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What Wayne Rooney can learn from the England Golden Generation’s failings

Tony Evans
·4-min read
 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

The Golden Generation have become, in football terms, the geriatric generation. Wayne Rooney’s retirement from playing and move into management at Derby County invokes many memories and quite a few questions, the most perplexing of which is why England failed to live up to expectations in the optimistic days of the early 2000s.

Why does finding an answer matter? It might have an impact on Rooney’s career in the dugout.

Management is about finding the right blend for a team. England had a prodigious amount of talent available in the early years of the millennium but underperformed. The problems were not at the back. The midfield and attack was invariably less than the sum of their parts.

A team containing Rooney, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, David Beckham and Paul Scholes should have achieved more. Ego played a part in this. Gerrard and Lampard functioned best in a side that was built to serve their needs. Beckham thought he should be given the central role when his strength was working the right side of the pitch. And Sven-Goran Eriksson was not the only manager who was unable to work out how best to deploy Scholes – Sir Alex Ferguson also wrestled with the problem. Too many in the England squad were unwilling to subvert their own game for the greater good of the team.

READ MORE: Sir Alex warns new Derby coach Rooney of ‘results industry’

Rooney became more generous on the pitch as he grew older, but Eriksson’s period in charge was characterised by competition not for places but to be the main man. A better manager would have built around Rooney and dispensed with those who did not fall into line. Those who followed Eriksson – Steve McClaren, who is working with the 35-year-old at Derby, and Fabio Capello – made similar mistakes.

The early years of the 21st century were a strange time for the game. A new kind of celebrity enveloped the players and those around them. The nadir came at Baden-Baden when WAGs ran wild during the 2006 World Cup. Eriksson was even more enthralled by the glamorous lifestyle than his players. The Swede had superb credentials but lost his way during his tenure as England manager. He prefered stardust to substance. Rooney’s experience of playing in a gifted, undisciplined team may be more valuable going forward than the years under Ferguson’s tutelage.

Manchester United’s most successful manager had no qualms about putting a rein on superstars or even dispensing with their services. Beckham was bombed out and Rooney was made to play second fiddle to Cristiano Ronaldo. It is credit to the Scouser that he recognised that the Portuguese was on a different level and was prepared to assume a different role to his favoured position. If someone as good as Rooney is able to do that, lesser players can hardly baulk if he asks them to do something they don’t fancy for the benefit of the team at Derby.

Rooney is much brighter and more self-aware than his public image has sometimes suggested. He is grounded and thinks hard about the game. The job at Derby is a difficult one – as this weekend’s 1-0 home defeat by Rotherham United illustrated – and it will be hard to judge his credentials. He is following in Lampard’s footsteps at Pride Park. The Chelsea manager spent just a season in the East Midlands and is struggling to meet expectations at Stamford Bridge. Lampard’s unwillingness or inability to adapt his game for England was a bad sign for an afterlife in management. The 42-year-old has been quick to publicly blame his players for Chelsea’s underperformance. Rooney can learn from his predecessor’s travails.

Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney and Frank Lampard (L-R) have all entered the world of managementGetty Images
Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney and Frank Lampard (L-R) have all entered the world of managementGetty Images

Gerrard also liked to do his own thing as a player and was even more of a talisman at Anfield than Lampard was in west London. The Liverpool legend was awkward to manage on occasion and his relationship with Rafa Benitez verged on passive-aggressive at times. Life at Rangers has caused the 40-year-old to rethink some of his views. Gerrard has developed more empathy for his former manager and although the pressure is intense in Glasgow, Ibrox has proved to be a good place to learn his trade. He appears to be heading in the right direction. At Rangers, Gerrard has the status to attract better players. Rooney will have the same luxury at Derby. Lampard does not have that advantage at Chelsea. The Premier League club are shopping in a different market for established stars who are less likely to be impressed by a rookie manager.

The three glittering jewels of England’s most disappointing era are now becoming elder statesmen. They have the experience of glorious club careers behind them. Rooney was the most adaptable and unselfish on the pitch and that should stand him in good stead. If he – and his former teammates – can learn from the failings of their own Golden Generation it will make them better managers.

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