“Christian is a top player who has played at the highest level for a long time,” said Rooney, who during his playing career with Manchester United and Everton faced Benteke on several occasions. “His experience and ability to score goals and help the team will be invaluable. It’s exciting for the team and myself to play him. He will make a huge difference.
Benteke, 31, will become the highest-paid player in club history, two people familiar with the terms have said. His salary will top Rooney’s $3.5million pact in 2019, his second and final season as a United player.
Benteke has signed until the 2024 season and the club hold an option for 2025.
He will take United’s third and final spot for top-line Designated Players, joining Greek striker Taxi Fountas and Icelandic defensive midfielder Victor Palsson.
United have also paid an undisclosed transfer fee, believed to be in the millions, to Benteke’s club Crystal Palace over the past six seasons.
He is not allowed to play in MLS until his work visa is approved, a process that usually takes at least two weeks, but he is expected to travel to Washington as early as next week to meet his new teammates, find accommodation and acclimatize to the weather. .
Wayne Rooney is a megastar. More importantly, he wants to coach.
“His strength and power will make him a focal point for our squad and his ability to link play will be a valuable asset to us,” United chief executive Lucy Rushton said in a statement. “We are delighted to have Christian integrated into the team so that he can make an immediate impact.”
Dave Kasper, United’s chairman of football operations, said in an interview that the club started talking to representatives of Benteke seven to ten days ago. At first, he said, the outlook looked bleak due to high financial demands.
But Kasper said he worked closely with Benteke’s agent, Kismet Eris, and the respective owners negotiated transfer fees and other considerations.
Additionally, Kasper said, Rooney spoke to Benteke — an interaction that, despite not knowing each other very well, helped move the process forward. “It played a big part in his coming to the club,” Kasper said.
In signing Rooney last month, United relied on the former England superstar using his status in the sport to help lure players to Washington.
Among Rooney’s top priorities was signing a top striker. United went nowhere with Luton Town’s 6ft 4in Elijah Adebayo but traded with the Columbus Crew for 6-3 Miguel Berry and netted Benteke 6-2.
Benteke was once one of Europe’s most popular strikers. Liverpool paid Aston Villa $51m for the Belgian in 2015 and, a year later, Palace acquired him from the Reds for $34m.
His best season with Palace was his first, 2016-17, when he netted 15 league goals. He scored 10 in 2020-21 but just four of 11 starts (25 appearances) last season. All of those goals came last fall and, while Odsonne Édouard was given the starting striker job, Benteke has been scoreless in his last 13 appearances, mostly as a substitute.
During his 280-game Premier League career, he registered 86 goals and 23 assists.
With the Belgium national team, Benteke scored 18 goals in 45 appearances, his last appearance for the FIFA No.2-ranked side in March. He played in two European championships.
What to know about the 2022-23 English Premier League season
Benteke is United’s latest acquisition during the summer window, joining 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 debut.
While Ochoa and Palsson promise to help the defensive cause, United have failed to address the backline issues. The club (6-13-3) conceded a league-worst 47 goals, and in Wednesday’s 3-0 loss to Charlotte FC central defender Brandon Hines-Ike (20 starts) suffered a chest injury. foot which should put him aside for the rest. of the season.
United lack depth in all baseline positions. Sami Guediri, who started the year at second division Loudoun United, started at left-back. Right-back Andy Najar, a regular starter for much of the year, was relegated to a substitute role under Rooney; Chris Odoi-Atsem is the starter.
Donovan Pines, who has struggled this season, and Tony Alfaro are the best options to replace Hines-Ike and link up with captain Steven Birnbaum in central defense.
Teams are allowed to sign domestic and international free agents until the roster freezes Sept. 2.
Benteke joins a crowded group of attackers. Berry and Ola Kamara have alternated as a starter at striker while Michael Estrada and Nigel Robertha haven’t even been in uniform lately.
Neither Kamara (seven goals and one assist in 20 appearances) 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 on loan from Mexican club Toluca.