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Wayne Rooney’s criticism of Birmingham players was beginning of the end

Wayne Rooney, Manager of Birmingham City interacts with Dion Sanderson/Wayne Rooney’s criticism of Birmingham players was beginning of the end
Wayne Rooney took his team from chasing promotion to staving off relegation - Harry Trump/Getty Images

In their last two matches of Wayne Rooney’s tenure, Birmingham City registered just one shot on target. It was a far cry from the “no fear football” that was promised upon Rooney’s controversial arrival in October, and fans demanded his dismissal at Elland Road on Monday night.

The 38-year-old’s appointment was hailed as a “defining moment for the football club”, with ambitious owners Knighthead determined to establish Birmingham as a major force in English football.

Yet Rooney’s short tenure has been a bitter disappointment and he departs St Andrew’s with his reputation having sustained significant damage.

There will also be scrutiny of Birmingham’s chief executive, Garry Cook, who drove Rooney’s appointment and initiated the dismissal of John Eustace, who had overseen Birmingham’s best season since 2015-16 and had continued that form by challenging for the play-offs before his departure.

Cook, a former chief executive at Manchester City, wanted Rooney to lead a promotion bid and had attempted to persuade him to take a job in the Saudi Pro League before his arrival at Birmingham.

After being appointed in October, Rooney pledged to take Birmingham back into the Premier League. His return to English football, after an 16-month absence, was made on a three-and-a-half year contract worth about £3.5 million – an agreement that lasted little more than seven per cent of its planned duration.

Rooney insisted he was ready to deliver for the club’s American owners, commenting on his first day in the job that he had been tasked with “elevating the club to the next level” as it was “very clear that [Knighthead] have a plan and are committed to realising their ambition for the club”.

Cook has also made a number of key appointments at executive level, while former Manchester City director of football Mike Rigg is set to join as the club’s new academy manager in April. The 53-year-old is a former colleague of Cook’s and is leaving his role as sporting director with Al Jazira in the United Arab Emirates.

The Rooney experiment has failed, however, and supporters vented their anger during the defeat against Leeds United, chanting for him to leave.

Comment about ‘11 substitutions’ lost the dressing room

Rooney was hoping to boost his squad with new signings in the January transfer window and is understood to have been lining up targets in recent weeks.

He was keen to rebuild his team after expressing concerns over the ability of the players available to him. He did not think the players could play the style of football he wanted to implement.

But his public criticisms of his players led to a notable change. Rooney’s comments about wanting to make 11 substitutions after the 3-1 home defeat by Stoke City are said to have triggered frustration in the dressing room.

After the 0-0 draw with Bristol City on Dec 29, he came under further pressure after the opposing manager, Liam Manning, remarked that Birmingham had set up at home with a low block.

This was far from the “no fear” football that Cook was targeting under Rooney, who left DC United at the end of their season in Major League Soccer.

Rooney now faces an uphill task to salvage his reputation as a manager. On the day of his appointment he pledged to take Birmingham forward to the riches of the Premier League, but under his tenure the club were heading out of the division and down to League One.

His parting shot also highlighted the fact that the last 22 years of Rooney’s life have been wall-to-wall football, since his professional breakthrough as a 16-year-old, through his retirement from playing after landing the Derby County manager’s job, to this painful sacking that will cause many potential suitors to think twice about Rooney before picking up the phone.

A break from the sport may well be exactly what he needs to work out where he goes next, but it is not hard to see where his future lies. “Now, I plan to take some time with my family as I prepare for the next opportunity in my journey as a manager,” Rooney signalled in his statement. How long that break lasts and when the next journey commences will be crucial to starting the rebuilding process.

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