When Wayne Rooney decided to switch from Premier League life with Everton to Major League Soccer at D.C. United, it was met with heavy scepticism and a feeling from the masses that the Rooney everyone knew was coming to his natural end.
D.C. United found themselves in last place in the Eastern Conference after Rooney joined, 13 points adrift of the playoff spots and without a hope in the world. Although clubs cannot be relegated from MLS, their whole aim of the season is to finish in the top six spots of their respective league and make it to the finals.
Jason Levien, the owner who also co-owns Swansea City in the Championship, thought his American side needed some experience and was not put off by Rooney’s dwindling reputation at the time. Levien gambled on Rooney’s acquisition to lift spirits in the American capital and Rooney, likewise, gambled on the situation which gave him, what he would have hoped, some peace and quiet after a tiresome 16 years - half of his life at the time - of being at the forefront of sporting entertainment.
It is not rocket science to figure out that MLS is not comparable to the Premier League, but that should not mean fans disregard the competition’s qualities. MLS is on the rise, with a lot of talented Latin-American players making their way into the country and being sold on to European clubs. Atlanta United’s attacking midfielder, Miguel Almirón, is one of those players who made the move and is currently being courted by some of Europe’s heavyweights which includes Arsenal.
Rooney knew in his heart of hearts that it was not working in the Premier League anymore. While his raw numbers were still respectable for Everton, the Toffees wanted to move in a more progressive manner under new owner Farhad Moshiri and Rooney would not be a part of Marco Silva’s plans.
While England’s all-time record goalscorer - who has been called up to Gareth Southgate’s squad for the final time out of respect - had offers from around Europe, his decision to go across the pond and to America was a brave one.
However, since arriving in the nation’s capital, Rooney transcended United’s performances. His on-pitch performances and feel-good factor reinvigorated Ben Olsen’s squad and they climbed the league table to finish the season in the playoffs with a game-in-hand. He said at the time:
“I don’t think I have to explain to anyone what’s happen. I think the people who care to see it will see we’re going with great momentum. It’s a great achievement to go from where we were to the playoffs.”
None of which would have been possible without Rooney’s influence, on and off the field. In his first 19 MLS appearances, Rooney found the back of the net on 12 occasions and recorded six assists - a goal contribution in 17 of his opening 19 matches; a quite ridiculous impact given he was still supposed to be adjusting to his new surroundings and team-mates.
Unfortunately for United, their defeat on penalties to Columbus Crew in the playoffs was the end of their season, but every fan in the Audi Field will have been privy to something truly special going on.
So with Rooney’s ever impressive performances for United, it begs the question that followed David Beckham’s time in America: will he return to Europe on a loan basis? For Beckham, it became tradition that he would return to Europe every MLS off-season and there is no reason as to why Rooney cannot follow that same pathway.
After watching Manchester United’s all-time record goalscorer find the back of the net on a regular basis, as well as putting in shift after shift for his team, there will be many top European sides enquiring about the availability of Rooney.
The Englishman might reject those proposals and would rather spend the off-season with his friends and family, properly rejuvenate himself and get ready for next year, but there might also be a burning desire to go back and prove he still has it to his fiercest critics - and football betting fans.
AC Milan is one team interested in LA Galaxy’s Zlatan Ibrahimović, who is four years older than Rooney. Should the Swede not prioritise a move back to the Italian giants, Milan’s leadership should not be put off going down the path of signing Rooney on a short-term loan basis. After all, Milan are not ones to shy away from England players after signing the late Ray Wilkins and Beckham from years gone by.
Rooney deserves more respect for what he has done throughout his career, especially from fans in England, and a move to one of Europe’s leagues might well give him the platform and opportunity to, once and for all, prove people wrong. For United’s sake, they will hope they can keep hold of him throughout the winter and make sure he’s raring to go come March.
England are priced at 5/6 to take revenge on the World Cup knockout and defeat Croatia in their next UEFA Nations League game with Paddy Power.
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