or the Championship. I knew you don’t just go straight into a Premier League job. So I went there to almost get to understand that level of player more.
Rooney (left) took a deep interest in Louis van Gaal’s coaching methods at Man United
‘That was almost training for me. And when Derby came in, I thought it was the perfect move. I’d get to come back to England, which my family wanted, but I’d be in the Championship. Even learning about small things, like playing Saturday, Tuesday, Saturday, Tuesday, how all the preparations for that work.
‘I came in as player coach and didn’t do much from a coaching point of view but I was getting to understand more, how the doctors work, the physios… and then when Phillip Cocu left I felt I’d gained enough from that point of view to put my name forward. It meant I had to retire from playing but I felt ready to do that, and ready to do the job.’
‘Rooney’, the documentary about his life and career that has its premiere in Manchester this week and will be released on Amazon on Friday does not cover Rooney’s move into management but it provides a fascinating study in the differences between Rooney the player and Rooney the manager.
Anger was never far from the surface when Rooney played. As a manager, at this time of his life, he seems more content. He seems more in control. More able to be himself.
Rooney wound down his playing career with DC United in the MLS before taking up coaching
‘Everything that has happened at Derby has made me think even more that I can have a good career in management,’ says Rooney.
‘I believe that 100 per cent. I believe we will stay up. I think I could go into the Premier League and manage at a top club now. I have no worries about that. I know what my strengths are and more importantly, I know what my weaknesses are.
‘I’m really good at delegating to my staff. If I think there’s a member of my staff who can give a message better to a particular individual — and that might be because of the player’s background, or just that they’re better at understanding them — then I’ll let them do it.
‘I think man-management is my greatest strength. I think it’s not just players but my staff. Your coaches, how you manage them. As you can see in the office, there’s nothing here. There’s nothing. The coaches’ room is in there. I don’t hide stuff — I go in there and discuss it. I put the team up and say “What do you think?” And if the staff disagree, that’s fine. You’re not always right.
‘There are times when you have to make decisions, of course, but we all work closely together. I have the final say on what the team is going to be but I’m really open to their ideas and thoughts as well.
‘I have seen stuff about how Steven Gerrard works with the people around him, like Michael Beale, and it sounds very similar to the set-up we have here.
‘I spoke to Stevie yesterday and he was trying to set up a match between us and Villa this weekend but we couldn’t do it because we have a match on Tuesday but the set-ups do sound similar. I know Liam Rosenior is a better coach than I am.
Former England team-mates Steven Gerrard and Rooney have both gone into management
‘When I first came in, I was really new to coaching so the last thing I was going to do was say “Right, I’m taking every session, I’m doing it all now”. So Liam will set up the session and I’ll step in and work more on details.
‘In pre-season, I sat down with the staff and said this was how I wanted the team to look. Someone said: ‘Do you think we can play this way with the players we have got?’ I said: ‘We are playing this way, we have to teach them, we have to coach them to play this way. And the growth from the players has been enormous. It could be Curtis Davies’ best ever season.’
Before he gets up to go, Rooney thinks about whether management has replaced the adrenaline of playing. He does not fall back on the normal response that nothing can replace playing. ‘When you lose as a manager, it’s worse than when you lose as a player,’ he says, ‘because you’re making all the decisions.
‘You think ‘Should I have played this player, should I have done this?’ There’s a lot going through your mind. But when you win a game as manager, it’s better than when you won as a player.’
‘Rooney’ is available to watch on Amazon Prime Video from Friday, February 11.