Wayne Rooney spent about 40 hours in Washington before departing Friday, and over the next week to 10 days, he and D.C. United will attempt to close a multimillion dollar deal to bring the English superstar to MLS.
During his exploratory visit, he went from Reagan National Airport directly to Audi Field on Wednesday and donned a hard-hat for close-up looks of, among other areas, the locker room and suite level. Construction ground to a halt as workers posed for photos with Manchester United’s career scoring leader.
He had a 90-minute phone conversation with D.C. Coach Ben Olsen, who is in Los Angeles with the team. He discussed philosophical aims with General Manager Dave Kasper and what other steps the organization plans to take in the coming year to contend for a championship.
“He asked a lot of questions,” ranging from the fitness regimen before he arrives to the organization’s use of analytics in match preparations, a person with the team said.
He underwent a physical and fitness testing with team doctors and met other staff members.
He explored neighborhoods in Northern Virginia and the District, and checked out private golf courses. He met a friend at Trump International Hotel — but, contrary to British tabloid reports, did not stay there.
On Thursday, he lunched at Del Frisco’s Grille on Pennsylvania Avenue and later ate upscale Italian near the Navy Yard, though the mealtime was pushed back because of notorious D.C. traffic; the small party was the last group to depart Osteria Morini after closing time.
And then he was gone, presumably back to England to continue recovering from the long Premier League season with Everton that ended two weeks ago.
United officials said they did not want to discuss Rooney’s visit, but according to several people with firsthand knowledge, both sides used the trip to get to know one another better.
“He wants to come,” said one person, who met Rooney here. “He wanted to make sure D.C. was serious, and he wanted to get comfortable with the idea of playing here.”
From the team’s perspective, another person said, United needed to gauge the depth of Rooney’s interest and whether he was prepared to go all in for not just the rest of this season but for several campaigns. D.C. is prepared to give him a guaranteed contract through the 2020 season, one that would make him among the league’s highest-paid players.
The earliest Rooney could play is July 14, the day of Audi Field’s grand opening. It falls four days after MLS’s transfer and trade window opens.
Signing Rooney would be a “massive moment” — and an expensive one — which has prompted the club to continue due diligence, a person close to the team said. “Talking face to face was a big step. Everything checked out.”
Financial terms are all but settled. The next step for United is negotiating a transfer fee with Everton, which has Rooney under contract through the 2018-19 season. The player could nudge along the process by telling Everton he wants to leave.
Questions linger, though, about whether Rooney is prepared to leave England; he began with Liverpool-based Everton, then played 13 years for Manchester United before returning to his boyhood club last summer. He led the Toffees with 10 goals in league play, 11 in all competitions.
Asked if United is worried Rooney would use his time in MLS primarily for personal marketing purposes, a person close to the team said Rooney made it clear that he “doesn’t have an agenda of becoming a reality star. He just wants to be a footballer.”
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