MLS has done it again! For a league that has spent the better part of the past five years constantly trying to tell you that they are not a retirement league, they’ve gone and signed another retirement aged player as DC United have reportedly agreed to a £12 million ($16.24 million) deal to sign Wayne Rooney next season.
Now, as the biggest Wayne Rooney apologist on the planet let me be the one to say that £12 million for Wayne Rooney is laugh out loud funny. Everton signed him for free last year because Manchester United couldn’t get rid of him fast enough, and if Big Sam leaves the Toffees this summer, he likely wasn’t going to factor into the new manager’s plans.
Rooney may only be 32-years-old but he is just about the oldest 32-year-old on the planet. That’s what happens when you break into the Premier League at 16 and have played a whopping 671 competitive games plus another 119 international matches over the past 16 years.
I’ve been spending years trying to fight it, I even thought he was going to have a resurgent season at Everton this year. Sadly I was wrong and the truth is, the dude is completely washed up.
Rooney is now joining a long list of European players who are finding a second life in America. MLS fans are going to be quick to yell at me that the amount of “retirement players” that have come to the league recently has lowered, and they are correct in that regard. But every time one comes and sets the league on fire, it’s not exactly a bright spot for the quality of the league that fans keep saying is rising.
That doesn’t mean all these signings are bad. Bastian Schweinsteiger to the Chicago Fire was a perfect marriage between player and team. The team needed a veteran presence in the holding midfield role and Schweinsteiger turned them from a team in the cellar to a team in the playoffs (Schweinsteiger was also 32 when he made the move, but had played nearly 200 fewer games than Rooney).
From a sporting perspective, it’s hard to find where this move makes sense. DC United fans have long been fed up with ownership that they won’t spend money on players. While this move shows that they are willing to spend money on players, you can certainly make the argument that the money would be better spent on someone like Mario Balotelli, who was also linked with DC United on the field and can offer a lot more than Rooney can these days.
During Steven Gerrard’s successful one and a half season stint with the LA Galaxy he commented about how difficult it was in the MLS. Gerrard wasn’t referring to the level of play in MLS, but everything else that comes along with it.
The amount of travel, playing in the summer temperatures, and playing on turf fields are just a few of the challenges a player coming from England – where the travel is about as much as it would be to play in the NFL’s NFC North division and the temperatures are almost always between 35-65 degrees and rainy – need to get used to. At 32 and with a lot of wear and tear on his legs, that will be a difficult adjustment for Rooney.
Taking DC United fans out of the equation, for MLS fans there’s not much upside in this move. Most likely (and again I say this as the biggest Rooney apologist out there) Rooney flops, which doesn’t help the whole “retirement league” reputation has from fans of other leagues. And what if he succeeds after washing out of England over the last three years? Well that sure doesn’t bode well for the ‘the quality of play is much better than you think’ argument MLS fans have been saying for years.
From a marketing standpoint, this deal is great. DC United just built themselves a nice new stadium and Manchester United and England’s all time leading goalscorer is certainly a big name that will not only put butts in the seats, butts who wouldn’t normally attend an MLS game, but sell a lot of shirts as well. In that regard, DC United/MLS will more than likely recoup that $16.24 million over the course of the deal.
But if you’re DC United this is precisely the problem. It’s great that ownership is starting to spend money, but wouldn’t you want them to spend money on players that are more likely to be able to help on the field rather than ones who can just make you money off of it. As a Manchester United fan, I wrote about United using this same strategy in the transfer market and how it’s not good for long term success just two weeks ago.
At the end of the day, forget about the £12 million, that will likely be recouped and won’t go down as a blemish. But for everyone else, Rooney, DC United, their fans, it’s hard to see how this move helps them on the field.
Wayne Rooney is half the reason I fell in love with this sport. I hope from the bottom of my heart he finds success in the District and has more goals in him. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t bet on that.
[BBC/Photo: Getty Images]