It looks like Wayne Rooney’s vacation in the United States will only last 18 months. Derby County manager Phillip Cocu confirmed, per the Guardian, on Tuesday that the 33-year-old Englishman will be moving back across the Atlantic in January to join Derby as a player-coach.
Rooney’s stint at D.C. United has been a great success. He has 11 goals and six assists in 23 league appearances so far this season, which closely mirrors the 12 goals and six assists he contributed in 21 appearances last year in his first season in MLS. When he joined the team last July, United were last in the Eastern Conference; under his stewardship, they were able to finish the season with 12 wins in the club’s final 19 matches, shooting all the way up to fourth place and a spot in the playoffs, where they lost to the Columbus Crew on penalties. Fourth place is where United currently sit this season, on pace to hit the playoffs once again.
Though Rooney’s presence in the league solidified MLS’s reputation as a retirement home for the faded greatness of former European-based players, at least Rooney wasn’t one of those completely past-it stars who couldn’t muster the motivation to even try earning his considerable paycheck. Even at his advanced age and deteriorating athleticism, Rooney still has the talent and drive to orchestrate more than a few moments of brilliance. His defining moment in MLS will surely be his ludicrous track-back and assist against Orlando City last season, one of the coolest moments in recent MLS history.
(Though if your taste tends more toward the sordid than the beautiful, maybe his lasting moment in your mind will be his “Broken English” public intoxication arrest.)
Rather than making a claim about what Rooney’s time in the U.S. means for MLS, his 18 months here speak more to what Rooney still has in the tank. While he may not be able to contribute to a Premier League side in 2020, Derby’s place as one of the top teams in England’s second division feels right for him, and the “coach” part of “player-coach” should help prep him for a Lampardian transition into managing once he does hang up his cleats. He may not be the Rooney of old, but Old Man Rooney is still pretty damn good, and now he’ll undertake a different kind of challenge to prove it.