Just three months into his second managerial job and Wayne Rooney did not mince his words as DC United’s MLS campaign reached its miserable conclusion.
The American club’s final match was befitting of the season as a whole as Rooney’s side were thrashed 5-2 at home by FC Cincinnati.
The Black-and-Reds finished bottom of the 14-team Eastern Conference, a distant seven points behind Toronto in 13th place, missing out on a play-off spot for a third season in a row.
“Thank God the season’s over,” said former England captain Rooney, who was DC’s third coach of a disastrous season after Hernan Losada and interim manager Chad Ashton. “I think it’s a relief for all of us.
“The goals we conceded – incredible, really. Not just at the professional level – at any level.”
It was a sentiment echoed by captain Steven Birnbaum after their latest capitulation at Audi Field on Sunday. “We need a restart,” said Birnbaum. “It wasn’t good enough today. It hasn’t been good enough all year. Pretty much par for the course.”
There were eyebrows raised back in Rooney’s home country when he was appointed manager at the American club he served with distinction as a player.
Rooney played 52 games for DC United scoring 25 goals in 2018-19, captaining the team to the play-offs two seasons in a row.
Manchester United and England’s record goalscorer had just finished a manic stint as manager of Derby County that ended with the club being relegated to the league's third tier.
But Rooney emerged from that spell with his coaching reputation strengthened rather than tarnished. Derby had been a club in turmoil for most of his 18 months in charge at Pride Park.
In his first full season in the role, the Rams were hit with a 12-point deduction for entering administration and then a nine-point penalty for breaching league accounting rules.
Had it not been for those deductions, Derby would have finished 17th in the Championship. As it was, they finished second bottom, eight points shy of safety. Rooney decided the time was right for him to leave and allow the Midlands club to inject some “fresh energy” ahead of the new League One season.
Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard – two of Rooney’s contemporaries in England's so-called "Golden Generation" of players – had jobs with established Premier League clubs, at Everton and Aston Villa, respectively.
But instead of waiting for an English top-flight role to materialise, Rooney was heading back to the US capital. “I've seen a few articles, certainly back in England, on this being a possible backward step in my managerial career,” said the 36-year-old after his appointment in July. “I really find that a bit disrespectful to this league.”
It was clearly going to be a mighty challenge, though. DC were second bottom and had been without a permanent manager since Losada’s exit in April.
Rooney’s first game in the dugout would be a winning one when two goals deep into injury-time from Chris Durkin and Taxi Fountas secured a 2-1 victory over Orlando City.
“The season has to start now,” said Rooney, who had been limited to a consulting role for three weeks while his work visa was finalised. “You lose so many games, you forget what it’s like to win,” added defender Brendan Hines-Ike.
Sadly for Rooney and Co, it would be an all too rare feeling. After that Orlando victory on August 1, United would win just one more game. Despite the likes of Ravel Morrison and Christian Benteke arriving from English football to bolster the squad, the rot had already firmly set in.
And the season would hit a new low in September when key forward Fountas was accused of using a racial slur during DC’s defeat against Inter Miami – a team co-owned by David Beckham and coached by Phil Neville, both former teammates of Rooney.
“A word was used that I think is unacceptable in society,” Neville said after the game. Fountas strongly denied the claims but has not played since despite being eligible.
DC would finish with 27 points, the lowest total out of the entire MLS (Eastern and Western Conference), having secured the fewest victories (seven), scored the fewest goals (36) and conceded the most (71).
“If we’re going to compete, if we’re going to be successful, there will have to be big changes and quite a few of them,” Rooney said.
“It’s my job to push the owners and if we want to be successful, if we want to develop as a team and a club, we have to make sure we make the right decisions. It’s going to be a lot of work, but it needs it.”