This week the Major League Soccer rumor mill got its first infusion of summer transfer star power. As reported by the Washington Post, Wayne Rooney is in talks to leave Everton to come to DC United on a two year deal, with sources reporting that negotiations are ‘serious’ and ‘advanced’, which is newspaper code for ‘we promise we’re not making this up out of thin air.’
Tim Hall’s View From 101
Now, it is important to define our terms when it comes to Rooney or any player from abroad when it comes to the MLS summer transfer window.
The first and most important is to remember that until the press conference with the player in question holding up the shirt, a rumor remains just that. Even then, it would be more prudent to wait until the player gets between the lines in a match, because if soccer is a funny game, it is an even funnier business, and not funny haha.
Second, Wayne Rooney would not be the first, and surely won’t be the last, to float the possibility of a move overseas as a gambit to improve his negotiating position with his current club. That’s a trick as old as transfers themselves.
There appears to be a split among the powers-that-be at Everton about whether or not they want to let Rooney go, and some of that decision may come down to who ends up managing the club once play starts up next season. Don’t fret for Big Sam Allerdyce, however. He’ll land on his feet at another club as only Premier League managers do. But let’s give Wazza the benefit of the doubt concerning the validity of a potential move to the American capital.
There are two types of players that come to the United States from England, or indeed anywhere overseas. The first is probably best encapsulated by a fellow named David Beckham. You might have heard of him. Played for Preston North End. For all the good Beckham brought to LA Galaxy as a player when he joined in 2007, he was always much more important as a totem.
The brand and the attention surrounding Beckham was always sure to outshine what he did between whistles. On the other end of that spectrum is a player like Bradley Wright-Phillips, who made what is effectively a lateral career move coming from the English Championship to MLS, joining the New York Red Bulls in 2013. There was no great fanfare, no horde of media waiting at the airport, it was just ink to paper and get to work.
And there are two types of players once they get here. One is the Italian Andrea Pirlo, who modeled the very latest in haute couture traffic cone fashion while stealing a paycheck for NYCFC. Contrast that with someone like Thierry Henry, who – despite stretches of appearing indifferent to the task at hand – was still capable of flipping the switch and being world class on any given night while still enjoying the anonymity given by being in New York and playing soccer in a country where it still isn’t the end all be all.
Where would Wayne Rooney fall in these spectra? To answer the second one first, it is difficult to imagine Rooney showing up and bossing the game from the word go. For starters, the DC United team he’d be joining has been abysmal for some years now. Rooney is not the last missing piece that would propel DC into the stratosphere, but could make the difference on if they make the MLS playoffs or not, and from there the playoffs are as much luck as skill. Such is the state of the league as presently constructed.
Which leads to the second part of the equation: is DC bidding on Wayne Rooney the midfielder, or Wayne Rooney the marketing brand? Given when the transfer window opens, a splash signing of Rooney would be contemporaneous with the opening of DC’s new soccer specific stadium.
The Black and Red can claim bringing in the England international is a step towards reversing their fortunes, but in truth, their eyes will be on the fortunes to be gained filling Audi Field and selling jerseys with Rooney’s name on the back. While the diehards will be keen to see their new home, it will take some onlookers who want to see the familiar name for the first time to fill the seats in the upper sections.
So the interest is there going one way, but is it reciprocated? Does Rooney actually want to come stateside? This is a player who has spent his entire career – and therefore his entire life – in England, and might be the player most associated with English football, both for league and nation, in this generation.
He is not an international swashbuckler setting his sights on the US as another, if final, jewel in his crown. It is difficult to imagine Wayne Rooney turning up to a hero’s welcome at the San Siro or Camp Nou at this point. This is a 32 year old who may be running out of options. It’s not a case of what’s left to win, but who’s left to take him.
So this may be one of those occasions where the casual fan sees the arrival of a foreign star as the best thing since sliced bread, but the passionate fan knows that bread is stale. Wayne Rooney, according to prevailing soccer math, should have a handful of productive years left, but there are a lot of miles on those legs.
Wayne has been a first team professional since 2002. That is half his life spent grinding away at the very highest level, not to mention all his time spent playing as a youth, and internationally.
Wayne Rooney has been a fine player. Where you rate him as a pro, or among the Manchester United greats, or the England greats, is a matter for argument. His personal life, including the recent legal issues, is a matter for the tabloids.
But it would be rough to see a man who has been so synonymous with one league and one nation to see out his career toiling away in relative anonymity, especially if he does so at voluntary half-speed. Hopefully Everton or somewhere else in England can give Wayne Rooney a home, if for no other reason than to spare MLS the further stain of being called a retirement league.