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Dublin: 20 °C Thursday 28 May, 2020

'There are a lot of people saying I went for money. It's got nothing to do with it'

Adam Rooney on his controversial move from Aberdeen to Salford and how his childhood hero Roy Keane helped make it happen.

Irish striker Adam Rooney recently joined Salford City, after four and a half years with Aberdeen.
Irish striker Adam Rooney recently joined Salford City, after four and a half years with Aberdeen.

AWAY FROM THE bright lights of the Premier League and top-tier European football, there were few transfers that raised people’s eyebrows as much this summer as Adam Rooney’s decision to leave Scottish Premiership side Aberdeen and join Salford City in the English fifth tier.

The move attracted some grand declarations. The Telegraph described it as “a symbol of the decline of Scottish football”.

Aberdeen had just come off the back of an excellent season. They finished runners-up in the league for the fourth consecutive campaign and secured a famous win on the final day of the season against Celtic, becoming the first Scottish team to beat the reigning champions at Parkhead since the beginning of the Brendan Rodgers era.

Yet Rooney could sense his time with the Dons was coming to an end. Overall, it was undoubtedly the most successful period of his career. In 197 appearances in all competitions for the club, he scored 88 goals. Last season, however, did not go exactly as he would have wished. The Dubliner may have scored 11 goals in 42 appearances, but he was in and out of the team, with his final league start coming on 17 February.

“I had four and a half great years at Aberdeen,” he tells The42. “I just felt like it was probably the right time to leave.

“I wanted to leave on a high note, I enjoyed my time and I didn’t want to start another season where who knows, I might have started every game, I might not have.

I just felt it was time for a change and then when I heard Salford were interested, it was something that intrigued me. There were bits on the telly from previous years, how the club has progressed and who’s involved.

“Once I got to speak with the manager [Graham Alexander] and the others involved [who expressed] their ambitions for the club, it was something that really interested me.

“I possibly could have tried to go to a couple of different clubs in Scotland, but it wasn’t something I really wanted to do because of how I’d got on at Aberdeen and how I enjoyed that, so it was a change and a challenge for me.”

Leaving behind Aberdeen, however, was not easy. Himself and his wife had settled, with his first child born in Scotland. Having joined in January 2014, he stuck around so long that it felt like home.

“It’s the longest time I’ve ever spent at a club and the happiest time. It’s where I’ve been most successful and most enjoyed it. When you’re leaving that, it’s not just from the football side of things, but your life outside of football, whether you’re settled and your son, and you’ve friends there, so it’s not an easy decision to make. But if it was something I wanted to do, to move, then probably this was the summer to do it.

“Once the Salford option came up, I got to speak to who was involved, it was ‘basically where do you want to take this club’ and the ambitions behind it. It was something I wanted to be a part of. At Aberdeen I’d made myself a bit of a fans’ favourite — I thought coming here there’s a chance to do something similar.”

West Ham United v Brighton and Hove Albion - Premier League - London Stadium Ex-Man United star and Salford co-owner Gary Neville defended Rooney's move on Twitter. Source: Steven Paston

Inevitably though, there have been some cynics on social media and elsewhere who have suggested Rooney’s move to England was purely financially driven. While the 30-year-old striker is aware of the haters, he has little time for them.

“I can’t effect how people think — especially with social media, there’s so much negativity out there. Very few people want to be positive and say nice things, it’s a lot easier to be cynical and write what they want.

“I know why I moved club. There are a lot of things outside of football that come into it and it wasn’t an easy decision to try to move my family, especially with my wife due in two months’ time.

It wasn’t a straightforward case of just getting up and going. There are a lot of people saying I went for money. It’s got nothing to do with it. I’ve my own ambitions. I’ve never been one that’s been motivated by money. I want to enjoy my football and enjoy my life away from football. When you’re making a decision on a club, it has to be right for your family, it has to be right for you, it has to be right for football reasons. It has to be right for yourself in this career. You have to look after yourself and your career.

“I wouldn’t have just left Aberdeen for the sake of going and I wouldn’t have left Aberdeen for another Scottish club.

“I really hope to make a name at the new club and help them progress up the Football League, so in the years to come, I can say yeah, I helped get them from the division they were in to hopefully as high as possible. And hopefully I can look back and be proud of what I achieved here. I lived in Manchester [during a stint at Oldham] before as well. I know the area and I know it’s a good place for a family.”

Rooney was even at the subject of a Twitter argument that Accrington Stanley owner Andy Holt became embroiled in with Salford co-owner and Manchester United legend Gary Neville.

Holt cited the transfer as supposed evidence that Salford were trying “steal” an English Football League spot.

“Steal! I hope it’s yours now! We’ve invested millions,” Neville shot back.

“You seem to want a franchise league where the established can’t be challenged! We put a lot of money in and aren’t embarrassed about it.”

The debate attracted plenty of attention in Britain and Ireland, but Rooney says he was blissfully unaware of the furore.

I’m on social media, but I put out a tweet thanking everybody at Aberdeen and then I put out one to say I was delighted to be here and then I didn’t touch my phone for about three days, because I must have had about 8,000 notifications and comments and stuff, so I’ve not read half the stuff.

“I’ve missed a lot of it, and that’s probably for the best to be honest, there’s probably a lot of cynical and positive stuff — I got a lot of well wishes from Aberdeen fans and a lot of people involved and also a lot of lads I’ve played with who think it’s an exciting move as well.

“I haven’t paid too much attention to what the negative people say, a lot of that goes on, on social media, you have to be careful, you just have to ignore it.”

Soccer - FA Barclays Premiership - Everton v Manchester United - Goodison Park Rooney grew up a Man United fan and idolised Roy Keane. Source: EMPICS Sport

Growing up as a Man United fan, Rooney says Salford’s well-documented Class of ’92 affiliation was part of the attraction.

“How successful they were in their football careers and what they want to do here, you can only imagine that they’re planning on being just as successful in this business, so when you’re coming to the club, you realise [the credentials of] the people involved with the club, where they want to take it and you know things are going to be done right and professionally.

“They’ve won nearly everything there is to win in football, so they want to achieve the same sort of success with this business now that they’re in. So it’s a massive part of the attraction of it to think the people behind the scenes are really pushing the club forward.

I met Gary the first or second day I was in. He was down on the training ground just to say hello to the lads and have a quick chat and then he watched a bit of training. So it’s good that people are in around the club on a daily basis as well.

“It just shows it’s not something they do from afar. They do get involved. And it’s good to see them down there, because it gives everyone around the club a real buzz when they see the likes of them down watching training. You really make sure you’re on it because of the standard they were used to at Man United.”

Rooney has certainly come a long way since his Dublin schoolboy days, playing with Cherry Orchard, Home Farm and Crumlin United. His team-mates back then included Seán Harding now of Bray, and Stephen Gleeson, who he was briefly reunited with after the midfielder joined Aberdeen in June.

Rooney made the move over to England at the relatively late age of 17, shortly after completing his Leaving Cert. He had been considering combining playing League of Ireland with studying a subject such as physiotherapy in UCD, before the chance of a couple of trials cropped up and Stoke City ultimately came calling.

“I had great support from my family, they used to travel over to watch games. So it helped a lot to settle in, having people over. And there were a couple of Irish lads there — that helps as well, when you go into a group, there are a couple of lads to look after you and introduce you to everyone.”

Rooney almost had no time to feel homesick though, as he was challenging for a spot in the first team within six months of his arrival.

Soccer - Friendly - Newcastle Town v Stoke City Rooney pictured during his Stoke days. Source: Barry Coombs

The Dubliner’s start to life in the Championship could hardly have gone much better. He came off the bench and scored in a 3-1 loss to Reading, before overtaking Stanley Mathews to become the club’s youngest ever hat-trick scored in just his second start amid a 5-1 final-day victory over Brighton.

“Going over there, I was hoping to maybe get in the reserves, so to actually break into the first team and make about seven appearances was great,” he recalls.

Yet after this incredible honeymoon period, Rooney’s second campaign was not so successful. Peter Coates took over for a second spell as chairman. Consequently, Johan Boskamp — a coach willing to place faith in youngsters — was replaced by Tony Pulis. The Irish teenager’s first-team chances were limited thereafter, but he bears no ill will towards the Welsh manager, who ultimately oversaw a period of tremendous success at the club that encompassed promotion to the Premier League.

Boskamp was more into trying to develop young lads and bring them through and develop them on, whereas Tony went for a lot more experience and probably bigger, more physical lads than I was at that age. That probably didn’t suit me to be honest, the change of manager, but Tony did a brilliant job, so there are no issues there whatsoever.”

Rooney adds: “There are a lot of good players who have probably not made it in England and gone back [to Ireland], just mainly because they had a manager at the time who maybe didn’t like youths, or the type of player they were, or just had someone they favoured over them.

“If you look at Scott McKenna at Aberdeen, he was captaining Scotland in the summer, he got into the team last year because we were hammered 3-0 by Motherwell at the start of the year, whereas six months before he couldn’t get a game for Ayr two divisions below. He wasn’t even on the bench for them on his loan. He got in because I think there was an injury to someone and we’d a bad result. He had a great game and I think he’s started every match since.

“So a lot of things in football can be about timing, a bit of luck, you need some sort of talent and you need to be working hard, so that if you’re not in the team, you make sure you’re ready.”

Soccer - Scottish Communities League Cup - Semi Final - Inverness Caledonian Thistle v Heart of Midlothian - Easter Road With former England international Terry Butcher as manager, Rooney thrived at Inverness. Source: PA Archive/PA Images

Rooney had stints on loan at Yeovil, Chesterfield and Bury, but being a striker is invariably about momentum and confidence. It was not until he joined Inverness Caledonian Thistle on a permanent deal in 2008 that his career really took off and he started to feel truly wanted. Amid the club’s promotion to the top flight in the 2009-10 season, he was the division’s top scorer with 24 goals in addition to being named the First Division Player of the Year.

“We had a difficult first year, got relegated, the manager changed around December time, similar situation again, [Terry Butcher] had lads he preferred over me who came in and played ahead of me. I didn’t know, to be honest, after the first season there if I was going to stay, because I wasn’t sure if I was fancied or not.

“Then the second season, we didn’t have a great start, one of the games, he threw me in, I scored a hat-trick, that was around October time. From then on in, I think I scored 26 goals [in all competitions] and was the main player ever week, one of the first names on the team-sheet.

So it was just [a matter of] getting a consistent run of games for a chunk of the season and then onto the following year — to know you’re playing every week and scoring goals and enjoying football really helped develop me as a player.”

After three years with Inverness, Rooney linked up with Chris Hughton, who was managing Birmingham at the time. Yet the ex-Ireland international left for Norwich not long after and with Lee Clark as manager, and players such as Marlon King and Chris Wood competing for a place in the team, the Irish star again found himself on the bench more often than not.

An encouraging season on loan under Paolo Di Canio at Swindon followed. Rooney scored 10 goals in 33 appearances, with the club narrowly missing out on promotion following a heartbreaking penalty shootout loss to Brentford in the play-offs. Nevertheless, the striker appeared set for a permanent stay at the County Ground, before a contract dispute ultimately ended with him joining Oldham instead — a decision he came to regret.

“[Oldham] didn’t really suit the way I play, the way the team played,” he remembers. “It didn’t really work out. I think I’d scored seven goals by Christmas time, which wasn’t too bad, but I didn’t really enjoy my time there.”

It was then that Aberdeen came into the picture. Derek McInnes, who had originally tried to sign Rooney while managing St Johnstone, persuaded him to join the Dons and thus began the best time in his career to date.

Source: RSF/YouTube

The 30-year-old can look back on plenty of good times from his spell at Pittodrie Stadium. The 2014-15 season was a particular high point, as he was nominated for the Scottish PFA Player of the Year. Yet scoring the winning penalty in the 2014 League Cup final amid a shootout against former club Inverness and securing the club’s first piece of silverware for 19 years in the process will always be the memory he cherishes most from his stint at Aberdeen.

“It’s not very often people get a chance to win a cup or score the winning penalty, so that was massive. We had a bus tour a couple of days later and I think there were nearly 90,000 people on the streets, it was incredible to see.

“I’d actually played with Ryan Esson, the [opposition] goalkeeper, at Inverness, I don’t think I ever scored a peno on him in training. I don’t know how — he used to read me every single time. So when it came to the game, I thought, ‘if we get a peno, I don’t know where I’m putting this’. It was nice and straightforward, down the middle, and luckily, the ‘keeper moved.”

Now that he has moved to Salford, Rooney concedes that he is unlikely to ever get an Ireland call-up again. During his time at Aberdeen, he featured in a number of Martin O’Neill’s squads, but never got capped. He was especially unfortunate amid the 2015-16 campaign. Unlike the majority of his rivals for a spot up front in the national team, he was scoring freely at club level and looked set to be given a chance to impress during the pre-Euro 2016 friendlies against Switzerland and Slovakia. However, an ill-timed injury put paid to his hopes of capitalising on this potential opportunity.

I obviously realised when signing for Salford, if I’m going to be playing in the conference, then I’m not going to be getting picked for Ireland, I have to accept that. But at the age I’m at now, it was unlikely that I was going to get too many caps regardless and if I wasn’t playing in Scotland this year [in the Aberdeen first XI], I wouldn’t be getting picked anyway.

“It’s part and parcel of it. You want to play for your country, but all I can do is play well for my club and you never know in future what can happen.

“I gave Roy Keane a text when [the Salford move] was done because I heard a couple of the lads had spoken to Roy regarding the type of person I was — they do their due diligence on players before. I think he gave me a glowing report, so I basically said ‘thank you’ for giving me a good reference.”

Having grown up idolising Keane as a player, it is a measure of how far Rooney has come in the game that the notoriously-hard-to-please Ireland assistant boss is now reciprocating some of that love.

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Paul Fennessy

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