Column: It doesn’t feel fair, but Wayne Rooney’s departure from DC United isn’t about the money

Derby County manager Phillip Cocu, left, shakes hands with Britain soccer player Wayne Rooney after a press conference, at Pride Park, in Derby, England, Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2019. (Barrington Coombs/PA via AP)

It was like a “bolt out of the blue.”

That was the reaction of Alan Brazil, a presenter for British radio’s talkSport, to the news of Wayne Rooney’s planned exit from D.C. United to English Championship team Derby County.

Rooney’s exit has now been confirmed, and in some ways, it feels like D.C. has been hit with a thunderbolt. Before getting on a plane last June to come to the U.S., Rooney had tweeted, “Let’s get to work D.C.”

True to his social media message, Rooney did get to work, and proceeded to deliver for D.C. United on and off the field. Everything clicked. Rooney’s debut coincided with the opening of United’s new stadium, Audi Field.

Rooney opened that new stadium and then opened eyes with his stylish play that elevated not only the players around him but also the team’s profile in the District. It all created a real buzz around Buzzard Point — and a sense that there was still more to come from Rooney.

There is more to come from Rooney. But now, suddenly, we are on borrowed time. Rooney is leaving at the end of the season and will join Derby County in January.

Still, it doesn’t seem fair. Rooney’s contract runs through 2021 but has been reduced to an 18-month stay.

D.C. United is one of Major League Soccer’s original teams, with passionate fans that helped create the supporter culture that is envied by other leagues. It would be easy to understand if these same fans were hurt by Rooney’s decision, but they shouldn’t be, and they probably understand it.

United’s supporter groups have made the club feel like an extended family. The reason Rooney is going back to England is because he believes a return home is best for his family. It really is that simple.

Rooney is not motivated by greed and leaving D.C. United for more money. He is not leaving for a glamour club in a glamour city. This is not a move to Paris or Rome, but to Derby, England, and a team that is in the second division trying to get into the English Premier League.

D.C. United has 10 games left on its regular season schedule. He might not tweet it this time, but it’s hard not to think Rooney is thinking, “Let’s get to work D.C.”

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