Wayne Rooney and Phil Neville set for ‘weird’ MLS showdown… and Roo could get old Man Utd pal the sack if DC United win
PHIL NEVILLE always knew Wayne Rooney was management material.
The two former Manchester United team-mates face off in the USA on Sunday when Nev’s Inter Miami travel to face Rooney’s DC United in a crunch clash.
Miami badly need a win to keep alive their play-off hopes and Neville in a job with his deal running out at the end of the season.
The former Everton captain reckons it will be “weird” to go up against his old mate on the touchline — even if it has been on the cards for years.
Neville, 45, told SunSport: “It’s always difficult when you’re a player to envisage who’s going to go into management and who’s not.
“But as the years got further on, I felt my pathway was always to go into coaching.
“And as you saw Wayne develop into an incredible leader, you saw that leadership would eventually make him stay in coaching.
“He loves football, you see the players that love football, that football is their life, that they have an obsession with football. Wayne was that person.
“And then as you get older, you start seeing different qualities in terms of the way that they speak in the dressing room, the way that they help the younger players.
“He had all those qualities, and now he will be using them in management. I saw the other day, he played a 15-year-old.
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“People say ‘oh, wow, that’s young’.
“But remember that Wayne was a similar age when he broke into his team. So for him, that’s normal.
“And if I was a young kid in DC, I would be incredibly excited to see a manager that gives opportunities to younger players.”
Rooney, 36, returned to the American capital earlier this year with DC rock bottom of the Eastern Conference — and they remain there even if the England legend’s arrival has boosted morale.
They are already planning for next season following a nightmare campaign but Neville reckons Rooney’s tough apprenticeship at crisis-torn Derby will stand him in excellent stead.
Neville, who led his inconsistent side to a crucial 2-1 win over Columbus in midweek, added: “I think the impressive thing with his management is he has put the hard yards in, he has done all these badges.
“And he hasn’t taken the easy route. Look at the job he had at Derby.
“That was really, really tough but would have been an incredible learning experience that he will be putting into good use at DC, who have had a real difficult season.
“He’ll have time to build his own roster. But it will be weird to come up against him, because we were team-mates for so long and good team-mates, too.
“It will be really good to have someone in the opposite dugout with an English voice. It’s always nice to hear when you live abroad.”
Neville loves life in south Florida and is desperate to extend his stay in MLS but remains worried about his contract situation.
Getting into the play-offs should secure his future but, with David Beckham’s ownership group desperate for success, they are not making any snap decisions.
Nev knows the pressure is on, especially with most of his backroom staff also out of contract.
He admitted: “I think everyone has got trust and belief in each other. We have a long-term plan.
“I know I’m in a results business, in terms of performances, results, points, qualifying for playoffs. I trust the players that we brought in, I trust the process and our own abilities to deliver.
“The clock is ticking. And it’s got to the point now where there’s probably no slack, there’s no recovery time.”
The top seven teams in both the Eastern and Western Conferences qualify for the end-of-season shootout.
Miami are eighth, two points adrift of seventh-placed Columbus with just four games left.
After the trip to Washington, they go to lowly Toronto and finish with home games against high-flying Orlando and Montreal.
But with on-loan Wolves striker Leonardo Campana returning to fitness at just the right time, Neville remains upbeat.
He added: “Now it’s delivery time but we would have taken this position at the start of the season. There’s great belief in the squad. And I’ve got incredible belief and trust in this group of players.”