All eyes will be on one man tonight as Derby host Manchester United for a place in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup. Wayne Rooney. United’s top goalscorer in their history will now attempt to derail their hopes of winning the world’s oldest football trophy yet despite the Old Trafford club declining since his departure, Rooney believes they are back on the right track and has called for patience from the United faithful.
“The Manchester United fans need to be a bit patient with what is going on and let these players try and prove themselves,” Rooney told The Guardian. “They need to bring some players, they need to get rid of some players, also, I think, and within two or three years they have to be challenging again. Over the last few weeks they have been getting better, it will be nice to see them bring in two or three players in the summer and try and make that next step to get a bit closer.”
United currently sit fifth in Premier League just three points behind fourth-placed Chelsea, and that elusive Champions League place. The Red Devils are now fighting on three fronts, including the FA Cup and the Europa League, but for Rooney, he believes his former club must once again establish themselves in Europe’s premier competition.
“The important thing is for them to try and get into the Champions League this year. It is really tight at the minute. I think that will help them a lot if they can do that, but it is going to take time. It is going to take another two or three years, I believe.”
After 559 appearances, 253 goal and 12 trophies at Old Trafford he still holds that high level of affection for his former club, having played his best football under Sir Alex Ferguson during United’s glory days.
“I loved it there,” he says. “Some huge highs and some lows. When you’ve been somewhere so long, and you look back on it, your old teammates and the staff, it was the main part of my career. It was enjoyable and something I’ll look back on with great memories.
However, as a youngster, Rooney didn’t always get along with the legendary Scottish boss, but now as Derby’s player-coach with aspirations of becoming a manager he can now appreciate the slight tricks his former boss used to use on him, sometimes for the benefit of others.
“His man-management is the best I’ve ever seen. I always remember as a kid, every half-time arguing with him. Constantly. I remember thinking: ‘Why’s he keep having a go at me? There’s players far worse than what I’ve been.’ But the older you get, you realise why he’s doing it. He would have a go at me for dribbling, which I very rarely … well, I dribbled a bit more then,” the 34-year-old jokes.
“But for Nani, it would just maybe trigger something in their head, make them think: ‘Maybe I shouldn’t dribble as much.’ If he [Sir Alex] spoke to Nani the way he spoke to me, he’d break down in tears. He [Nani] wouldn’t be able to come back out.”
With a wiser head on his shoulders, Rooney is learning everything about the managerial game from a brilliant gaffer. In Phillip Cocu he has an exciting mentor who hasn’t quite got his Derby side firing on all cylinders this season, yet perhaps that has provided an enriched learning curve for England’s record goalscorer.
Rooney will complete his UEFA A license before applying for his pro license and is truly dedicating himself to learning more about the game. He arrives earlier than the rest of the squad to help Cocu finalise his tactics and after the game, he will forensically scrutinise the teams’ performance.
“I can’t play forever so I need to think about my future after my playing days. I love the game, I want to stay in it, so this is where I am and I want to learn as much as I can. I think it’s a shame when you see players who have been great players walking away and not really having a go at managing or coaching. Over the last few years, it’s been great to see Frank [Lampard], Steven [Gerrard], JT [John Terry], Scott Parker, to see all of these former teammates of mine going into it.”
This could well be the final time Rooney shares a pitch with Manchester United players. His attention may have turned to the managerial side of the game, but he is still a force on the pitch. How fitting it would be for him to have a decisive say in this FA Cup tie.