Wayne Rooney to Derby is a commercial masterstroke... but how good will he be in the Championship?

Chris Parsons
News Editor
Wayne Rooney to Derby: Can England legend cut it in the Championship?

Two hours before Derby County’s first competitive game under Phillip Cocu on Monday, fan focus would normally have been on hopes for the new season.

Instead, Rams supporters were in disbelief as news broke that Wayne Rooney was in talks to join Derby as player-coach.

England’s all-time leading scorer has made an incredible return to British shores, having agreed to join Derby in January after the end of the MLS season.

Rooney’s star quality is undeniable. But does a move for the 33-year-old make sense for a club who have been marooned in English football’s second tier since 2008?

Rooney became one of the biggest earners in MLS when he signed a three-and-a-half year deal with DC United last June.

Rooney in action for D.C. United against the Philadelphia Union earlier this month. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
Record: Rooney has a strike rate of more than one goal every other game in the US. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

With a reported base salary of $3.5million (roughly £55,000 per week), the former Premier League legend’s wages don’t exactly correlate with the balance sheets of most Championship teams.

However, a deal to bring Rooney to Derby is said to be partly financed by commercial agreements, as they look to avoid Financial Fair Play regulations which loom large over club’s outside of the top division.

Betting firm 32Red, who are the Rams’ main shirt sponsor, are said to have made an increased agreement with the club to help finance the signing. Rooney himself has been given the shirt number ‘32’.

Derby’s owner Mel Morris has openly stated he wants to grow the East Midlands club ‘as a brand’.

Like all club bosses, he wants ‘alternative revenue streams’ - and persuading Rooney to turn out in the Football League would definitely give Derby welcome commercial exposure.

Derby are no strangers to a high-profile appointment of course, having reached the play-off final just last season with Frank Lampard at the helm.

The move for the Chelsea legend made more sense at the time - he was an up-and-coming young coach with a clear philosophy, looking for his first managerial job.

Rooney has been quoted as saying he wants to get into management - and had pledged to stay in the MLS as recently as June - but his motives for returning to England also involve the schooling of his young children.

Aside from the small matter of whether Derby can afford him though, can Rooney still be a force on the field?

Returning hero: Rooney celebrates scoring during his second spell at Everton. (PA)
New era: Derby County's latest new manager, Dutch legend Phillip Cocu, looks on during the Rams opening weekend win away at Huddersfield on Monday night. (Photo by Lewis Storey/Getty Images)

He’ll be 34 in October and his previous struggles with fitness have been well documented, but Rooney appears to have kept himself in shape Stateside.

Besides, more mature players have still flourished in the second tier of English football.

Just last season, 32-year-old Billy Sharp banged in 24 goals to fire Sheffield United to the Premier League, while Leeds Utd’s Pablo Hernandez lit up the division aged 33.


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Rooney himself managed 23 goals in 44 games in the US - a terrific record, albeit in a slower, less competitive league.

It seems ambitious to expect Rooney to turn out twice a week in the regular Saturday-Tuesday grind of the Championship.

He’s more likely to start occasionally, or be an ‘impact sub’ for Cocu. The more pressing concern for Derby will be where he actually fits in the team.

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The Rams are not short of strikers or players who can play in the ‘No. 10’ role - a more sensible transfer for Phillip Cocu’s men would have actually been a winger.

Even a spell as a deep-lying midfielder for Rooney would be unlikely, given Derby broke their transfer record on Arsenal's defensive midfielder Krystian Bielik just last week.

But when the chance comes to sign an all-time English great for your hometown club, Mel Morris would argue that Wayne Rooney is the sort of star you simply make room for.

Chris Parsons is Yahoo UK News Editor and also creator of Derby County podcast ‘Steve Bloomer’s Washing’