The Downfall of Wayne Rooney at Birmingham City: Lack of Fearless Football, Inexperienced Coaching Staff, and Public Player Criticism

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Wayne Rooney thought about training to be a lawyer during his wife Coleen’s ‘Wagatha Christie’ courtroom duel with Rebekah Vardy, the partner of former England striker Jamie.

Yet even the very best defence barristers would have struggled to make a case for Rooney to continue as Birmingham manager following his sacking on Tuesday.

Rooney departed just 83 days after he replaced John Eustace with the club sixth in the Championship. During his 15 games, Blues had the worst record in the division and are now only six points clear of the relegation zone.

Rooney claimed he had not been afforded time to stamp his mark on the club but the reality is that Birmingham have taken the only decision possible. The former England captain’s appointment has been a disaster from start to finish and Knighthead, the club’s American owners, take as much blame as the former England captain.

For this hire was based on Rooney’s stellar playing career rather than his unremarkable track record as a manager. With chief executive Garry Cook in the vanguard, Knighthead rushed into this one and have paid the price. 

Wayne Rooney was sacked by Birmingham City on Tuesday after just 83 days at the club

Rooney watched his side win just two of their 15 matches as they slumped from 6th to 20th place in the Championship

Rooney watched his side win just two of their 15 matches as they slumped from 6th to 20th place in the Championship

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At his opening press conference on October 12, Rooney talked about taking Birmingham into the Premier League yet nine defeats and only two wins during his tenure looked like an express ticket to League One.

Here Mail Sport looks at how it unravelled for Rooney and examines where Birmingham go from here.

 

Timing

Bringing in Rooney after Eustace had secured wins over Huddersfield and West Bromwich Albion in the space of four days was strange, but even odder in the context of the fixtures to follow. 

Rooney’s first five matches were against Middlesbrough, Hull, Southampton, Ipswich and Sunderland – all teams competing for promotion. Birmingham could easily have struggled in those games under Eustace and had Birmingham made a change then, they could have cited poor form. 

Yet by sacking a manager who was achieving good results, Cook needed to justify it and he did so by promising ‘no fear’ football. Its meaning remains unclear and unless Blues turn a corner quickly, the label is likely to haunt him.

Birmingham's decision to sack John Eustace (pictured) after successive wins was an odd call

Birmingham’s decision to sack John Eustace (pictured) after successive wins was an odd call

Birmingham CEO Garry Cook (pictured) wanted Rooney to bring 'no fear' football to the club, but that never materialised

Birmingham CEO Garry Cook (pictured) wanted Rooney to bring ‘no fear’ football to the club, but that never materialised

Coaching staff

Rooney’s managerial CV consisted of 17 months at crisis-torn Derby and 14 with DC United in Major League Soccer. 

Given Liam Rosenior – now in charge at Hull – led many of the training sessions with the Rams, Rooney should have brought in a more accomplished assistant. The experience of John O’Shea and Ashley Cole is limited while Carl Robinson had never held a senior coaching job in the Championship. 

There was scant expertise there for Rooney to consult and Robinson left with Rooney on Tuesday, while the futures of O’Shea, Cole and Pete Shuttleworth are still to be resolved. Goalkeeping coach Maik Taylor was the only survivor of the Eustace era.

Why not hang on to coaches Keith Downing and Matt Gardiner, who were liked and respected by the squad?

Rooney relied on inexperienced coaches including Ashley Cole (left), John O'Shea (second left) and Carl Robinson (right)

Rooney relied on inexperienced coaches including Ashley Cole (left), John O’Shea (second left) and Carl Robinson (right)

November international break

With Birmingham collecting only one point from their first five games, the November international break was surely the ideal time for Rooney to drill his players in his preferred style. 

Instead, the squad were given eight days away from the training ground and asked to follow individual fitness programmes. Blues were not the only Championship club to give their players a breather at the end of the autumn and it is a long slog from November to March. 

But with the squad struggling to adapt to the ideas of a new manager, it felt a curious tactic. Given the results and disjointed performances that followed, it looked stranger still.

Public comments

After the 0-0 draw with Rotherham at St Andrew’s on December 2, Rooney said: ‘I think some players in there need to grow a pair of b***s, basically.’ And following the loss to Stoke on Boxing Day, he fumed: ‘Ideally, you wish you could have 11 subs as I could have changed all 11 players at half-time.’

While such anger is understandable after poor displays and results, these words do not endear a manager to his players. 

The days of ‘sending a message’ to the squad with public criticism are largely over. The modern player is a different beast from predecessors, and under these circumstances may be more likely to withdraw from managers than resolve to prove them wrong. 

Speaking to Mail Sport, one seasoned boss said Rooney’s words showed ‘a lack of emotional control’.

Rooney was very critical of his players on multiple occasions as they slipped down the table

Rooney was very critical of his players on multiple occasions as they slipped down the table

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What next?

Surprisingly, Eustace is open to returning to Birmingham less than three months after he was ditched so mercilessly. 

Because he knows the squad well, Eustace could hit the ground running and would be a financially smart option – but having U-turned by sacking Rooney, it would be quite some climbdown for Knighthead to re-employ Eustace. 

Tony Mowbray could be an option for Birmingham as they consider their next appointment

Tony Mowbray could be an option for Birmingham as they consider their next appointment

Lee Carsley is another alternative after he led England Under-21s to Euro glory last summer

Lee Carsley is another alternative after he led England Under-21s to Euro glory last summer

Former Sunderland boss Tony Mowbray is thought to be of interest along with England Under-21 coach Lee Carsley, but former Nottingham Forest boss Steve Cooper is being admired by at least two Premier League clubs and is unlikely to consider a return to the Championship. 

It is also unclear whether Blues would consider a left-field appoint like the highly-rated German Matthias Kohler, with the 32-year-old available after leaving Dutch club Volendam in December.

Chairman Tom Wagner will surely have to adjust his sights. This is a squad of steady Championship players, not a group of stars capable of delivering Pep Guardiola-style football. 

The sooner the board – which also comprises NFL great Tom Brady – figure this out, the quicker Birmingham can climb the table.

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