Fear and loathing in Birmingham. How Wayne Rooney ruined a Premier League contender in 98 days

The outstanding ex-player missed a great chance to improve his managerial career and is now out of work

It is unlikely that Wayne Rooney will be a good coach. As a player, he worked with David Moyes, Sir Alex Ferguson, Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho, but that could not guarantee anything. The manager’s career takes into account a lot of skills, which Shrek has yet to grow up to.

At the beginning of the new year, the legendary striker received a bag of coal from Santa Claus – Birmingham lost to Leeds 0:3, fell to the twentieth line of the Championship, after which the nerves of the management could not stand. The signal sounded – it was time to say goodbye.

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The British press relished the event and once again threw a hefty stone in the direction of the so-called “golden generation”. Why? Steven Gerrard is trying to “restart” in Saudi Arabia (Al-Ettifak are in the middle of the standings), Frank Lampard failed at Everton and was a gag at the helm of Chelsea. John Terry turned out to be superfluous at Aston Villa, Paul Scholes stayed at Oldham Athletic for exactly a month, even before that, the whole of Foggy Albion laughed at the attempts of Gary Neville – the cool expert dissolved in Valencia and rushed headlong home.

A few years ago, there was a trend (which, thank God, quickly exhausted itself) to invite yesterday’s stars to projects with ambitions, where there are very few opportunities for experiments. No one knows what is the reason for this.

If it weren’t for his reputation as a famous footballer, Rooney would not have been appointed under any circumstances. When you turn on the logic, this decision looks as stupid as possible – Birmingham declared a return to the Premier League, and its newly-minted manager did not have the relevant experience. However, this happened, as a result of which the team rapidly dropped from the sixth line, which guaranteed the playoffs, to the lower part of the division. Bravo.

Why is that?

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Rooney was always looked at with indulgence

In 2019, Wayne joined the staff of Derby County, combined the duties of a manager and a player, and in the 2020/21 campaign, he saved the team from relegation. Phillip Cocu flew into the abyss, resigned in November 2020, then the powers were shifted to the shoulders of Rooney, which he generally coped with. The Rams experienced an emotional outburst, as it often happens in the case of the dismissal of the previous coach, showed good football in January-February and kept their registration.

When the harsh everyday life came, County went down again (the end of the distance turned out to be especially terrible – 7 defeats in a row in April-May), but Wayne was still patted on the head – firstly, the Englishman picked up the team at a critical moment, secondly, he completed the task and, thirdly, he did it with a minimum of knowledge in his bosom. Isn’t that commendable? Well, maybe.

In the 2021/22 draw, a new disaster struck – at the start, Derby were rightly deprived of 21 points; Owner Mel Morris tried his best, failing to sell the club twice and eventually transferring it to external management, which is prohibited by the regulations. Numerous violations, including non-compliance with financial fair play, cost dearly – Rooney immediately found himself in a deplorable situation. Lack of money, reliance on free agents and youth – this is all that our hero was left with.

Let’s note two points: the specialist did not escape, which finally won the hearts of the fans, plus, he almost got out of the pit at the finish of the Championship – Reading, who took the twenty-first line, broke away by 7 points. Subsequently, Wayne left the post, but did not answer whether he was a good specialist, able to “leave” not only on the psychological aspect and the authority of the past. Yes, he managed to correct the situation somewhat, but the result is the same – Derby went to Ligue 1.

In the summer of 2022, Rooney agreed to take over D.C. United, but has not made any tangible progress for eighteen months. The representative of Washington hoped to get into the MLS playoffs, had the necessary resources for this (in addition to talented youth, there were such guys as Christian Benteke and Mateusz Klich on the roster), but did not achieve what he wanted.

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Ninth position (and twelfth in the end – the Briton said goodbye a round before the end of the championship) is not what I wanted to see. One of the key problems is the ruined atmosphere (perhaps Wayne’s main trump card) – the locker room split against the backdrop of a racist scandal and never fully came out of a steep dive.

Birmingham made a mistake themselves, but that doesn’t absolve Rooney of responsibility

John Eustace has had a great start to the current season as Birmingham beat Leeds United, Bristol City, Huddersfield and Norwich City to jump to sixth place. This is quite acceptable to pat a coach on the shoulder – for example, last year the Blues could not boast of something like this, they suffered and eventually finished seventeenth. Now the difference was felt, there was a noticeable qualitative leap – Eustace got along well with his wards and expected to finally collect the cream.

However, the unexpected happened – John was kicked out the door without explanation, and Rooney appeared in his place. A what?.. What for? Chief Executive Harry Cook and Technical Director Craig Gardner were among the initiators of the controversial move and said in an open letter to fans that “there is a disagreement between Eustace and the goals of management.” I wonder which ones?

In August 2023, Mark Davies, the owner of Birmingham, sold part of the shares to Tom Brady – the famous quarterback of the New England Patriots bought a minority stake and was appointed chairman of the new advisory board. That’s not to say he’s incompetent (his Las Vegas Ace recently won the WNBA), but Americans often forget that the European model of sports development is not the same as in their homeland.

Todd Boehley wanted to sign Graham Potter – and he did it, even though Thomas Tuchel had a huge amount of trust in society. Brady followed a similar path – being an ardent fan of Rooney, the functionary pushed through the decision regarding the Englishman and thus started a forced reshuffle. Therefore, Birmingham followed the order and at first diligently pretended that everything was under control – it is noteworthy that today there is no trace of that self-confidence.

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Where did Rooney get a puncture? Admittedly, it was met with a good amount of bias – the argument of Cook and Gardner turned out to be very weak, so a considerable percentage of the audience simply did not understand why they needed Wayne. And it would be good if only ordinary supporters did not agree with this – the players themselves did not understand how to act under the leadership of the newly appointed leader. Birmingham had the potential and what’s next – to rebuild? Or continue the Eustace line? If so, why was it removed?

In a statement, the Blues said: “The new manager will be responsible for creating an identity and a clear style without fear, which all Birmingham City teams will embrace. Did Rooney provide it? He talked a lot about tactics, he referred to Sir Alex Ferguson and Josep Guardiola, but he couldn’t bring anything extraordinary or even interesting.

Being formulaic, operating with the 4-2-3-1 pattern as a dogma, Rooney was faced with what turned out to be an impossible mission. Prior to his arrival, Birmingham had stuck to a formation with three defenders, so they had to rack their brains to quickly reconfigure the players. Even established pros like the aforementioned Pep have defensive difficulties, so who is Wayne then? That’s right, no one.

As a result, the team lost their balance, looked confused, did not know how to act in certain episodes, and became vulnerable – in the first five matches, four defeats and one draw were recorded. If you evaluate the entire period of Rooney’s name, then he is full of doom – 15 fights, of which 9 losses at once.

Birmingham have only triumphed on two occasions – against Sheffield Wednesday and Cardiff – but Rooney refused to apologise and put the blame on the players. It was unprofessional, testified to the lack of a plan to get out of the crisis and finally destroyed the shaky bridge between the coach and the locker room. When Wayne said that there was a need for a “major overhaul”, that “no one plays the way he wants” and that it would “take more than one transfer window”, he effectively passed his own sentence.

With 98 days in office, the second-worst win percentage in Birmingham’s history (13.3 per cent; Gianfranco Zola’s 8.3 per cent) is an achievement you want to forget as soon as possible. But this will not be forgotten.

The mood of the press, which had previously bargained with itself over Rooney’s ratings, changed to categorically harsh. Many openly mock the legend and cite excuses – when he left D.C. United and Birmingham, Wayne spoke at length about being tired and wanting to spend more time with his family. “Well, finally.”

It can be stated that the reputation of the former Manchester United striker has been seriously damaged, if not completely destroyed. We doubt that Rooney will try himself as a coach again in the near future. Sometimes it happens that you are just unlucky and it is worth stopping so as not to mess up yet.