All Rooney must do is deliver at Birmingham but THAT is the hard part

IAN LADYMAN: All Wayne Rooney has to do now is deliver at Birmingham City – but that’s the really hard part… if he can’t move the club forward, his managerial career may be over before he even hits 40

  • Roy Keane endured a trying spell in charge of Sunderland after his retirement 
  • Wayne Rooney has replaced John Eustace as the head coach at Birmingham City 
  • Listen to the latest episode of Mail Sport’s podcast ‘It’s All Kicking Off!’ 

Roy Keane has not been a manager for twelve years but remembers the perils, difficulties and in particular the challenges of coaching on the back of a stellar playing career.

‘At Sunderland Niall Quinn [the chairman] was saying I would be box office,’ Keane told the ‘Stick to Football’ podcast.

‘He meant well but the truth was that I was a young manager just trying to learn my trade like everybody else.

‘You get lucky to get a job in the first place but as soon as you have a difficult spell they throw it at you. “Oh you had a good career but you will never make it as a manager”.

‘Again. No. I am just a young manager having a difficult time.’ Keane, increasingly insightful as a pundit these days, describes well the double-edged sword of managing when you have been a top player. It is indeed easier to get a job but are expectations naturally and sub-consciously raised as a result? Very possibly.

Roy Keane has described well the double-edged sword of management after a stellar playing career

Wayne Rooney became the new head of Birmingham City after the Blues sacked John Eustace

Mail Sport’s Ian Ladyman discusses Rooney’s appointment at Birmingham in his latest column

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Keane’s old Manchester United team-mate Wayne Rooney may know this soon and maybe not in a good way.

Rooney begins his third managerial posting in earnest on Saturday when he takes his Birmingham team to Middlesbrough in the Championship. After that come games against Hull, Southampton, Ipswich and Sunderland.

To squeeze Rooney into the job, Birmingham have had to sack a popular manager, John Eustace, who had taken the club in to sixth place in the table. The last two games before his departure – against West Brom and Huddersfield – were both won handsomely.

So Birmingham chief executive Garry Cook sought to justify the switch of manager by saying: ‘The new first team manager will be responsible for creating an identity and ‘no fear’ playing style that all Birmingham City teams will adopt and embrace’.

And this is the environment Rooney walks in to immediately, an environment shaped by Cook and Birmingham’s new American owners. It’s an environment that – Cook says – has been structured for ‘world class professionals across every department’.

All that Rooney has to do now is deliver. And that’s the hard bit. Rooney was a world class player, for sure. As a manager, spells at Derby County and DC United in the United States have pointed to an appetite for adventure, hard work and challenge but have not quite answered the bigger and most important question of whether the 37-year-old has what it takes.

It’s probably worth mentioning here that Birmingham don’t have any world class professionals across one of their departments and that is the playing one. Rooney will know this.

After Eustace kept Birmingham in the Championship last season, the club bought a few and sold a few in the summer and ended up down by about £750,000. The last team that Eustace picked – against West Brom two weeks ago – had a £2m defender, Dion Sanderson, in it as well as a forward Siriki Dembele, who cost £1.5m. There were a couple of loans in there, too, as well as Jon Ruddy, a 36-year-old goalkeeper who didn’t cost anything at all.

Former manager Eustace had been a popular figure at St. Andrew’s having taken them to sixth place

Garry Cook claimed he sacked Eustace due to misalignment with the club’s long-term outlook

This is how it often is in the Championship. It’s a make do and mend division for all but the fortunate few who are still spending Premier League parachute payments and the reckless few still throwing money around they haven’t really got.

For Rooney and Birmingham – however Cook and the owners wish to dress it up – this is the reality. World class the Championship is not. Cook says he sacked Eustace because of a ‘misalignment’ with the club in terms of outlook. He also suggested the outgoing manager didn’t quite match Birmingham’s ambition. From the outside looking in, it feels like Eustace was the one who had the perspective just about right.

Birmingham’s owners trumpeted NFL great Tom Brady as a minority investor earlier this year. A great deal of fuss was made and Rooney, on his arrival, has played along with all that. But can Brady get Birmingham into the Premier League? No, Wayne, that will be down to you.

So this is how it lies now with Rooney. He has shown an admirable commitment to his new trade so far. He is impressive in many ways, pragmatic and realistic. Derby was a club in dire financial trouble while America was a challenge culturally as well as professionally. Not a great deal was expected.

But those asterisks and those safety nets to reputational damage don’t exist at Birmingham. This is a straight up and down challenge for Rooney. Move Birmingham forward and his management career is properly up and running. Travel backwards and it may well be over before he hits his 40th birthday.

As Keane outlined, a career on the field will get you a foot in the door when it comes to managing. But it’s absolutely no help at all when you walk through it and sit down.

As Keane outlined, a stellar career gets your foot in the door but is no help at all when it comes to actually managing

Erik ten Hag’s brave viewpoint 

Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag is said to welcome any overhaul of the Old Trafford recruitment department that may be carried out by prospective new investor Jim Ratcliffe. 

The insinuation is that Ten Hag believes he has not been handed good enough players during his time at the club.

It’s a brave viewpoint given that Ten Hag’s fingerprints are all over so many of the deals done since he joined in the summer of 2022.

Antony, Tyrell Malacia, Lisandro Martinez, Mason Mount, Andre Onana. It’s not an insignificant list.

A new contender for football’s biggest madman 

Anfield was never in the running to host games at the European Championships in 2028 because the pitch is too small.

That’s right. A stadium that has staged so many memorable nights in UEFA’s blue riband club competition the Champions League is deemed not fit to host matches in UEFA’s flagship international tournament.

Maybe the bloke who wrote the current version of the handball law is not the maddest man in football after all.

Anfield was never in the running to host games in Euro 2028 as the pitch was deemed too small

It’s hard not to like Ramsdale  

Players who are out of form or indeed out of favour often choose to hide from the media. Too angry, too embarrassed, too nervous of what they may say.

Aaron Ramsdale has not taken that approach.

The Arsenal goalkeeper stood in an interview area for 15 minutes after England’s win over Italy on Tuesday and spoke candidly about the hurt of losing his place at club level to David Raya and, as a result, his national number two spot to Sam Johnstone.

He’s a heart on his sleeve kind of bloke, Ramsdale, and it’s hard not to like him for it.

Raya was all over the place as Arsenal beat Manchester City 12 days ago, by the way, so it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that Ramsdale will have the gloves on again sooner than he thinks.

End of the road for Hughes? 

I went to see Mark Hughes at Bradford at the start of last season and found himself committed as he had ever been.

‘I want to prove I can do it at this level,’ he told me.

Mark Hughes was sacked  by Bradford after an indifferent start to the season, and there is a suspicion this could be the end of the road

That summer his main breakthrough had been to get himself an analyst and a kit man. The previous year, one guy had been doing both jobs.

Bradford reached the League Two play-offs last season and pulled in crowds up towards 20,000. They didn’t make it to Wembley, though, and after an indifferent start to this season, Hughes was sacked.

He is still only 59 and there may be fuel in the tank for more. But I suspect that may be the end of the road.

As he said himself back in July 2022: ‘Sometimes the game retires you rather than the other way round’.


It’s All Kicking Off is an exciting new podcast from Mail Sport that promises a different take on Premier League football.

It is available on MailOnline, Mail+, YouTube, Apple Music and Spotify.

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