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Wayne Rooney praise sums up evolution of Frank Lampard’s protege into Chelsea transfer target

Wayne Rooney has been a teammate to several of world football’s biggest stars over the course of his career. He has also won Premier League titles, a Champions League, and is England’s all-time highest scorer.

Quite simply, Rooney knows what makes a top player. So when he describes a fellow midfielder as a “joy to play alongside” it is a statement which carries plenty of weight. 

And it is this praise which Rooney lavished on Derby County youngster – and reported Chelsea transfer target – Max Bird last month. 

“He gets the ball and moves it on. He keeps it simple and defends well,” the former England captain told the Derby Telegraph. “He is getting better every week and is a joy to play with.”

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Those who coached Bird in the Derby academy will not be surprised by his ascension to the first team this season. A composed and elegant midfielder, the 19-year-old has made 13 appearances in the Championship and has become a key figure in Phillip Cocu’s starting 11 since the turn of the year.

His journey to first-team regular has been far from simple, though. Bird made his debut for the Rams in September 2017, becoming the club’s eighth-youngest debutant in the process, aged just 16.  

Yet it wasn’t until the arrival of Frank Lampard that the midfielder became more involved with the senior side.

(Image: Andrew Kearns – CameraSport via Getty Images)

“Frank came in…he was a big, big player,” the youngster told Rams TV. “A big idol, someone you look up to and know as a kid. So I thought it was a chance to impress and I played a couple of games, although I probably didn’t play as well as I could’ve.” 

Bird made eight first-team appearances under Lampard. His only start, however, came against Aston Villa, a match in which Derby conceded four goals in the opening 45 minutes. 

Ten days after that game, Bird’s…

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