“Like a human defibrillator, Rooney has jolted the locker room with confidence and tenacity,” Roger Bennett, co-host of “Men in Blazers” on NBC Sports, wrote of the English star last week. “It’s a third act worthy of a mythic hero, and the joy — and humility — Rooney has shown along the way is a reminder that behind the scores and stats, the real thrill of watching sports is the human story of it all.”
Rooney recently joined Bennett for a “Men in Blazers” television special that aired Monday. During their 30-minute chat, Rooney, who turned 33 on Wednesday, reflected on his first summer in D.C. and his surprising decision to join United after playing 16 years in the English Premier League.
“There’s obviously more money in other countries, which I could have made, but it was a decision purely based on football first of all, but also on where would be best to move with my family,” said Rooney, whose annualized base salary with United is $2.7 million.
Asked about his initial impressions of his new club following his first training session with United, Rooney recalled the sweltering heat and thinking, “What am I doing?” Rooney made a concerted effort to fit in with his new teammates, turning down the team’s offer to allow him to travel business-class and have his own room on the road.
“If you’re going to be part of the team, you have to be part of the team, all in, and do the same things,” Rooney said. “I don’t want special treatment. I want to be treated the same as the players. I’m part of this team. It’s not rocket science. If you come and form relationships with players, and speak to them, I know a lot of players who come here, big players in other countries, and they have tended to form [those] relationships, or to buy into what the team is doing. I think it’s important. You do that, you can have a big impact on the team.”
Rooney has more Twitter followers than all of D.C.'s other sports stars combined, but unlike back home in England, he said he can go places in D.C. with his wife and four sons without worrying about being hounded by paparazzi.
“Just to go out with my children here is a lot different than going out with them back home,” Rooney said. “You can do it back home, but it’s a bit more planned. . . . At home, at times you’re looking over your shoulder, you’re wondering who’s watching you, who’s filming you. Here it’s a little bit more chilled out. It’s actually strange, it’s actually normal stuff which people do every day in their lives, which I’ve actually missed out on a bit. It’s actually great to be able to do the normal things.”
Rooney spends a fair amount of his free time on weekends watching the Premier League, in which he won five titles with Manchester United.
“Especially when we play on a Saturday evening or Sunday evening, you wake up and you’ve got literally three [Premier League] games to watch before you go and play your game,” he said. “So you can just chill out all day, watch the games and relax. I think if you’ve got regrets about leaving the league then you might find it difficult. The same with England, watching the World Cup, if you have regret, you might find it difficult to watch them play in the tournament. But I’m a person once I make a decision, I stick by it and I don’t have any regrets.”
The five-hour time difference between D.C. and England is great for Rooney’s soccer-watching habits, but it’s put a damper on one of his other favorite pastimes.
“It’s difficult for me to play FIFA with my friends at the minute,” Rooney said when asked what he misses most about England. “We used to play back home when my kids were in bed. My friends would finish work and we would play about nine o’clock in the evening. Nine o’clock in the evening is four o’clock here and it’s right in the middle of the kids finishing school, and I need to try and find a slot when I can play."
For now, Rooney will have to settle for putting up video game numbers for suddenly unstoppable D.C. United.
Check out Bennett’s full interview with Rooney here.
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