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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Dan Kilpatrick

What next for Wayne Rooney? Sacked manager faces big career questions after Birmingham failure

The question for one of England’s greatest-ever footballers today is “what now?”. Wayne Rooney’s dismissal as Birmingham City boss leaves the former Manchester United and England forward with not only the first resounding failure on his CV, but one of the worst managerial stints in Championship history to his name.

Rooney took over when Birmingham were sixth in the second tier, unexpectedly in play-off contention and cautiously eyeing a push for the promised land of the Premier League. He leaves them on the cusp of the bottom three, having failed to win 13 of his 15 games in charge and mustered a paltry 10 points.

Rooney felt he deserved more time at St Andrew’s but, really, it is a wonder he lasted so long. The biggest surprise, though, remains that he was given the job in the first place.

In managerial terms, Rooney is now damaged goods, his reputation as a coach tarnished. Such was his success and celebrity as a player, his standing as a manager is now probably lower than when he retired from playing in January 2021.

Wayne Rooney needs to go back to square one. (Action Images via Reuters)

There is no doubt that the blame for Rooney’s failure at Birmingham lies as much with the club as the 38-year-old.

The decision to sack John Eustace, who stabilised the Blues last term before their strong start to the season, and hire Rooney was a classic case of a club going for a “name” above all else.

Chief executive Gary Cook, who shares a good relationship with Rooney, tasked the rookie manager with playing a “no fear” brand of football which he had no record of coaching at Derby County or DC United in Washington, and from the get-go the job felt like a poisoned chalice for the former England captain.

Plainly, however, Rooney also bears some responsibility for his flatlining coaching career since Derby, not least because his own moves have been so strange. When he quit Pride Park in summer 2022, Rooney was considered to have done as good a job as possible in trying circumstances and his coaching stock was high.

It's exactly a year since he turned down an interview for the vacant Everton manager’s job

It is exactly a year since he turned down an interview for the vacant Everton manager’s job, saying at the time that he believed “100 per cent” that he would one day manage in the Premier League but was committed to the job he was doing at Derby.

On leaving Derby, however, Rooney made the strange decision to decamp to the United States to take charge of DC United, then rock-bottom of the Eastern Conference league. He did a reasonable job, taking them to 12th but failed to reach the play-offs.

Major League Soccer is generally considered a destination for players and coaches at the end of successful careers. The US move slowed Rooney’s momentum as a coach and felt like a lose-lose: a job where he could easily underwhelm, and ultimately did, but was unlikely to be heralded for success given the middling standard of the league.

The move to Birmingham was also, arguably, a questionable one given the hostility of supporters to Eustace’s sacking and the club’s history of wild instability — although managers need self-belief and it is easy to understand why Rooney took the job.

Wayne Rooney made the surprising move to join DC United when his stock was fairly high (USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con)

Rooney said on Tuesday that he will need time to “recover from this setback” but is committed to continuing his “journey as a manager”.

He has been in the game and in the glare of the limelight non-stop since bursting onto the scene with Everton as a 16-year-old — a 22-year stint as a player then manager — and there is a case for him to step away from management and take stock before picking his next job.

That said, football is all Rooney has ever known and a character like him may find it more grounding and invigorating to return to the game, starting the work to rebuild his damaged reputation as a coach.

Rooney should not struggle to find work. His name will always be enough to tempt clubs, but no ambitious Championship side, let alone a Premier League outfit, is likely to consider him again for a while, and he now may have to drop down a division to find another job.

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