Wayne Rooney the perfect blend of Neville and Keane – failure as a manager is punditry’s gain

Wayne Rooney impresses as a guest pundit on Sky Sports
Wayne Rooney impressed as a guest pundit with a mix of tactical acumen and fire and brimstone - Sky Sports

How might you build the perfect modern football pundit? The tactical acumen of Gary Neville, a dash of Jamie Carragher’s tonal versatility, a sprinkling of Roy Keane’s fire and brimstone. Crucially, you need to have tried and failed as a manager.

Emphatic ticks all round for Wayne Rooney, whose appearance on Sky Sports for Wednesday night’s Merseyside derby suggested a big future, should he want it, in front of the cameras. There is some unease about the increasing use of partisan ex-players to opine on their former clubs, but on this occasion it was useful to have an Evertonian in situ to see their first home derby win since 2010.

“I think Everton can make it very difficult for Liverpool tonight and hopefully we send Klopp off with a loss,” he said presciently before the game. Most pleasing was his zero-tolerance attitude towards Liverpool’s latest complaint about kick-off times. “He’s saying about Liverpool getting outfought, but again we are hearing about 12.30 kick-offs after he’s just lost a derby,” said Rooney of Virgil van Dijk.

“That Liverpool team should be wanting to be on the pitch tomorrow morning. Because when you lose a game, especially a derby game, you want the next game to come quick.

“We’ve heard it so many times this season with Liverpool about 12.30 kick-offs. Get on with it, that’s part of your job. They should be ready to play.”

It was not just the (righteous) substance of Rooney’s words here but his manner of delivery. It certainly owed something to Keane, the slightly exasperated “get on with it”, but Rooney also has a provocative forthrightness which is given extra weight by his standing as a player. His looming physicality does not hurt either. It is worth remembering that Rooney himself complained about early kick-offs as a player, tweeting “trying to force pasta down at 9 in the morning is not nice” in 2011, but on this evidence you would be a brave internet pedant to accuse him of hypocrisy.

Later he interrupted Carragher, usually something only attempted by Gary Neville or Kelly Cates / David Jones when needing to reach an ad break on time. It made you aware of the deferent and contrived tone of most punditry and gave an otherwise low-key post-match discussion an injection of energy. “Do you not question the timing of it getting released that Klopp’s leaving the club?” said Rooney. “Over the last few weeks or months everyone’s saying ‘fairytale ending’, but the minute it goes wrong I think you have to look at that timing.”

Carragher responded: “Do you think that’s got something to do with Nunez’s finishing?” Rooney held firm: “No, but I think with Nunez, Salah, Van Dijk, Klopp’s so popular, in their heads they’ll be thinking what’s my future hold? Am I still going to be a Liverpool player? Do I still want to be a Liverpool player?” It led to a discussion about whether Nunez’s finishing could ever improve with Rooney and Sturridge sharing illuminating details about how strikers train.

The point about good pundits needing a failed dalliance with management is glib but perhaps more important than it seems. Neville and Keane are ostensibly undermined by their stints in charge of Valencia, Sunderland and Ipswich respectively, although Keane did win Championship manager of the year at Sunderland, a good deal more than Neville managed in Spain.

Crucially both now see their future away from the dugout which frees them to speak plainly about players and managers they are unlikely to cross paths with professionally in the future. Carragher has never indicated a wish to manage and it is no coincidence that he was superb immediately in his role on TV.

Despite his playing career, it is difficult to see where Rooney the manager could go next. It was a brave stint at Derby in trying circumstances but he missed the MLS play-offs twice with D.C. United then took over Birmingham in sixth and left 15 games later with the side in 20th. He may yet get another chance but after Wednesday night it is clear he has plenty to offer on our screens.

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