Wayne Rooney has said he rejected an offer to manage in Saudi Arabia in favour of a return to England as he outlined his determination to showcase his credentials at Birmingham, who he believes could become “one of the biggest stories” in the game.
Rooney joins the seven-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady at the Championship club, and the former England captain and Manchester United’s all-time record goalscorer said he wants Brady, who in August became a minority owner, to impart his advice on his squad.
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Rooney said he is looking forward to focusing on the football after his last spell in England, at Derby, was overshadowed by the threat of liquidation. “It will be nice to focus on the training sessions and games [by] having a team above me who I can have that trust in to make sure everything is right,” Rooney said. “Maybe that wasn’t the case at my two previous clubs.”
Rooney, who signed a three-and-a-half-year contract to succeed John Eustace, arrived at Birmingham’s training ground before 7am on Thursday to take charge of his first training session. The 37-year-old said he still felt a little jetlagged after flying in from Washington to rubber-stamp his move after leaving Major League Soccer side DC United last weekend.
Earlier this week Garry Cook, the Birmingham chief executive, said the club’s US owners want to make the club a “football powerhouse” and last month Tom Wagner, Birmingham’s chairman, said the arrival of Brady at the club triggered “17bn positive media impressions”.
Rooney referenced the trajectories of Manchester City and Newcastle when asked to expand on his comments about Birmingham potentially becoming “one of the biggest stories in football over the next few years” and said neutrals will want to monitor progress at the club. “It is something that as a football fan I’d really want to follow and have a real interest in,” he said. “I believe we can really climb from the Championship into the top level and then, at that point, you sit down and create new targets.”
Rooney said he has spoken to Brady since taking charge. “What is important for the players is to see Tom having an involvement,” he said. “At different clubs, you see athletes getting involved but they’re not really involved at all, just a name who is involved. It’s clear he’s fully involved in developing the club. It’s great for Birmingham to have him on board and invested in it.
“Tom Brady will have a lot of advice he can give to me but one of the things I want to do when he is over next is get him in front of the players and get him talking to the players and get him sharing his story. It would be great for me to listen to that and I am sure it will be really inspiring.”
Cook alluded to the “unprecedented media coverage compared to what we’re used to” as he introduced Rooney at St Andrew’s. Cook, while the chief executive of Manchester City, tried to sign him from Manchester United in 2010 and has a longstanding relationship with Rooney’s agent, Paul Stretford.
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It was Cook who tried to lure Rooney to the Gulf State while executive president of the Saudi Pro League, a role he left to take his post at Birmingham in July, but it quickly became apparent it was a non-starter. “I felt for my development that my pathway was a different way,” Rooney said of Saudi interest. “That is no disrespect to any manager that has gone out there, by the way.”
Rooney will be assisted by Ashley Cole and John O’Shea, his former teammates, as well as Carl Robinson and Pete Shuttleworth, who spent five years at Birmingham as a scout and analyst respectively. Rooney’s first game in charge is at Middlesbrough a week on Saturday, when he will come up against Michael Carrick, a former Manchester United and England teammate.
Rooney acknowledged there is pressure on him to succeed given Birmingham, who finished 17th last season, are sixth in the league after a promising start to the season. “I love the fact we are in a good position,” he said. “I love the challenge. I love the pressure of it. That is something I have dealt with since I was a young kid, coming through from 16 years of age. It might be new to some of the players, so my job is to make sure that I get them ready for that.”