Former England and Manchester United star Wayne Rooney was named on Tuesday as the new head coach of DC United and has been tasked with reviving the moribund Major League Soccer team.
It was a reunion for the 36-year-old British icon, who played for DC United from July 2018 to October 2019, scoring 25 goals in 52 appearances before leaving to serve as a player and coach at England’s Derby County.
“To come back to MLS, to DC United, was an exciting challenge for me and something which I feel can develop me as a coach, but also the team needs to improve,” Rooney said.
“I’m an ambitious person. One day I want to manage at the top level. This is part of that process.”
DC United stands 5-10 with two drawn on 17 points, sharing last overall in the 28-team league. United fired coach Hernan Losada after six matches, replacing him with interim manager Chad Ashton.
“I really believe with my abilities to develop young players, we can really get this club back to successful ways again,” Rooney said.
“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 resigned as coach of Derby County last month after the team’s relegation to League One, England’s third-tier, opening the door to his MLS return.
“I’ve seen a few (news articles) certainly back in England on this as possibly a backward step in my managerial career,” Rooney said.
“I really find that disrespectful to this league.
“I feel the experience of guiding Derby County over the past 18 months has been great in my development as a coach.”
DC United hasn’t made the playoffs since Rooney helped the squad get there in 2018 and 2019 as a player, but must duplicate his revival of a league-worst club from four years ago to reach the post-season.
“There a mentality I have to put into the players so when they go on the pitch they become a real horrible team to play against,” Rooney said.
“That’s exciting. That’s what I plan on doing.
“We know it’s going to be difficult. We have to go on a good run. They know how I want to play. If we can do that right off, then why can’t we make the playoffs?”
Philadelphia beat DC United 7-0 last week, matching the league record for the largest margin of defeat.
“I believe they have been underperforming,” Rooney said. “I believe there’s a lot more for those players to give.”
DC United’s next match is Wednesday at home against Columbus but Rooney awaits final visa paperwork before his official coaching role can begin. DC’s following match is Saturday at Minnesota.
Rooney’s family will stay in England but he said, “That’s not an issue whatsoever,” and that he had support from his wife to take the job.
“I’m excited to bring my skills,” Rooney said.
“It’s going to be a lot of hard work I have to put in. I’ll have demands and principles the players will have to stick by.
“I want players to come to this club who are hungry. I’m committed to getting the best out of myself and the players.”
DC United captain Steve Birnbaum was a former Rooney teammate and says players are looking forward to learn from Rooney.
“The group is excited to have him,” Birnbaum said.
“We know the energy and passion that he brought as a player and we know he’s going to do the same thing as a coach.
“The guys are excited to learn from him. He has a soccer IQ that’s probably second to none. The group is extremely excited to see him uplift us.”
United chief executive Jason Levien noted that the club produced 40 points in 20 matches after Rooney’s arrival as a player to make the 2018 playoffs.
“I’ve told Wayne we expect the same this time,” Levien said. “But even if we don’t do that well, I think we’re going to quite well. I think you’re going to see a real uplift in our play.
“Having Wayne around has put a pep in everyone’s step. We’re excited about the future.”