Wayne Rooney has agreed on a ‘deal in principle’ with D.C. United. The transfer may seem like an exciting addition, but his arrival doesn’t help MLS’ most harrowing image: The Retirement League.
I have a confession to make. I am not American. I am not even Canadian. I know, a writer who covers Major League Soccer who isn’t from North America. It certainly seems like a crime.
I am actually English. My first love will always be the Premier League, and Arsenal, in particular. But I also have a unique interest in MLS. It is a special league that is unparalleled in many aspects by any other league in world football.
The blistering pace of the games, the athleticism of the players, the excitement, the uncertainty, the mistakes. They are all wonderfully present. But there is an image that MLS cannot shake off that immediately detracts it from any football fan who is not naturally assimilated with the league.
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Per its detractors, MLS is ‘The Retirement League’. And do you know what? They’re right. I know I’m not meant to say that on an MLS blog writing about MLS. But it’s the truth. From a European perspective, MLS is a league that older, nearly washed-up players come to play. And the proof is in the pudding.
Andrea Pirlo. Bastian Schweinsteiger. David Beckham. David Villa. Zlatan Ibrahimovic. And a vast array of others. I could write all day listing players who enjoyed their latter years Stateside. Some of them actually had, or are having, flourishing MLS careers. But that does not negate the fact that they all came to MLS once their prime was finished. There was a conscious recognition that their time in Europe was over, accepted that fact, and then searched out a rosy end to their careers.
And now they are to be joined another. Wayne Rooney, per a wide-range of reports, has ‘agreed in principle’ a deal with D.C. United. The reported fee could be as high as £12.5 million, $16.87 million at the current exchange rate, though nothing has yet been signed and there seems to be a delay in the decision until the future of current Everton manager Sam Allardyce is settled.
D.C. are in desperate need of attacking help. Rooney, while not the centre-forward he used to be — he has spent the majority of his playing time while at Everton this past season in midfield –, will certainly bolster their options. From their perspective, while a steep price to pay, it is a move that makes a lot of sense. But for MLS, this does not help.
As the league tries to gain traction on a global scale and attract a larger audience beyond the shores of North America, signings like Rooney, although they may sound nice by name, do not have the desired effect by nature. Rooney is not nearly the player that he used to be. And if he was, you can say for certain that he would not be joining D.C. United. He would be continuing his football in the Premier League.
That, for MLS, is the crux of their problem. They are only seeing these players arrive once they have accepted that they can no longer play at the level that European football demands. Wayne Rooney is the next in a long line. He will not be the last.
His signing does not help MLS. It may help by D.C. United, but if the league wants to prove that it is anything more than a retirement home, which it most certainly is, then signings such as Rooney need to be the anomaly, not the norm.