The expected return of Wayne Rooney to Old Trafford is low down on the list of priorities for Manchester United fans when the team host Everton on Sunday.
Rooney has not been gone long enough to be missed by fans, the memories of his sustained brilliance still clouded by his decline among divided United fans. The latest tabloid allegations about Rooney have left plenty thinking that it was the right time for the club’s record goalscorer to leave for more than footballing reasons, too.
Rooney’s contribution will be remembered more favourably by history than it currently is. He was one of the best players in one of the best United sides, the team which won the Premier League, League Cup, Uefa Champions League and World Club Championship in 2008.
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Rooney was selfless, the team player who did the running for Cristiano Ronaldo. He was asked to play out of position by several managers and did what each manager demanded because he wanted to do what was right for the team.
He was hugely popular in the dressing room – and not just because he was one of the few to challenge Alex Ferguson’s authority in a humorous manner which both shocked and amused the Scot.
“Who am I playing with tomorrow, Alex,” he would asked Ferguson, who wasn’t used to being called Alex by his players, nor his players presuming that they would be automatically starting.
But Rooney was an automatic starter because he was a brilliant footballer, a boy from a working class estate who had learned his craft on the streets, backed up by a tight, loyal, family who kept every single cutting of their son’s career.
Rooney matured vastly, on and off the pitch. The first time I interviewed him was a write-off, a scheduled half hour reduced to 11 minutes by over-protective public relations advisers brought in from a London agency. Yet, unleashed from the cotton wool, Rooney was fine and communicative, but it was his drive to win football matches, his ability to score, which mattered.
Despite being English, this writer has almost no enthusiasm for the always underwhelming England national team, yet Rooney’s performances in Portugal at the European Championships in 2004 were genuine ‘Wow, this kid is absolutely brilliant’ moments.
He joined Manchester United soon after the tournament. Did he take time to settle at Britain’s biggest club? Did he need to be eased in gently because of his age and inexperience? No, he scored a hat-trick on his debut in a Champions League match.
They were the first of his 253 goals for United, a number which, by January 2017, had been enough to surpass the club record of Bobby Charlton. That alone means Rooney should be remembered as a club legend.
History is kind to footballers. Charlton never had a bad game a decade after he retired, but like Rooney, he had plenty of arguments and drops in form. He also played in a United side which was slipping towards relegation.
Rooney played in a team which finished in the top three season after season. He won five Premier League titles, three League cups, the FA Cup, the Champions League, Europa League and Club World Cup. His individual honours are too numerous to list in this article. He is also the all time leading scorer for the England national team.
As United slipped under David Moyes, Rooney was initially the stand out player in a cast of sliding stars. He was the right man to be made United captain, and while he did little to endear himself to United fans by twice being amenable to leaving to join Manchester City and Chelsea, his concerns at the state of the team were only what many fans were saying.
When he stopped being a starter for United last season, his form nosedived. Rooney has always been a player who needed three or four consecutive games to get going.
He could have stayed at United, seen out a vast contract and become unpopular with fans, many of whom were very supportive, but he took a huge pay cut to join Everton, the club he and his family support.
United fans are focused on their team beating Everton at Old Trafford. It will be no Rooney love-in. If he is substituted then he will be applauded off the pitch, as he would be at the end of the game, but don’t expect any celebrations should he score.
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