Wayne Rooney: Coaching, free-kicks and guiding youngsters

In an exclusive interview, Wayne Rooney discusses balancing playing with coaching, practising free-kicks, helping out youngsters and more. Watch Derby vs Watford live on Sky Sports Football from 7pm on Friday; Kick Off 7.45pm.

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Wayne Rooney discusses balancing playing with coaching, practising free-kicks, helping out youngsters and more.

The legs may not quite have the energy they once did, but Wayne Rooney is proving the quality, the eye and the technique are still there.

Derby had suffered a dreadful start to the season. Three defeats on the spin, eight goals conceded and just one scored. But then, just under a fortnight ago, in the 87th minute they won a free-kick with the score still deadlocked at Norwich. Moments earlier boss Phillip Cocu was looking to bring Rooney off, but he will thank his lucky stars that he did not.

It was another Rooney moment of magic to light up the Championship. There have already been several of those since his return to playing in England at the start of the year.

Derby County's Wayne Rooney (left) scores his side's first goal of the game 0:37
A trademark Wayne Rooney free-kick gives Derby County the win against Norwich City

"When we got the free-kick I looked over to where Tim Krul was," said Rooney, ahead of his side's clash with Watford on Friday night - live on Sky Sports Football. "He was a bit far over to one side and I knew if I got it up and over the wall it would have a chance of going in. And thankfully it did!

"It was an important goal after a tough start to the season. It was a big win for us. It brought some confidence back into the team which we needed. The first three games weren't good enough, so we had to regroup and figure out a way of getting our first points on the board.

"I don't practise free-kicks every day but I still practise a lot. It's important to keep your eye in so when the moment arrives in the game you have the best chance of scoring."

Image: Rooney finds the net against Norwich

Rooney has always had a football brain. It is what is driving his desire to be a manager one day, and what was behind his reasoning to move to Derby to take on this hybrid role.

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In a way he may have been preparing for the next step throughout his entire career, but you can almost see the cogs whirring when he is playing these days as he analyses every aspect of the game.

"I've always loved that side of the game and figuring out ways to try and gain an advantage on the opposition is something I've always done," he said.

"[All the coaches] sit down together and we have our own ideas. There's not one coach who is there as a free-kick specialist or anything. It's for all of us to figure out if a team has a weakness or if there is something we can target. There's no role given to me which is mine to take on.

"I'm still a player and enjoying it, and I want that to continue for as long as I can. But when the time is right for me to become a manager it's something I've got a big ambition to do."

Image: Rooney in discussion with Derby boss Phillip Cocu

Usually a player-coach operates on the fringes of the playing staff, but Rooney is unique in that he is utterly essential on both sides of the fence.

But you can see how much he relishes the challenge, in particular with the enthusiasm he has for discussing the young players at the club he is helping to progress.

"It's great to see so many young players doing well," he said. "Jason Knight got his first call-up to the Ireland squad, and he deserves it because he has a great attitude and works really hard.

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"All the young lads have been fantastic since I've been here. There's advice you can give them, but you need to be careful not to put too much pressure on or issue too many instructions to them to play the game.

"As a young player you rely a lot on energy and enthusiasm to get around the pitch, then you can slowly give them a bit more responsibility, which can help them.

"For a young player it's great if the team is winning. The tough part is when the team isn't doing so well and you can feel a bit lost out there, so you can learn how to deal with that.

"The first three games of the season will help them. It will help them learn how to lose and bounce back from difficult moments. The response from the players since those defeats has been really good."

And even at 34 with all his extra responsibilities, his experience, his records and his place as one of the greatest players England has ever produced, Rooney is still the same team player he was when he broke through nearly two decades ago.

He is still happy to do a job and put in a shift for the side, with 88 minutes on his own up front at Carrow Road - at a time when he would much prefer to be deep in midfield - proving that.

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"With the way we set up at the minute I think having me up front benefits the team," he said. "I know the qualities that I can bring from there.

"I'm not going to be running the channels for 90 minutes at my age! That's not my role. But I know I can get onto the ball and bring players in. I can create chances around the box and get shots off. I have plenty of experience in playing that role."

Whatever position he plays - Cocu, Derby and the Championship are all lucky to have him.

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