He lives deep in the suburbs, a five-minute drive from the Loudoun County Training Center. The task of remaking the errant MLS club takes hours. He did not have time to play golf or watch many films. His family returned to England, where the eldest of his four sons, Kay and Clay, were pupils at Manchester United’s youth academy.
Leesburg’s morning practices extend to afternoon video sessions and meetings with the front office and its staff in offices overlooking two fields behind the single-level structure at the back of a regional park.
He prepares for opponents and plans off-season moves, assessing who will return and who in the vast global football market belongs on his transfer wish list.
His deputy, Pete Shuttleworth, an Englishman hired by Ronnie, lives in Ronnie’s house. Shuttleworth usually drives them to and from work, although it’s new to the right-hand side of the road.
“He trusts me,” said Shuttleworth, smiling. “Six weeks later, and we’re still here.”
Here they are implementing an ambitious project. More than three years after the departure of Rooney (the famous striker), Rooney (the lightly experienced coach) is using the final phase of United’s lost season to lay the foundation for 2023.
He has given away players, such as Michael Estrada, and recommended acquisitions, such as Raphael Morrison And the Christian Benteke. He brought teen prospects into the fold, like Jackson Hopkins and Christian Fletcher, and experimented with formations.
The results haven’t changed – United are 2-5-2 since then Rooney debuted on July 31 – But the structure is starting to take hold.
He said fitness levels have improved, and confidence is gradually returning. The players seem to understand what he wants. And while the team scored only six goals in those nine matches, they conceded more than one just three times.
When you’re last in a 28-team league – with a 7-17-5 score, the second-lowest number of goals for (32) and the most against (59) on your way to missing out on the playoffs for the third season in a row – step by step dear.
“There is a level of ownership and responsibility with him,” said striker Miguel Perry. “This is the first building block. What he did was create a strong base, and we will build from there.”
Rooney was encouraged by the players’ response.
“We’ve definitely progressed since I first came,” he said during a 30-minute interview. “Even some of the games we lost, I found their positives. The players are starting to understand more about what I want from them both in training and on match day. Slowly, I see the team developing.”
Sometimes, he also stepped back and let the players reveal themselves. In the second half of the 6-0 home defeat to Philadelphia Union on August 20, Rooney purposely kept quiet to see who would take responsibility and show leadership under adverse circumstances. (midfielder Chris Durkin said he was the only one.)
He’s also made a concerted effort to get to know players who weren’t with the team when he played here in 2018 and 2019.
Two days after arriving in a business deal with Columbus Crew, Perry was planning to join Morrison in Uber from Ode Field to temporary lodgings in Loudoun County. Ronnie over them and offered them a ride.
For 45 minutes they talked about football and their backgrounds.
Perry, 24, said, “He’s just a guy with stories like everyone else. The difference is that his stories are all about [the Champions League and World Cup] And my stories about football for youth under the age of 16.”
“He has the respect for his character as a player, but he also earns that day in and day out for being such a good person and a good coach,” added Perry.
Forming a bond with the players is part of Rooney’s mission. He also wants them to participate in his plans.
“It’s always difficult to come in the middle of the season, trying to convince the team to change the way they play and change the mentality,” he said. “It is really important for me to receive all the messages [through to] The team to understand the identity I want from the team.”
He wants his team to become more possession-oriented “but with a goal and to take more risks”. Defensively, he said, “I want playing against my team to be horrible.”
The lack of success was tested by Rooney, who, as one of the stars of Manchester United, won five Premier League titles and a Champions League trophy. He also faced an upswing in his previous coaching stint, with England’s Derby County.
Despite this, Shuttleworth called him “the most patient manager I’ve ever worked with”.
“He accepts that, to get to a place where we can succeed consistently, you have to go through these rocky bits of the way,” Shuttleworth said.
Rooney hasn’t given up trying to win this season, but with not being able to make it to the playoffs, he’s looking forward.
“You’ll notice over the last five games that some of the boys are getting very little playing time, which is a chance for me to see how they handle it,” he said.
Rooney also wants to assess players with experience – experience, of sorts, to determine their future with the club. The roster is almost certain to undergo major changes this winter as the organization seeks to build around the Benteke and all-star striker Taxi Fountas.
“We’re really looking at the players,” Rooney said. “We have players we want to include, but that might take some time. There is work being done behind the scenes and we have to see if these players want to come.”
He declined to identify players or positions, but promised that “nothing would pass without his heart.”
“I know the European market very well,” he said. “Not a South American market [which will fall to others on the staff]. I think we need to do more in the African market.”
Identifying players is one thing. Give them something else. When asked if the property, headed by Steve Kaplan and Jason Levian, was committed to spending what was necessary, Rooney said, “I’ve already had these discussions before I came. With a manager, you wouldn’t do your job if you weren’t paying your owners more. That’s normal. I will keep pushing them.”
Less than two years since his retirement, Rooney said he has embraced coaching.
“It’s like solving a puzzle, and I love it,” he said. “You have your identity and the way you want to play, but you see the game evolve and what changes you can make, so you’re constantly thinking.”
Rooney’s contract is unusually short. It only lasts until the 2023 season, with the club being selected in 2024. Part of that decision was linked to his ambition to coach at a high level in England.
Part of it is also about the separation from his family. In 2019, he cut his playing deal with DC because his wife, Colin, didn’t like living here. The family was in Bethesda while the team was training in the area. This time, his wife and children remained.
Rooney said he talks to them every day. They came to the states a few weeks ago and took a trip to Delaware. He plans to visit during a layover in the MLS schedule this month. In the off-season, he said, he’ll likely switch back and forth.
“Of course, I miss them but it’s part of the job,” he said.
Whether his tenure in the capital lasted 18 months or several years, Rooney said he was committed to the cause.
“I know wherever I go as a manager, people will always look at what I do and what I’ve done,” he said. “I will not go in and take it lightly. I am doing everything in my power to try to develop myself as a manager but also to develop the club.”