D.C. United striker Wayne Rooney has planned for his future by accepting an opportunity to become player-coach at Derby County, a team competing in the English Football League Championship. Rooney will complete the 2019 season with the Black-and-Red before returning to the United Kingdom during the forthcoming January transfer window.
As United prepares for a playoff push, Rooney sat with senior director of content and strategy Michael Cohen for an interview earlier this week. The following is a transcript from that session:
Q: Wayne, we’ve learned that this will be your last season with D.C. United. Can you explain a little bit about the opportunity that you’ve accepted and why January will be the right time for you to move on from the club?
A: Yeah, the opportunity came up for me to join Derby County in January, as a player but also as a coach, which was important to start that transition for the next stage of my career, which I’ve always showed that desire of that’s what I want to do. But also for my family and myself to be back in England around our extended family and friends was part of the reason also. So that opportunity came about, and I felt it was the right opportunity for me at this time.
Q: When you think about the support that you’ve received here from the fans, the three supporters groups, what has that experience been like? And what are you looking forward to showing them in the remainder of this season?
A: Yeah, I think first of all the support has been incredible toward myself but also to the rest of the players and the team. And for the rest of the season I think I have to stress obviously this is big news in terms of I’m going back in January, but my full commitment is with D.C. from now until the end of the season. We’re in a spot now where we have to improve, we have to get better in order to make sure we get that playoff spot in and we fight to the end of the season to try and be successful. So it’s a really important part of the season, and us as players we have to fight and we have to improve and be better to make sure we put ourselves in with a good chance.
Q: When you took the field last summer, you were part of that rejuvenation and that rise up the standings to make the playoffs. Do you think that there is enough talent and enough fortitude on this team — and maybe with some additions through the transfer window — to try and push and make another run like you did last season?
A: Yeah, I think if we won the game last night we were joint-top of the table. Obviously the last few games haven’t been good enough, but we’re in a position where we can still rise up the table and even have a shot at finishing first in the Eastern Conference. We have to believe in ourselves. We have to show confidence that we can do that. And if we do that, at our best we know we’re capable of beating anyone.
Q: Over the course of your time here you’ve mentioned how part of the decision to come to the United States was to try and make an influence on the game here and grow it. Finishing up the last few months when you’re here, is it important to end your time with D.C. and find a way to finish strong and cement that legacy you were hoping to try and build?
A: Yeah I think first of all, for us to try and win something is a challenge and it’s something that for any player you want to test yourself, and that’s still the case. We want to fight to try and make sure we’re in with a shout of winning the title at the end of the season. You know, legacies come from winning trophies. You can say this player was a good player or he’s done this, but legacies come from winning titles, it’s what you leave behind, it’s a history. Obviously in my situation I have a few months to try and do that. But for the team, the team will move on and the team will have a lot of chances in the next few years with the owners and what they’re trying to build, the team will move on and I’m sure they will create their history. But in my situation, I’ve got a few months to try and do that. But I think it’s important to stress that although from next season I won’t be here as a player, my relationship with the club will remain and I’ll still be coming back to do things around the community for the club, which I feel is right because of the opportunity they gave me to come here.
Q: Throughout your career you’ve experienced a lot of winning, but every season is going to have its ups and downs. So what have you found is important to bring teams out of the little down periods that you might have in a given season? And what gives you confidence that this team can get back on track with about nine games left?
A: I think simplicity is the best answer. I think sometimes when it’s not going right for you, you’re always trying too hard and trying the harder things, where the hardest thing to do is actually keep it simple. So I’ve been as a player many times in my career where it hasn’t been going well and you try too hard and by doing that you’d end up making the wrong decisions. So hopefully we can get back to keeping it simple and doing the right things and then get back to winning ways.
Q: I understand you’d like to take the guys out later this week and bring the team together for a dinner, trying to get things back on track. From a leadership standpoint, which skills or which traits will you rely on in yourself over these next couple of weeks to try and make sure that everything goes according to plan and you get into that playoff spot.
A: Yeah I think it’s important for the team to stick together, of course. At the minute it’s a bit of a difficult moment, especially after the result last night. So we know as players we have to stick together as teammates, as a club and fight through it. And we will do that. I’m sure, you know, come the end of the season we will make the playoffs. But it’s on us to work hard to make sure we do that.
Q: And we’ll end on this Wayne: Is there anything you’d like to say to the supporters at this point in time, heading into the home stretch for the season?
A: Yeah, I think the support the fans give us is really appreciated. I hope they can get behind the team because we will need them to push for the playoffs. If they do that, if they have faith in us, I’m sure we’ll repay them certainly with a playoff spot and hopefully with a title at the end of the year.