“Christian is a top player who has played at the highest level for a long time,” said Rooney, who faced Benteke several times during his playing career with 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 playing. He will make a huge difference.”
Benteke, 31, will become the highest-paid player in club history, two people familiar with the terms said. His salary will top Rooney’s $3.5 million deal in 2019, his second and final season as a United player.
Benteke is signed through the 2024 season, and the club has an option for 2025.
He will fill United’s third and final slot for senior selected players, joining Greek attacker Taxi Fountas and Icelandic defensive midfielder Victor Palsson.
United also paid an undisclosed transfer fee, estimated to be multi-millions, to Crystal Palace, Benteke’s club for 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 visit Washington as early as next week to meet his new teammates, find housing and acclimatize to the weather. .
“His strength and power will make him a focal point of our team and his ability to tie up a game will be a valuable asset for us,” United General Manager Lucy Rushton said in a statement. “We are excited to have Christian integrate with the team so he can make an immediate impact.”
Dave Kasper, United’s president of football operations, said in an interview that the club began negotiations with Benteke’s representatives seven to 10 days ago. At first, he said, the outlook seemed bleak because of high financial demands.
But Kasper said he worked closely with Benteke’s agent, Kismet Eris, and the respective owners negotiated the transfer fee and other considerations.
In addition, Kasper said, Rooney spoke to Benteke – an interaction which, although they did not know each other very well, helped move the process forward. “That played a big part in bringing him to the club,” Kasper said.
In hiring Rooney last month, United counted on the former England superstar to use his status in the sport to help attract players to Washington.
Among Rooney’s top priorities was signing a big forward. United didn’t get anywhere with Luton Town’s 6-foot-4 Elijah Adebayo but swapped with the Columbus Crew for 6-3 Miguel Berry and landed 6-2 Benteke.
Benteke was once one of the most valuable strikers in Europe. Liverpool paid Aston Villa $51 million for the Belgian in 2015, and a year later, Palace acquired him from the Reds for $34 million.
His best season with Palace was his first, 2016-17, when he recorded 15 league goals. He won 10 in 2020-21 but just four in 11 starts (25 appearances) last season. All those goals came last autumn, and while Odsonne Édouard secured the starting job at striker, Benteke has gone scoreless in his last 13 appearances, mostly as a substitute.
In his 280-game Premier League career, he had 86 goals and 23 assists.
With the Belgian national team, Benteke posted 18 goals in 45 matches, last appearing for FIFA’s second-ranked team in March. He played in two European Championships.
Benteke is United’s latest signing of the summer window, joining Berry, a 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 not made their debuts yet.
While Ochoa and Palsson promise to help the defensive cause, United have not addressed back-end issues. The club (6-13-3) conceded a league-worst 47 goals, and while Wednesday’s 3-0 defeat at Charlotte FCcenter back Brendan Hines-Ike (20 starts) suffered a foot injury that is expected to sideline him for the rest of the season.
United lack depth in every back position. 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 sub role under Rooney; Chris Odoi-Atsem started.
Donovan Pines, who has struggled this season, and Tony Alfaro are the top options to replace Hines-Ike and partner with captain Steven Birnbaum in central defense.
Teams are allowed to sign domestic and international free agents until the roster freeze on September 2nd.
Benteke joins a crowded group of forwards. Berry and Ola Kamara have alternated as the starter at striker while Michael Estrada and Nigel Robertha haven’t even been in uniform recently.
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.