Wayne Rooney has confirmed he will leave Manchester United this summer to begin a career in WWE – with his debut appearance to come at WrestleMania on Sunday.
The England international has been linked with an Old Trafford exit for months, although it was expected he’d sign a lucrative deal in the United States or China.
But, six weeks after ruling out a £52 million move to the Chinese Super League, Rooney has ended any lingering suspicions of an MLS switch with a shock decision to join the world of wrestling.
“It’s always been a dream of mine to be a wrestler ever since I was a kid,” the 31-year-old told WWE’s official website. “I idolised The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin, not Alan Shearer or David Seaman.
“The gaffer [Jose Mourinho] had talked about me following Bastian [Schweinsteiger] to MLS, but it’s not very good, is it? It wouldn’t be hard to score loads.
“I wanted a challenge instead and I think the WWE will be that. All the lads in the dressing room have been great about it.
“Zlatan [Ibrahimovic] has been telling me how he used to suplex Lionel Messi and [Paul] Pogba’s created a special version of The Dab as a finishing move for me, it’s brilliant.”
Following Man Utd’s Premier League fixture against West Brom on Saturday, Rooney will hop on a flight to Orlando, Florida for WrestleMania.
The forward, who became Man Utd’s all-time top goalscorer earlier this year, was hesitant to spoil the surprise of exactly what his cameo at the Orlando Citrus Bowl would entail.
“I can’t reveal what’s going to happen, I’m sworn to secrecy,” Rooney teased. “I’m definitely going to get booed though.
“But playing for England for 13 years has prepared me for being jeered by tens of thousands of fans, and being a villain to the general public.
“My flight back to Manchester isn’t until Tuesday too, so I’m going to spend Monday at Disney World. I can’t wait.”
WrestleMania 33 won’t be Rooney’s wrestling debut. In November 2015, Rooney went with his son, Kai, to the Manchester Arena for a WWE Raw event and slapped British star Wade Barrett at the side of the ring.
The moment was a culmination of a Twitter feud earlier in the year in which the pair traded verbal blows and taunts over who would win a fight – a prospect that could become a reality in 2018.
Rooney will work with a special WWE performance coach over the summer, adapting his body into a physique for wrestling and practising the more acrobatic elements of the sport.
“I would still like to play for England,” he added, “but if I had to pick between appearing in Royal Rumble and playing for Gareth Southgate, there’s only ever going to be one winner.”
Rooney isn’t the first footballer to swap football for wrestling. Bundesliga goalkeeper Tim Wiese swapped gloves, kit and boots for chairs, cages and smackdowns in 2014.
Six years after being part of Germany’s squad for World Cup 2010, Wiese made his WWE bow last November in Munich with a victory.
When Rooney was asked if any other Premier League stars could follow him to WWE – a $1.5 billion entertainment behemoth – he hinted his plans have turned some England team-mates’ heads.
“Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy have had a bit of banter with me about it, but Joe Hart is probably the most keen,” the Man Utd and England captain said.
“He keeps saying he’d clothesline me and have me tapping out in no time. I just tell him he can barely control his arms in football, never mind wrestling, and that’s why Pep [Guardiola] got rid of him.
“That usually shuts him up!”
Happy April Fool’s Day!