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Rooney to leave D.C. United for player-coach role

Former England captain Wayne Rooney says he will be a player first and a coach second when he joins Derby County from D.C. United in January 2020.
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Wayne Rooney has agreed a deal to leave Major League Soccer side D.C. United and take up a role as a player-coach at English second-tier club Derby County in January.

The former Manchester United forward moved to MLS from Everton in June 2018 and has scored 25 goals in 45 appearances.

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"I remain fully focused on giving my all for the team for the rest of this season and repaying the support shown by the Black-and-Red faithful by hopefully delivering an MLS Cup to Audi Field," Rooney said. "My time in Major League Soccer is something I will always be proud of.

"The supporters in the Screaming Eagles, Barra Brava and District Ultras have made my time in America so enjoyable. While the decision to move home was a tough one, family is everything to us and we make this change to be closer to the ones we love back in England.

"The opportunity to go back home and start the next step of my career in coaching was the factor that made my mind up. I would like to thank everyone at D.C. United for the incredible support my family and I have received over my two seasons at the club."

Steve Kaplan and Jason Levien, D.C. United co-chairmen, added: "After speaking to Wayne and understanding his difficult situation of being so far away from his family, we have accepted that this is the best decision for all parties.

"Our main focus now is the 2019 MLS Season and ensuring we make a push towards the playoffs with the ultimate goal of bringing an MLS Cup back to the District.

"Wayne is an exceptional leader and one of the most iconic players to play the game so we look forward to his continued contributions to the team this season."

Levien, speaking exclusively to ESPN FC on Tuesday, said that Rooney had found it difficult to settle in D.C. and even took a midseason trip back to England to be with family.

"When [Rooney] came back he said he had a strong desire to return home, and not just to the U.K., but to his house where he lives, and didn't know if he was going to be able to continue after this season, or for the full [length] of his contract," said Levien.

"We talked about that, and the personal side of it, and what it meant for the club and what it meant for him, and how we could accept that and make the best out of the situation for everybody, and be supportive of what was going on with his personal life, his need to move back home."

Levien added that, upon signing Rooney last summer, the club always knew the midfielder was never destined to stay in D.C. for very long.

"We never thought that Wayne was going to stay here forever," said Levien. "We anticipated probably being here the full length of his agreement with us, but we're good and we're in a very different place than before Wayne arrived.

"We've got our stadium, we've got a lot of momentum from that. We've grown our fanbase, we've grown the visibility of our club in a big way the last two seasons. We don't plan to rest on our laurels or stop there. We want to take it to a whole new level."

To help cope with Rooney's absence, D.C. has already lined up the signing of forward Ola Kamara. And sources confirmed a Washington Post report that the club is in talks to sign Argentine midfielder Mateo Garcia, with the proposed transfer fee set at around $3 million.

At Derby, Rooney will look to learn from manager Phillip Cocu, who replaced Frank Lampard in the summer after the ex-England man was named Chelsea boss.

"Wayne Rooney is an extremely talented and top-class footballer," Cocu said. "It is an exciting prospect for him to be joining Derby County and he can bring so much to this squad, both on and off the pitch.

"He has enjoyed a wonderful career, both in club football and for England, and he still has so much to give as well. His credentials speak for themselves. But to have a player with his leadership, skill, experience, character and work ethic will be huge for us.

"He knows what it takes to succeed as a player and I have no doubt he will have a positive impact right across the club. The inspiration and motivation this can generate is massive for all of our players from the first team right through to the youngsters in the academy.

"It is entirely in keeping with, and in support of, the club's philosophy and approach. I am looking forward to working with Wayne from the start of next year and welcoming him to the club."

Rooney will be following most closely in the footsteps of Lampard, who last season took the team he is set to join all the way to the Championship playoff final. Lampard has now taken over at Chelsea, while Steven Gerrard is in charge of Scottish side Rangers.

Former Manchester United teammate Phil Neville has also impressed as England's women's team boss, having recently guided the Lionesses to the World Cup semi-finals.

"It's great to see them going into management. But it's not just because of that, I've always had an ambition to go into management," Rooney told reporters.

"It's great these young English managers are getting the opportunity. Over the past 20 years we haven't seen it so much. When the time is right, hopefully that's what I can move into. But ... my first aim is to play," he said.

ESPN FC U.S. Correspondent Jeff Carlisle and Reuters contributed to this report.

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