Wayne Rooney divides Manchester United fans like few other players in recent memory. Everyone thought Paul Scholes was brilliant; everyone agreed that Liam Miller was not the new Roy Keane. Ask ten Manchester United fans about Wayne Rooney and the likelihood is that you will receive ten different answers.
Firstly, it must be said that Rooney is not playing well so far this year. He’s not scoring or assisting, and his touch looks worse than ever. He’s basically a passenger in most games. This season under Van Gaal was supposed to herald the return of the Liverpudlian as the number 9. It was supposed to be the year that he turned back the clock and bagged 30 goals. He’s selflessly been shunted out wide and deeper throughout the years, but this year we were expecting him to return to his favoured, and it is thought, natural position. In the very first game at home to Tottenham Hotspur he looked severely off the pace. This is understandable as many players are getting to grips with the new season, but this has carried on up until now. However, the vitriol and abuse regarding Rooney’s performances seem a little unbalanced. New, or favoured, players, such as Depay, Schneiderlin or Mata can hide behind the “system”. They are not performing at a level expected because Van Gaal is holding them back. Yet with Rooney it’s always because he is past it, or lacking interest. Should we not judge all players by the same barometer? If it is the system for one, it should be system for all. If the individual is at fault then all players should be tarred with the same brush.
The elephant in the room is the fact that he is a born-and-bred Scouser. We don’t need to go into the details of the well-documented Manchester-Liverpool rivalry, but it appears that he’s never been able to shake that off. And nor should he. He’s never hidden his Liverpool roots, but despite that, he was desperate to play for Manchester United because he had the desire and ambition to win trophies that he didn’t think was possible at Goodison Park.
Rooney was twice on the cusp of leaving over contract wrangles and his desire to see the club strengthen the playing staff. So what? Do you want more money at your job? Yes. Do you want the team you support to buy better players? Yes. Personally, I don’t see anything wrong with that. Back in 1998 Roy Keane was holding out for £52,000 a week, peanuts by today’s standards, and signed before the Bayern Munich game at Old Trafford. He was applauded onto the pitch like a hero. He wanted more money and he wanted reassurances that the team was heading in the right direction by bringing in the right players. The same as Rooney. Alex Ferguson claimed that Rooney handed in a transfer request, which Rooney vehemently denies. Given that Ferguson’s latest offering has more holes a Swiss cheese I would be inclined to believe the player in this case. Rumour had it that he was engineering a move to Manchester City. He left his boyhood club to join Manchester United, so why would he have a problem moving from one side of Manchester to the other?
The recent BBC documentary The Man Behind the Goals, created to celebrate Rooney’s breaking of the England goalscoring record, was interesting yet fairly bland and non-offensive. It didn’t really shed much light on any topic that we ddidn’t already know about. It did make me feel sorry for some of the abuse he gets, as sorry as you can feel for someone on £300,000 a week. People slate him for his looks, and bring up his past extra-marital transgressions and whilst that is not condoned, he’s just a young lad who has made mistakes. He wasn’t the first and he certainly won’t be the last. What shone through with the documentary is that he is just a normal lad with a young family. I think a lot of the animosity boils down to jealousy. How can this so-called ugly, thick lad from a Liverpool council estate be making £300,000 a week? Good luck to him I say.
Rooney’s biggest crime is not being as good as he was as a teenager. But who is? I used to play six times a week and now can barely walk for two days after 90 minutes of football. It was inevitable that his explosive style would change. Everyone remembers that goal against Arsenal. Everyone remembers the explosive bursts from midfield into the opposition penalty box, even more so the explosive temper. His performance at Euro 2004 must also rank as one the best debut tournament performances in the history of international football. He was truly unplayable. His debut for Manchester United was equally stunning, a hat-trick at the age of 18 in the world’s premier club competition. In that Champions League tie he scored two great goals from open play and a brilliant free-kick against Turkish side Fenerbahce. Many feel, despite all this, that Rooney is a wasted talent. He never went on to scale the heights of Messi, or Ronaldo, but he will still finish his career as the all time leading goalscorer for England and probably for Manchester United. He needs just five to surpass Denis Law (who also played for Manchester City!) and seventeen to beat Bobby Charlton’s record, just as he did for the national side. He’s won Premier League titles, the European Cup and prestigious individual honours.
Rooney isn’t playing well and perhaps he is on a downward trajectory. He hasn’t been an angel on or off the pitch, and he is from Liverpool. And he came close to leaving the club on a couple of occasions. Despite all this I’ve got a feeling we’re going to miss him once he’s gone. If not for his football talent but also his ability to divide opinion. Tomorrow he returns to Goodison Park where he’ll be hoping to kick start his season and prove that there is still fight left in the old dog.