“Christian is a top player who has played at the highest level for a long time,” said Rooney, who played against Benteke several times during his playing career at Manchester United and Everton. “His experience and ability to score goals and help the team will be invaluable. It’s exciting for the team and myself to get him in and play. He will make a huge difference.”
Benteke, 31, will be the highest paid player in club history, said two people familiar with the terms. His salary surpasses Rooney’s $3.5 million pact in 2019, his second and final season as a United player.
Benteke signed for the 2024 season and the club has an option for 2025.
He will fill United’s third and final spot for high-end designated players, alongside Greek forward Taxi Fountas and Icelandic defensive midfielder Victor Palsson.
United have also paid an undisclosed transfer fee, estimated to be worth millions, to Benteke’s club Crystal Palace over the past six seasons.
He won’t be allowed to play in MLS until his work visa is approved, a process that typically takes at least two weeks, but he is expected to visit Washington next week to meet his new teammates, find housing and get used to the weather.
Wayne Rooney is a megastar. More importantly, he wants to coach.
“His strength and power will make him a focal point of our team and his ability to tie the game together will be a valuable asset to us,” United General Manager Lucy Rushton said in a statement. “We are delighted to integrate Christian into the team so that he can have an immediate impact.”
Dave Kasper, United’s president of football operations, said in an interview that the club began contacting Benteke’s representatives seven to 10 days ago. At first, he said, the outlook seemed bleak because of the high financial demands.
But Kasper said he worked closely with Benteke’s agent, Kismet Eris, and that the respective owners negotiated the transfer fee and other considerations.
In addition, Kasper said, Rooney spoke to Benteke — an interaction that, while they didn’t know each other very well, helped move the process forward. “That played a big part in bringing him to the club,” Kasper said.
When hiring Rooney last month, United were counting on the former England superstar to use his status in the sport to attract players to Washington.
One of Rooney’s top priorities was drawing a great striker. United got nowhere with Luton Town’s 6-foot-4 Elijah Adebayo, but traded with the Columbus Crew for 6-3 Miguel Berry and landed 6-2 Benteke.
Benteke was once one of the most highly regarded strikers in Europe. Liverpool paid Aston Villa $51 million for the Belgian in 2015 and Palace bought him from the Reds a year later for $34 million.
His best season with Palace was his first, 2016-17, when he scored 15 league goals. He scored 10 in 2020-21, but only four in 11 starts (25 appearances) last season. All those goals came last autumn, and while Odsonne secured Édouard the starting spot at the striker, Benteke went scoreless in his last 13 appearances, mainly as a substitute.
In his 280-game Premier League career, he had 86 goals and 23 assists.
With the Belgian national team, Benteke has scored 18 goals in 45 matches, the latest in March for FIFA’s second-placed team. He has played two European Championships.
What you need to know about the 2022-23 English Premier League season
Benteke is United’s latest signing during the summer period, alongside Berry, goalkeeper David Ochoa (Real Salt Lake), winger Martín Rodríguez (Altay, Turkey), attacking midfielder Ravel Morrison (Derby County, England) and defensive midfielder Palsson (Schalke, Germany). ).
Ochoa and Palsson have yet to make their debut.
While Ochoa and Palsson promise to help the defensive cause, United have not dealt with backline issues. The club (6-13-3) have conceded a league-worst 47 goals, and during Wednesday’s 3-0 defeat at Charlotte FC, centre-back Brendan Hines-Ike (20 starts) suffered a foot injury that was expected to sideline him. will put. of the season.
United lack depth in every back line. Sami Guediri, who started the year at second division Loudoun United, started as a left back. Right-back Andy Najar, a regular starter for much of the year, has been relegated to the role of a sub under Rooney; Chris Odoi-Atsem has started.
Donovan Pines, who has struggled this season, and Tony Alfaro are the best options to replace Hines-Ike and team up with captain Steven Birnbaum in central defence.
Teams may sign national and international free agents until the roster shutdown on September 2.
Benteke joins an overcrowded group of attackers. Berry and Ola Kamara have alternated as striker starters, while Michael Estrada and Nigel Robertha haven’t even been in uniform lately.
Neither Kamara (seven goals and one assist in 20 games) nor Estrada (four goals and four assists in 16 games) are expected to return next season. Kamara’s $1.5 million contract expires this winter and Estrada is hired from Mexican club Toluca.