Wayne Rooney, the decorated English soccer star, has agreed to a deal with D.C. United and will join the MLS club in time for the opening of its new stadium, ushering in a fresh era for an organization eager to make a splash on and off the field.
According to people close to the negotiations, United finalized a package with Rooney, 32, on a 2 1/2-year guaranteed contract worth about $13 million. The club will hold an option for an additional year. The organization also agreed to purchase his rights from Premier League club Everton for an undisclosed transfer fee. United is awaiting only final paperwork to arrive from Everton.
The forward will become the highest-paid player in team history by a large margin and inject the team with a marquee name to appeal to the masses in a city with several larger-than-life sports heroes.
D.C. United and Everton on Thursday morning both acknowledged the move, first reported as finalized by the Insider on Wednesday night.
Rooney, the career scoring leader for both fabled Manchester United and the English national team, is scheduled to arrive in the Washington area on Thursday afternoon and begin training with his new teammates soon. He is not eligible to play until MLS’s transfer and trade window opens July 10, four days before the grand opening of Audi Field, United’s new venue in Southwest D.C.
He’ll be available for 20 league matches, including 15 at home.
“It is fantastic to be joining D.C. United at such an exciting time in the club’s history with the new stadium opening in just a few weeks,” Rooney said in a statement released by United on Thursday. “Moving to America and MLS fulfills another career ambition for me. I have the hunger to be a success here and will give D.C. 100 percent — as I have always done for every team I have ever played for.”
Earlier this week, when asked about Rooney, Coach Ben Olsen said, “It’s stirring, it’s stirring, it’s stirring . . . If and when additions come, it will be exciting. I think the additions that we will bring in will help this club in a whole bunch of different ways. First and foremost, on the field. That’s where we need help right now, to get us over the hump.”
Rooney brings with him a heady resume and a long list of superlatives. He’ll instantly become the most high-profile player to ever don a United kit and, while the league has turned to younger talent in recent years, he joins a prominent group that gravitated toward MLS late in their careers. It included David Beckham, Thierry Henry, Steven Gerrard, Kaká and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who joined the Los Angeles Galaxy this season.
Rooney has 16 Premier League seasons under his belt — nearly 500 games — and while he may no longer be in his prime, United, last in the Eastern Conference after missing the playoffs last year, is counting on a player who can provide an immediate impact. He is a high-motor goal scorer with vision and top-notch passing skills.
“Wayne is undoubtedly one of the best players in Premier League history and his goal scoring record for club and country speaks for itself,” United General Manager Dave Kasper said in a statement. “He is a world-class player and he elevates those around him, both through his work-ethic and winning mentality. We are beyond excited to add someone of Rooney’s caliber and we are thrilled to welcome him to D.C.”
Rooney made his name as a striker but played in central midfield for Everton much of the last Premier League campaign. United is likely to deploy him as a forward. Jamaican striker Darren Mattocks leads the team with seven goals.
The splashy signing coincides with United’s biggest off-the-field move to date: Located two blocks from Nationals Park, Audi Field will have a capacity of 20,000 and a price tag of about $400 million. Rooney will give Olsen a much-needed offensive weapon on the field and provide the team with a marquee name to market off it. United hasn’t featured a globally recognized player since Argentina’s Marcelo Gallardo, who played for the team in 2008.
Jason Levien, United’s managing partner and chief executive, called the agreement “a seminal moment for our fans and organization.”
The deal required a two-pronged approach to negotiations: United needed to come to terms with Rooney, an agreement that was largely completed last month, but also with Everton.
The team’s courtship of the star began last summer when he was leaving Manchester United, and after he signed with Everton for the 2017-18 season, talks resumed this spring when it became clear he might seek a new team.
Rooney had a year left on his contract with Everton. Recent reports in the British press suggested he was no longer in Everton’s long-term plans and could have been forced into a diminished role had he returned for another season there.
Everton acknowledge the transfer Thursday morning with a video tribute and a statement that concluded, “From everyone at Everton, we thank Wayne for his service to the Club and wish him every success in the next three-and-a-half years with D.C. United.”
Rooney made a whirlwind visit to Washington in late May, meeting with club officials, touring the city, surveying the new stadium and undergoing a physical. United officials became increasingly optimistic and the deal had been considered imminent ever since. In anticipation of the deal, Rooney applied for a U.S. work visa this month in Belfast.
He’ll join a United team eager to have him. D.C. (2-6-4) will play two more away matches — against New England and the Galaxy — before christening Audi Field against the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Not long ago, Rooney was one of the most highly paid players in the world, believed to be earning north of $30 million annually. He earned about $10 million at Everton. United entered the season with one of the smallest MLS payrolls but, with increased revenue from the new stadium, began making plans to pursue more expensive players.
Rooney scored 10 goals this past season for Everton, his boyhood club, though none in the last 5 ½ months. His 208 Premier League goals are second in history behind Alan Shearer’s 260. He scored 53 times for his national team and played in three World Cups before retiring from international soccer two years ago.
Emily Giambalvo contributed to this report.