4 veterans who dropped into the EFL and how they got on
With Wayne Rooney finally joining Derby, we rate the efforts of some older professionals that dropped into the EFL to see how his time at the club could go.
Wayne Rooney has just become the latest big name to drop into the EFL in the hope of prolonging a distinguished playing career.
But, as others have proven, it is a move that can go one of two ways.
That Rooney has never played below the Premier League – and hasn’t even been in England since April 2018 – could count against him.
Juggling a coaching role could also prove tricky while, at 34, there are valid questions about whether his body will hold up.
We’ve rated the efforts of some older professionals that have gone before Rooney to give you an idea of how his time at Derby could go.
Sol Campbell (Notts County)
The Lancashire seaside town of Morecambe is a popular holiday destination for those nearing retirement.
So, a 34-year-old Campbell should have felt right at home when making his debut in an away game there for Notts County in 2009, following one of the most bizarre transfer stories in the history of the Football League.
Spoiler alert: it wasn’t for him.
Notts County had just become the Manchester City of the lower leagues following their takeover by Middle Eastern consortium Munto Finance in June 2009.
Sven-Goran Eriksson was brought in as their director of football, while the club were also linked with moves for David Beckham and Roberto Carlos, among others. Stop sniggering.
Campbell joined on a four-year contract paying a reported £40,000 per week – which, unsurprisingly, remains the most any League Two player has ever received.
County were beaten 2-1 at Morecambe that day, while a clearly unfit Campbell had a shocker.
Three days later, and just 29 days after joining the club, he packed it in, with broken promises over other big-name signings and shoddy training facilities among his reasons.
A few months later, he was back among home comforts at Arsenal. All’s well that ends well.
Edgar Davids (Barnet)
If Sol Campbell’s 29-day spell at Notts County was bizarre, then this was downright ridiculous.
Yet Davids’ spell at Barnet bares more similarity to what Rooney could face at Derby since he, like the Derby man, decided to both play and coach. But, take note Wayne, this is not how it should be done.
Barnet were bottom of the EFL, without a win from their opening 11 matches, when they persuaded the former Dutch international to join as player-head coach in October 2012. The move was surprising for a few reasons.
Firstly, it was Edgar bloody Davids joining bloody Barnet.
Secondly, the then-39-year-old hadn’t played professionally since a disappointing six-game stint at Crystal Palace two years earlier.
He was unable to keep Barnet in the EFL, and the following season, seemed to lose the plot.
First, he took the No. 1 jersey off goalkeeper Graham Stack in order to wear it himself in midfield, claiming he would ‘start a trend’. It didn’t catch on.
Then, he informed the club that he would be skipping certain away games, depending on how far he had to travel.
That was when he wasn’t suspended, after receiving three red cards in his final six games for the club.
Barnet and Davids eventually cut ties in January 2014 but, make no mistake, this was an omnishambles.
Paul Ince (Wolves)
Ince’s spell at Wolves provides an example of the boost that dropping down a level can give a player’s career.
‘The Guvnor’ arrived at Molineux aged 34 in the summer of 2002, having just rejected a two-year deal at Middlesbrough and with retirement looking likely.
But Wolves manager Dave Jones persuaded him to put it off a year and drop down to the second tier, despite Ince having played just one game in his career outside the top flight.
So good was the fit between player and club that Ince would stay for four seasons, and play more games for Wolves than he did for any club other than Manchester United.
He helped them win promotion to the Premier League in his first season, ending the club’s 19-year absence at the top level.
And, even though they dropped back down to the Championship after just one year, Ince decided to stay.
Such was the strength of his affections for the club, he even applied for the manager’s job in 2006.
He didn’t get it and opted to retire after Mick McCarthy got the nod, but he would leave Wolves a hero.
Paul Merson (Portsmouth)
This is how it should be done.
Unhappy at a lack of first-team opportunities at Aston Villa and with his career on the downturn, a 34-year-old Merson dropped down to Division One to play for Harry Redknapp’s Portsmouth for the 2002/03 season.
He joined a side that was being transformed by a typical Redknapp spending spree, after they had survived relegation by just four points in the previous season.
Merson was named captain after arriving on a free alongside Shaka Hislop, Gianluca Festa and Vincent Pericard among plenty of other exotic names.
But this was a time when Redknapp’s game of Supermarket Sweep worked a treat.
Pompey won 10 of their opening 13 league games, with the team built around Merson, though his languid playing style did still raise a few eyebrows.
“At the moment, I don’t have to push myself to the limit,” he argued.
Not that it mattered.
Merson would go on to lift the Division One title that season, scoring 12 league goals in 44 appearances, before leaving for Walsall.
Despite staying at Fratton Park for just one year, Merse was inducted into the Pompey Hall of Fame in 2017.
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