Wayne Rooney has returned to MLS club DC United as head coach, saying the “exciting challenge” can continue his development as a manager.
Rooney, who played for DC United between 2018 and 2019, stepped down as manager of Derby County last month, ending a turbulent 17-month spell during which the English club was mired in financial trouble and relegated to League One.
He now walks into another difficult challenge at DC United, with the club second from bottom in the Eastern Conference with 17 points from 17 matches after a 7-0 thrashing by Philadelphia Union in their last game.
However, Rooney – who replaces interim coach Chad Ashton – is confident he can get his former club back on track and pushing for the playoffs by the end of the season.
Speaking at his unveiling press conference, the former Manchester United and England star also rejected the suggestion that switching to the MLS represented a step down from the Championship.
“I’ve seen a few articles back in England about this possibly being a backwards step in my managerial career,” Rooney said. “I really find that a bit disrespectful to this league.
“I feel the experience I gained at Derby County over the past 18 months has been great for my development as a coach, as a manager. And to come here, back to the MLS, back to DC United was an exciting challenge for me, something that can develop me as a coach but also [help] the team to improve.
“I really believe with my capability of developing players, young players – and of course we’re working hard to get a few new players in – we can really get this club back to successful ways again. It’s going to take a lot of hard work but that’s what I’m here to do and really improve the team.”
Rooney revealed he had been intending to take a break from management after leaving Derby but, despite receiving other offers, the opportunity to return to Washington was one he didn’t want to pass up.
That was partly down to his connection with the team from his playing days. There were a number of highlights during his playing career at the capital club, with Rooney scoring 25 goals in 52 appearances, including one from inside his own half.
However, he cited a need to be “closer to the ones we love” as part of his decision to cut short his stint Stateside and move to Derby as player-coach in January 2019.
Rooney’s wife and children will remain in the UK this time and, when asked about the challenges of that, Rooney – who was arrested for ‘public intoxication and use of profanity in public in December 2018 – said he was now in a “completely different place nor a human being”.
“There were actually a few other clubs, both in England and in Europe, who got in touch and my plan after Derby was to take a bit of a break and then see what comes up,” said Rooney. “But once my agent called me and said DC had come in and inquired if it was a possibility for me to come in, it was quite quick really, within 24 hours.
“I spoke to my wife and said there’s this opportunity to go back to DC as a coach and I’m probably ready to go and do that now. Of course if my wife didn’t want me to go and if she said ‘I don ‘I don’t want to go out there and I don’t want you to go there’ then that would have been different. But I felt ready.
“I’m in a completely different place as a human being to what I was probably four years ago when I was here. I’m fully committed to getting the best out of myself, the players and the team. I’m ready to get to work and get this club back to being successful.”
Jason Levien and Steve Kaplan, co-chairmen of DC United, said in a statement: “Wayne is a soccer legend and one of the most exciting and dynamic up-and-coming managers in our sport. He’s already proven in his young coaching career that he knows how to lead a group through adversity.
“He has an understanding of our league and what it takes to be successful in Major League Soccer thanks to his two-year stay with us as a player. The passion he showed while wearing Black-and-Red electrified our city and our club and we are so excited to welcome him back as our head coach.”