Wayne Rooney, without the fanfare that greeted his arrival as the most gifted English player in a generation or the acrimony of his first Everton exit, has brought his 16-year Premier League career to a close. Even so, and even with all eyes on Gareth Southgate’s new breed in Russia, it is a career that does not slip away unheralded.
Rooney, with Everton’s blessing and encouragement, flew on Thursday to Washington to finalise a three-and-a-half-year contract with DC United. The deal will be formally completed when the MLS transfer window opens on 10 July – Everton will not receive a fee – and the 32-year-old is expected to make his debut for the Eastern Conference’s bottom club when they open their £300m Audi Field stadium against Vancouver Whitecaps four days later. His basic wage will be around £75,000 a week, half the amount he received at Everton, albeit with greater commercial opportunities to soften the blow. It is a decision reached with careful consideration and some reluctance.
The former England and Manchester United captain signed a two-year contract with Everton when he returned to his boyhood club last summer, the club having the option on a third year. Rooney rejected more lucrative offers from China (which he has again this summer) to fulfil an ambition that his sons should see him play for the club that they, he and his own father support. He did not envisage another brief spell at Goodison at the time but a new era where his experience and leadership would be valued before possibly moving into a coaching role.
“They have been at a sort of standstill for the last 10 years but now they are pushing forward,” the striker said at his Everton unveiling alongside the then manager, Ronald Koeman. “They want to be winning trophies again and I want to be part of that.” Best-laid plans. In hindsight, the standstill was superior to Everton’s chaotic regression under Koeman, the caretaker David Unsworth and Sam Allardyce last season.
How best to utilise Rooney’s ageing talent was a problem for all three Everton managers but it would be wrong to dismiss his return as a sentimental mistake. The striker finished as the team’s leading scorer on 11 goals and delivered several highlights in a miserable season, including the opening-day winner against Stoke City, the immaculate 57-yard finish in a hat-trick against West Ham United and a derby equaliser from the spot at Anfield. Not scoring against Liverpool in his earlier spell at Everton had been one of Rooney’s deepest regrets. It was another box ticked in a hugely rewarding career, albeit a minor one compared with the five Premier League titles, one Champions League, one Europa League, one FA Cup and three League Cups won in 13 years at Old Trafford.
Rooney’s frustration under Allardyce was not disguised, with the manager substituting him early against Manchester City and Liverpool at Goodison, yet it registered as a shock to the forward’s camp when Farhad Moshiri, the major shareholder, said he would not stand in the way of a move this summer. Moshiri had received several inquiries and was open to to releasing Rooney from a rapidly rising wage bill.
Even with a clear signal from the top that he was unwanted the veteran sought assurances from the new manager, Marco Silva, and director of football, Marcel Brands, about his role for this coming season before accepting DC United’s offer. None was forthcoming and, having never accepted a place on the margins, Rooney was not about to start now. The opportunity to play until 2021, something that was never going to be on offer from Everton and may not have been available next summer after a bit-part season, was also a factor in the final decision.
Rooney readily accepts he is past his best after 253 goals in 559 appearances for United, 28 in 118 for Everton and 53 in 119 for England. However, as his goals and game intelligence showed last season in a poor Everton side, he should not be written off as another washed-up export to MLS. A more pertinent issue is how he settles with his young family in Washington – he would often travel to Liverpool even while playing for United – and adapts to the differing demands of football in the United States. He joins a DC United team who have fallen far from the heights of winning three of the first four MLS titles but who hope that, with a 20,000-seat stadium and the biggest signing in their history to help fill it, a fresh start beckons. It does for both parties.
England’s all-time leading goalscorer takes his leave from the English game while the national team are experiencing something he never did – an enjoyable World Cup – but it would be remiss to question his impact and reputation. Rooney started on the streets of Croxteth and leaves England as one of its greats.