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Wayne Rooney receives warm welcome at Derby County to begin player-coach role

The Rams unveiled the former D.C. United captain Saturday prior to a match against Queens Park Rangers.

Derby County assistant coach Wayne Rooney during the English Championship match between Derby County and Queen's Park Rangers at Pride Park, Derby, England, Dec. 30, 2019. (Tim Goode/PA via AP)

In sing-song unison, fans of Derby County welcomed England’s all-time leading goalscorer with chants of “Wayne Rooney.” The Rams unveiled the former D.C. United captain Saturday prior to an English Championship match against Queens Park Rangers.

Although he is not eligible to take the field as a player until January, Rooney joined the coaching staff in the second row of the home-side bench to watch his new club play to a 1-1 draw.

Rooney returned to Pride Park for the first time since he showed up suddenly Aug. 6 to announce he would leave Major League Soccer early and join the Rams as a player-coach in January 2020.

Rooney officially ended his MLS stint in October, following United’s 5-1 defeat to eventual MLS Cup runner-up Toronto FC in the first round of the 2019 playoffs. The forward did not speak to media following his final match and flew home to join his family on vacation days later.

During his time with United, Rooney scored 23 goals and provided 15 assists in 50 games. While he helped lift United from last place in the Eastern Conference to hosting a playoff game in his inaugural 2018 season, Rooney was mostly in the shadows for United’s 2019 sprint to the postseason following the news of his early departure.

The 34-year-old was set to continue with United through 2020 but told the team he was leaving about a week prior to the 2019 secondary transfer window. While Rooney connected with his teammates on and off the field in MLS, his family was not as settled living away from England, where his four kids had spent their entire lives.

The move back to England comes with challenges as well. Rooney joins 14th-place Derby County on an 18-month contract.

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