There have been a few moments in Wayne Rooney’s career at United that have defined the player that he is – his immediate impact on his home European debut, scoring a hat-trick; World Cup “Wink-gate” with Cristiano Ronaldo back in 2008 and the players’ subsequent return to Manchester; overcoming United’s sale of Ronaldo and loss of Tevez and his infamous transfer request and retraction two years ago.
This summer appears to have placed another pothole in the sometimes bumpy road of his time at the club – a diversion looks increasingly difficult to avoid. So, we’ve been here before – but further questions have arisen this time round.
Back in 2004, in an article for The New Statesman, the great and grumpy football writer Hunter Davies questioned the constant talk of player “potential.” Of Rooney, he opined “After one game…Rooney was hailed [by the media] as the greatest Man U player in the history of civilisation….while the experts have been advising caution.”
He went on to comment that Ferguson himself talked incessantly about Rooney’s potential and Arsene Wenger proffered that he will be “at his best at the age of 25 or 26” – but Davies thought that there could be another path. “The chances are that the best is NOW…” – that was back in 2004, at the age of 18. Worried that we might be so obsessed with what he could do in the future, Davies made a plea for us to glory in the here and now – for fear of missing out.
Just as his waistline and his hairline have fluctuated, so has Wayne Rooney’s form.
That he managed to return from a shortened summer break last year, which included an international tournament, seemingly overweight and unfit is testament to a lifestyle where he lets his hair down when “away from the office.” Rumours of bad diet, drinking and smoking all persist.
With a new manager to impress at Old Trafford, albeit one that he has a little history with, this year has apparently been different. According to David Moyes and also club captain Nemanja Vidic, Rooney returned to pre-season training looking fitter than he has done for years.
Yet this bright start, coupled with Moyes’ insistence that the player is not going to be sold by Manchester United, has begun to cloud over in the last week, flipping the England star’s future straight from the back pages and on to the front.
Suddenly, both Rooney and Manchester United are faced with important decisions.
Manchester United will have to decide whether they think they have had the best of what he is able to offer them, or if there is more to come. Question marks persist as to whether he he has fulfilled that fabled potential at United.
Following his previous transfer request and the fallout from his being omitted from the starting lineup by Sir Alex Ferguson for arguably United’s most important match of the season against Real Madrid, there is also the question whether he could possibly repair his relationship with the club, the manager and the supporters.
David Moyes had talked of Rooney joining the legends of Manchester United by threatening the remaining scoring records that exist – Wayne already the fourth highest goalscorer at the footballing institution – if he did, that would surely would answer such questions about fulfilled potential?
But, as Hunter Davies had intimated back in 2004 – Wayne Rooney may never satisfy the levels of expectation that have been placed on him since his teens.
As an Englishman – perhaps the most talented since Paul Gascoigne – those expectations were placed particularly high, not least because of the manner in which he announced himself to the world of football. A whole nation began willing him on, hoping that his club form could also translate to and transform the national side.
Rather than the best player in the world, rather than the “white Pele”, Rooney may just be a very, very good player – one that we should be grateful to witness playing the game.
Now, for the sake of England, it appears that the press and the public are willing him to move.
The player himself is currently a very uncomfortable fit at United. Isolated at home due to injury, whilst the rest of the squad get to know the new management team on tour, he will have a lot of time to reflect and may decide to forsake an even greater place in the Red Devil’s record books for a fresh start in another colour.
That colour looks increasingly likely to be blue, due to Jose Mourinho’s admittance that Wayne Rooney is his only target this summer – and his later teasings about “second-string” players and next season’s World Cup.
(At the time of writing, bookmakers Paddy Power have the odds at 1/3 for Chelsea to be Wayne Rooney’s next permanent club. )
Whether Mourinho’s comments are a mind-game “masterstroke” as some believe, unsettling the player and making it clear that he would be the number one striking option at Chelsea, rather than behind Robin van Persie – or whether it could actually be playing in to Manchester United’s hands, giving them a bargaining tool to drive up his cost remains to be seen.
Manchester United fans are split on the subject. Recognising that losing a true world talent to one of your domestic rivals appears bad business – but can they forgive Rooney again?
We could have a swift conclusion to all this, if Wayne Rooney and Manchester United were to issue a statement confirming the position either way – thus saving our sanity by removing a tedious summer transfer saga from the gossip columns. Please can we have a swift conclusion?!?
Unfortunately, however, following his “anger and confusion” at some rather ambiguous quotes from his manager, that scenario seems unlikely – and this season’s biggest transfer story looks set to continue for a while yet.
Where do you believe Wayne Rooney will be playing next season? Should he stay, or should he go? Has he fulfilled his potential?