why Wayne Rooney might just be the perfect candidate for DC United

why Wayne Rooney might just be the perfect candidate for DC United

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DC United are set to announce Wayne Rooney as their new manager on Tuesday afternoon, as their former player takes up his second managerial post after a difficult stint with Derby County in the English Premier League.

As a player, Rooney was one of the best England have ever produced, as evidenced by the fact that he is Manchester United and the national team’s all-time leading goalscorer. His time in Major League Soccer was also a successful and respectable one, something not every top ex-England international who has spent time in the league can say.

Related: Wayne Rooney back at DC United as manager amid club’s mighty struggles

As head coach, the first signs were positive against the backdrop of a difficult and restrictive situation at Derby. But the situation he finds himself in at DC United is far from easy.

Rooney’s training, determination and player management had to be given prominence at Derby as there wasn’t much else to work with. Towards the end of 2021, the club were hit with a 12-point deduction for going into administration and a nine-point deduction for breaching EFL profitability and sustainability rules.

There were no transfer funds, so players had to be given free transfers or loans. Had no points been deducted, Derby would have finished 17th and avoided relegation. Their minus-8 goal difference was more reflective of a midfield team rather than a team that was ultimately relegated as a result of those point deductions, a testament to the hard work Rooney put in.

In many ways, it was ideal preparation for MLS. Like any coaching job in the league, Rooney’s job is to get the best out of players of different abilities and statuses. You could say that’s the case with any club in any league, but MLS is quite unique and poses distinct challenges when it comes to building a team.

Any listing creation upon arrival must be done in compliance with MLS regulations. The league has its own spending limits, salary cap and often restrictive roster rules, but even the intricacies and idiosyncrasies of MLS will be a breeze for Rooney compared to his Derby experience. In his short time as a head coach, he has already gotten used to working with what he has under certain constraints.

Rooney’s bases in MLS were as a Designated Player (DP) on the team he now joins as head coach. DPs are players whose cost can exceed the maximum salary budget load, allowing teams to bring in up to three players they think are worth spending the most money on.

DC United currently have two such slots open on their roster, and their only current DP, Taxiarchis ‘Taxi’ Fountas, is one of the best players in the league. DC is far from an in-form team, however, hence the need for a head coach change. They lurk harmlessly at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, with only Chicago Fire below them in MLS. They lost their last match, against Philadephia Union, 7-0.

There are things Rooney is looking forward to, and there are positives, not least in the form of the talented Greek, Fountas, who offers hope he can turn things around. He has a few games in hand to work with as well as those few DPs in hand, so it’s a nice part of rebuilding the roster so he can start working right away. It immediately gives Rooney a kind of freedom he didn’t have at Derby.

And the new head coach himself could be a draw for players considering their next move in this transfer window. Before joining LAFC, Gareth Bale was heavily linked with DC United but in the end, the lure of Los Angeles was too strong. Maybe Rooney’s presence will mean DC has more influence going forward.

He and the club’s England managing director Lucy Rushton can now work to sign the right players for his style of play and you’d expect at least one of those DP positions to be filled.

We’ll also learn more about Rooney’s coaching style. Based on his time at Derby, which despite their issues had the eighth-highest average possession in the Championship last season at 51%, we might expect DC’s average possession to rise from 46%, and maybe- be a switch to a 4-2-3-1 formation.

Rooney’s time in DC as a player will also give him a leg up when it comes to winning the locker room and implementing his ideas. He and the club’s captain since 2017, Steven Birnbaum, are good friends, so the new coach immediately has a connection with the players and an ally on the pitch.

MLS can be a tough league to navigate, and this move could be seen as a risk for Rooney, but the fact that he’s willing to take it is a sign that fans of determined DC characters already know that. In a familiar environment with no points deduction, no threat of relegation and a bit more freedom to build a team in his image, Coach Rooney could thrive.