The biggest stars to manage in MLS: From Henry to Rooney

Thierry Henry Wayne Rooney Ruud Gullit MLS GFXGetty/GOAL

MLS has long been a league that can draw some of the world's biggest stars, with the likes of David Beckham, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Andrea Pirlo and Kaka all calling the league home. But players have not been the only big names continuing their careers in North America, as MLS has also been a landing spot for several famous, and infamous, managers.

From iconic players looking to kickstart their managerial careers to big-name coaches in need of a fresh start, MLS has certainly had its share of memorable hires.

Wayne Rooney is the latest in that line, with the England icon taking over at D.C. United.

He'll look to be the latest success story, but it's fair to say that, more often than not, the league has not proven a happy hunting ground for high-profile appointments.

Below, GOAL takes a look at the 10 biggest names to coach in the league...

  • Wayne Rooney Derby 2022Getty Images

    Wayne Rooney - D.C. United

    The newest entry on this list, Rooney has shockingly returned to D.C. United.

    Rooney previously left the club after his two-year stint with an eye on coaching, heading back to England to join Derby County as a player and, ultimately, a manager.

    The club's financial situation made his job impossible, with the club docked 21 points ahead of the 2021-22 Championship season, but Rooney nearly pulled off a remarkable relegation escape, with the Rams finishing just seven points from safety.

    He left at the end of the season, though, and has now come back to D.C. United, who hope that their new coaching hire will make the same sort of splash he made when he first arrived in the nation's capital as a player.

  • Phil Neville David BeckhamGetty

    Phil Neville - Inter Miami

    Rooney's former teammate for club and country is also among the bigger names coaching in MLS.

    Neville took over Inter Miami ahead of the 2021 season, having been hand-selected by another England icon in David Beckham.

    He endured an up-and-down first season, with Miami eventually penalized after the club's front office broke MLS roster rules.

    Prior to his time in MLS, Neville had been in charge of England's women's national team as well as serving as an assistant at Manchester United and Valencia.

  • Thierry Henry Montreal Impact Getty

    Thierry Henry - Montreal Impact

    Like Rooney, Henry eventually returned to MLS as a coach after starring as a player, although he did not return to his former club.

    The ex-New York Red Bulls star instead took over as the coach of the Montreal Impact, later rebranded CF Montreal, shortly after a failed stint at former club Monaco.

    He led the Impact to their first playoff appearance in four seasons but, ahead of the 2021 season, Henry stepped down, citing his desire to be closer to his children in London after spending nearly a year away from his family due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

    Henry has since returned to his post as an assistant coach to Belgium boss Roberto Martinez.

  • Tata Martino Atlanta United

    Gerardo Martino - Atlanta United

    Of all of the coaches on this list, the Argentine is probably the most successful.

    Martino previously managed Barcelona and Argentina before arriving in Atlanta as the club's first-ever coach, and boy did the Five Stripes get that hire right!

    In just the club's second season, Martino led Atlanta to an MLS Cup triumph, having used his stellar reputation to draw stars like Miguel Almiron and Josef Martinez to MLS. Martino didn't just win a trophy, though, as he built a club culture from the ground up while establishing Atlanta as a force in MLS.

    After that MLS Cup win, Martino left the club, taking over as manager of Mexico on their road to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

  • Frank de Boer Atlanta United 06292019ProShots

    Frank de Boer - Atlanta United

    After terrible stints at Inter Milan and Crystal Palace, De Boer arrived in Atlanta as Martino's replacement.

    But, with Martino's shadow looming large, De Boer was never able to truly make his mark as a coach in Atlanta.

    He struggled to live up to his predecessor and failed to implement his style of play at a club that was still governed by Martino's principles. Still, he found some success, winning the U.S. Open Cup and Campeones Cup before embarking on a respectable playoff run.

    A trio of losses at the MLS is Back tournament in 2020 proved his undoing, however, as De Boer and Atlanta parted ways after just 55 games.

    The former Ajax boss then took over the Netherlands national team for what ultimately proved to be another unsuccessful spell in charge.

  • Gabriel Heinze AtlantaGetty

    Gabriel Heinze - Atlanta United

    The third and final Atlanta United entry on this list was also the one that fared the worst.

    You could say Heinze was more De Boer than Martino, but that would even be unfair to De Boer, who at least experienced a few good moments.

    Heinze's tenure was, for lack of a better word, disastrous. The former Manchester United and Real Madrid defender lasted just 17 games before being dismissed.

    During that 17-game period, he exiled star striker Josef Martinez, an icon in Atlanta, while drawing the ire of players, and the league, for multiple training ground allegations.

    From taking away off days to restricting how much water his players were allowed to drink, Heinze certainly made no friends during his time in Atlanta.

    He has not had a job since.

  • Patrick Vieira NYCFCGetty

    Patrick Vieira - NYCFC

    By all accounts, Patrick Vieira did a fantastic job during his time in New York City.

    Previously the coach of Manchester City's development squad, Vieira arrived in New York for the club's second season, adding starpower to the bench of a team that included players like David Villa, Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo.

    And, after a disappointing debut season, NYCFC improved massively under his watch, with the culture eventually shifting away from the big-name stars and towards a more balanced team.

    NYCFC improved in the standings in each year of his tenure before he left to manage Nice in 2020.

    Vieira has since gone on to take over at Crystal Palace, finishing in a very respectable 12th place in the 2021-22 Premier League season.

    NYCFC, meanwhile, continued to build on the foundation established by Viera, with several players that arrived during his tenure starring as the club won the 2021 MLS Cup.

  • Jaap Stam AtalantaGetty

    Jaap Stam - FC Cincinnati

    Former Manchester United and AC Milan defender Jaap Stam was hired to lead FC Cincinnati out of MLS' basement.

    He didn't succeed.

    Stam's hiring was met with enthusiasm given his playing pedigree and managerial stints with Reading, PEC Zwolle and Feyenoord. But he could do little to stop the bleeding for a team that was still way behind the rest of MLS.

    Under Stam's leadership, Cincy triumphed in just eight of the 47 games he managed, making for an abysmal 17 percent win rate.

    He was dismissed in September 2021 with the club near the bottom of the Eastern Conference after just four victories from 25 games.

  • Ruud Gullit LA GalaxyGetty

    Ruud Gullit - LA Galaxy

    A true legend of the game, the Galaxy's hiring of Gullit in 2007 was massive news at the time. Never had MLS seen such a high-profile coach, with Gullit managing Chelsea, Newcastle and Feyenoord after eventually calling time on his illustrious playing career.

    However, it all proved to be one big mess.

    Gullit never adapted to MLS' idiosyncrasies and made little effort to learn the league's intricate roster rules.

    He clashed with star Landon Donovan and was accused of not properly respecting the league or its players.

    The Dutch icon resigned in August 2008 after just over a year in charge in the wake of a seven-game losing streak.

  • Brad Friedel New England RevolutionGetty

    Brad Friedel - New England Revolution

    The lone American on the list, the U.S. men's national team icon forged his reputation in Europe while establishing himself as a Premier League regular for nearly two decades.

    And so, when he was hired to manage the New England Revolution, there was reason for excitement.

    That excitement faded relatively fast, though, as Friedel managed just a 12-21-13 record and a 2-8-2 record to open the 2019 season before his firing.

    His most memorable moment came as he criticized the league and players for what he saw as a lack of urgency when it came to winning.

    “The mentality of a player in this league, a lot of players, when they lose, it doesn’t hurt enough,” Friedel said. "There’s not relegation, they don’t get fined, they don’t have fans waiting by their cars, they don’t have people beating them up. They don’t have the pressure they have in other leagues.”

    Friedel hasn't managed since his Revs departure.