New Birmingham City manager Wayne Rooney has revealed that he turned down the opportunity to manage in the Saudi Pro League in favour of returning to England.
Manchester United's all-time record scorer has spent the last 15 months in charge of Major League Soccer's DC United but left the club last week after failing to make the end of season play-offs.
He was appointed manager at the English second-tier club following the surprise sacking of John Eustace who left despite the team sitting a respectable sixth in the Championship table.
Birmingham's chief executive Garry Cook said he had tried to bring Rooney to the kingdom in his previous role as CEO of the Saudi Pro League.
“We discussed Saudi Arabia. It wasn't going to happen,” said Cook at a joint press conference with Rooney on Thursday.
Rooney's former England teammate Steven Gerrard is currently coaching in Saudi Arabia with Al Ettifaq – with former Liverpool midfielders Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum part of his playing squad – despite initially turning down the job offer.
But 37-year-old Rooney, who previously managed in the Championship with Derby County, where he almost saved the club from relegation despite a 21-point deduction and transfer embargo, did not feel the move was right for him.
“I felt for my development that my pathway was a different way,” Rooney said of Saudi interest. “That is no disrespect to any manager that has gone out there, by the way.
“I think for myself, firstly to get back into English football is great. It's what I've wanted to do.
“I've had opportunities over the last four to six weeks at other clubs as well, but since speaking to Birmingham, it was a really easy decision.
“I want to be successful, it's clear this club wants to be successful, and everything we spoke about was very similar.”
In August, Birmingham announced that former NFL star Tom Brady had became a minority owner at the club with the seven-time Super Bowl champion partnering up with the club’s holding company, US-based Knighthead Capital Management.
“Speaking to Tom about the club and his role, how he is being really involved, his enthusiasm for it, it is refreshing,” said Rooney. “I think we’re both on the same page, when we say we’re excited for what this club can achieve in the future.
“He’s one of, if not the greatest athlete of all time. He will have a lot of advice he can give to me, but also one of the things I want to do when he’s over next is get him in front of the players, talking to them and sharing his story. I’m sure it would be really inspiring.”
The immediate target for Rooney is to steer Birmingham back to the top-flight for the first time since 2011.
His first game sees Birmingham take on Middlesbrough, who are managed by his old Manchester United teammate Michael Carrick, and Rooney insists he is looking forward to beginning the challenge of trying to win promotion to the Premier League.
“I love it,” he said. “I've dealt with a lot of pressure throughout my whole career, since I was 16.
“You're in the game to develop yourself and your team, and not be afraid to takes risks and make mistakes – you learn from the mistakes you make, that's how you improve.
“I've no problem with the pressure and I have to make sure the players are ready for that. We have expectations and targets to hit.
“Winning is always the key but the plan is getting back playing at the top level.
“That's the target for us and I'm here to make that happen.”