D.C. United striker Wayne Rooney believes his former Manchester United team should go “all out” in their efforts to lure Mauricio Pochettino away from Tottenham and into the dugout at Old Trafford.
Rooney, 33, prefaced that by saying United interim boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is doing a great job and deserves an opportunity, but said he’d go with Pochettino if the decision was left to him.
“First of all you have to give Ole an opportunity and that’s a discussion that has to take place with the Glazers,” said Rooney, speaking to ESPN FC in an exclusive interview at Major League Soccer’s media days. “But if I had the opportunity to appoint someone, I’d go all out for Pochettino.
“I think Manchester United — certainly over the last 20, 30 years, since Alex Ferguson — have based themselves on youth players, young players, bringing players through. I think [Pochettino] gets the best out of his players whether they are younger or older.
“You see some of the young players he has brought through at Tottenham, at Southampton that have gone on to play for the national team, so I think he ticks every box in terms of his quality as a coach, but also his willingness to give youth a chance.”
The record England goalscorer played the majority of his United career under Sir Alex Ferguson — winning five Premier League titles and the Champions League in 2008 — but was also on the team for the far less successful reigns of David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho.
And Rooney said he thinks the success under Solskjaer, who has won his first six games in charge since taking over after Mourinho was sacked, is down to his willingness to let the world-class players he has at Old Trafford enjoy themselves while they go about their business.
“Enjoyment,” said Rooney, who was a teammate of Solskjaer’s during their playing days at United. “I think it wasn’t nice watching Manchester United over the last year and knowing the players weren’t happy, they weren’t enjoying it and I think all he’s done is say ‘go and play, go and express yourselves, and enjoy it.’
“I think if you take Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi and tell them you have to play here, you have to do this, you have to that, they aren’t going to be the same players. When you are playing at Manchester United you are good enough to know how to play the game and to know what you have to do on the pitch. You need small details of course, but the biggest thing the players need is to just go play and to go enjoy yourself.”
Solskjaer’s arrival had resulted in an upturn in the form of several players, including Paul Pogba, with whom Mourinho had a contentious relationship at times.
Rooney said: “Well I think with Paul, I watched him come through the academy at United and he’s got a lot of ability, but the difficult time he was going through is, if you don’t have a good relationship with the coach, then it’s difficult to be at your top if you feel like the coach is scrutinizing every decision you make, every pass you make.
“Paul Pogba will give the ball away, he’ll try passes [and] it won’t be the right pass at times, but you have to let him do that because two or three of them passes will create goals, will create opportunities. I think he found it difficult under Mourinho. I think a player and a manager with big egos clashed and the outcome was never going to be great.”
Marcus Rashford has also benefited from the managerial change and has scored in four of Solskjaer’s five league games in charge. Recalling a conversation the two had in November, Rooney believes the best is still to come from the 21-year-old if he keeps things simple.
“When I went back to play for the national team against the USA, I spoke to Marcus and he was trying too much, he was trying too hard, he was working too hard, he was getting tired at the end of games,” Rooney said.
“But the scary thing with Marcus, when he runs at you with the ball he’s impossible to defend and I reminded him to keep doing that, to just get the ball and run at defenders.”