Wayne Rooney said on Thursday that Everton “made it clear” to him that the club wanted him to leave after last season, prompting his move to join D.C. United this summer.
Rooney is set to make his MLS debut on Saturday as D.C. United open their new stadium, Audi Field, against the Vancouver Whitecaps (8 p.m. ET, ESPN+).
The game will mark the first time that England’s all-time top goal scorer plays for a foreign club, after becoming a global star at Manchester United and returning to boyhood side Everton last season.
Rooney had hinted last week that his exit from Everton hadn’t been completely his decision, saying that “people who want to know can ask Everton,” but in an exclusive interview with ESPN’s Taylor Twellman on Thursday, the 32-year-old greatly expanded on the process that led him to the United States.
“I don’t think it’s a chip on my shoulder, I think it’s a determination to win and to play,” Rooney said of his decision to continue his career in MLS.
“Obviously at Manchester United, that wasn’t happening as much as I would have liked, and I quite easily could have stayed there with two years left on my contract and picked up the wages and been happy with that, and that’s it.
“But I wanted to play, went back to Everton and had a year there, then as I’ve said before, Everton made it clear towards the end of the season that they’d be happy for me to leave.”
Rooney, who led Everton with 11 goals in all competitions last season, also said the Premier League club did not give him a reason that he wasn’t in the plans for next season.
“For whatever reason, I still don’t know. I felt I was doing OK, I was top goal scorer [despite] playing most of the season from midfield, so …” Rooney said, trailing off.
“But that’s football. And that gave me a decision to make, and I made this decision.”
Rooney then expanded on his talks with Everton when asked whether the manner of his exit motivated him to succeed in MLS, saying he was mature enough to understand the club’s decision.
“Well, I said to Everton, I said, ‘Listen, I’m not a kid, and if this [leaving the club] is what you want, tell me. If you want me to stay, tell me,’ and we talked about it,” Rooney said.
“As an 18-, 20-, 21-year-old, obviously I wouldn’t have been able to handle that the way I have now. And they told me, and I said, ‘Fair enough.’ I’m not going to disrespect the football club.
“So this option became available as well as a few different ones, and I just felt this was the right one.”
Rooney will follow in the footsteps of his former England teammates Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole in moving to MLS in recent years, although at 32, he is younger than all of them at the time of their debuts.
But Rooney is the same age as David Beckham was when he debuted with the LA Galaxy in 2007. Beckham went on to play six more years, and Rooney said he also has plenty left in the tank.
“I think, 32, obviously it’s getting on a bit, but it’s not 35, 36,” he said. “I think it’s the right time for me to come here and have an impact on this league, to show the league the respect it deserves.
“I didn’t want to come over here at 35, 36 and not be able to do it, physically or whatever, so I think it’s the right time and it’s a good change for me and my family.”
Rooney joins a team at the bottom of the league, and although he acknowledged that he wouldn’t be able to turn D.C.’s fortunes around single-handedly, he hopes to provide a spark toward improving “over time.”
“I expect to score goals, create goals and be a help in the way the team plays,” Rooney said. “I think, first of all, if I didn’t think I could come to this league and be successful or play or do it physically, I wouldn’t be here.
“I’m a realistic person, and I still feel I could come here and be a success, and it’s time for me to go and show it.”