On Tuesday, Wayne Rooney‘s decline officially went international, as he sat and watched England play Slovenia in a World Cup qualifier from the bench. His eventual appearance in the dismal 0-0 draw as a 73rd-minute substitute confirmed that Rooney now rides the bench as captain for both club and country, while not being considered good enough to regularly earn a starting place for either.
“I’ve played 13 years non-stop for England, given everything,” Rooney bravely said at a press conference on Monday. Stoic and professional, he then admitted, “A time comes when you’re not the first name on the team sheet.”
Fast approaching his 31st birthday, Rooney’s futures with England and Manchester United promise to cannibalize one another. The lack of time with the Red Devils is sure to eventually see England’s all-time goal scorer overlooked for selection when the Three Lions pack their bags for Russia in the 2018 World Cup (assuming they qualify, of course). Likewise, his inability to feature for England makes it tough to justify selection over other international players at Old Trafford.
So, where does this all lead for “Wazza?”
How about Major League Soccer?
Currently, Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba, Steven Gerrard and Robbie Keane are four of the biggest stars in North America’s top flight. Keane and Gerrard are the youngest of the foursome at age 36. Drogba and Lampard are going strong at age 38. Andrea Pirlo is another big name, and the stylish Italian is a spry 37-year-old.
Of the major international imports shining in MLS, David Villa is the youngest of the bunch at age 34. If Rooney opted to move to MLS in the summer of 2017, he would arrive as a 31-year-old and the biggest star to join the league since David Beckham signed with the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2007.
Conceivably, Rooney could star in the United States for at least half a decade, which is how long Beckham lasted. MLS may still be considered a retirement league – and Rooney’s arrival wouldn’t shake that reputation – but the league would greatly benefit by marketing Rooney as the face of MLS for the foreseeable future.
From Thailand to Tulsa, Rooney is a recognizable name and a worldwide star because he has spent the bulk of his career with the biggest sporting club on the planet, Manchester United. Bringing the United captain to MLS would undoubtedly help raise the league’s profile for the better part of the next decade.
Add in the prospect of Cristiano Ronaldo joining in a couple of years’ time, and MLS could hit a new height of star power never before witnessed on soccer fields in America.
As a player, Rooney would have the ability to flourish like few others. Major League Soccer is a far more physical league than Europeans realize, but Rooney’s Premier League experience makes him well-suited for MLS’s rough tackles and fast pace. Also, it is a league that does not always display the best skill and technique, which is where Rooney would shine.
Initially, Rooney could return to playing forward full-time and take advantage of defenses that are far less structured and talented than ones in the Premier League. If the goals dry up as the years progress, Rooney could always drop into midfield where his recent flirtations have laid the foundation for him to conclude his career as a deep-lying midfielder.
Suggesting that Rooney is washed-up is premature. But if his season continues on its current trajectory, the England and Manchester United captain would be wise to look across the Atlantic at season’s end – because MLS would love to have him.