Wayne Rooney, the mere mention of that name causes diverse opinions among fans, his relationship with Manchester United is difficult to untangle. Here is a player who is England’s best in a generation, has provided several moments to define the Premier League era and has won 105 international caps and scored 48 goals, making him England’s joint eight most-capped player and joint second highest scorer in history. Wazza as he is fondly called is the third highest premier league top scorer of all time. He has achieved all these before his 30th birthday. So why does it all feel so dissatisfying?
Most critics would tell you, well because he never quite turned out to be ‘The White Pele’, as he was once hailed. The four goals he scored as a teenager at the 2004 European Championship are still looked back upon as a high point of his career. His debut for United, in which he scored a hat-trick against Fenerbahce in the Champions League, is still arguably the best he’s ever played at Old Trafford.
Make no mistake, Rooney’s achievements are remarkable, revealing a consistency from an unerringly early age that has continued unabated over the course of a decade. Since joining United in 2005, Rooney hadn’t scored less than 15 goals except last season, playing in a variety of positions from striker, winger and even central midfielder (a brief experiment from Alex Ferguson).
Some think Rooney is overrated, others underrated. So which is it? Rooney makes a compelling study, both as a player and a person. Although not as electrifying as in his earlier days, the more mature Rooney is still a good player – as capable of the sublime as any other player on the planet. While the former Man Utd manager would never admit it, Rooney is the only player to have ever taken on Sir Alex Ferguson and won. Of course, Sir Alex had his revenge later by signing Van persie and relegating Rooney to the midfield / bench for some big games.
Questions over the forward’s attitude, his problems with Ferguson and multiple transfer requests while receiving a captain’s armband and a five year, £300,000-a-week contract has (sometimes rightly) distracted fans from the continually consistent work Wayne Rooney puts on the field, and the results he brings.
Admittedly, he has not grown into the dominant force he threatened to be in 2006 as he was even regarded as a better talent than Cristiano Ronaldo. His off the field antics and declined aggression on the field has dampened enthusiasm around the striker. After the 2006 World Cup, during which Rooney and Ronaldo came to blows in an ill-tempered quarterfinal clash, it looked like Ferguson would have to choose between the two players. It never came to that but the Portuguese would have been the one shuffled out the back door if it had.
On paper, Wayne Rooney may finish his career as the greatest goalscorer to ever pull on an England shirt, and the most statistically impressive Manchester United player ever but football isn’t played on paper. He may never be placed on an all-time-XI by fans of either club or country. It’s an odd conflict that may fade with time as paper becomes the only record of Rooney’s career achievements, when the uncertain mood constantly encircling the 29-year-old finally fades.
Should Rooney make it to the top of United’s all-time goalscoring chart he will have done so by virtue of his longevity.” Rooney is an exceptional player, one who will likely go down as Man Utd’s greatest ever goalscorer, but he’s not the player we were led to expect. He’s just the guy who has stuck around longest. Others have left while Rooney has stayed. That about explains it.
Nevertheless, being the first player to score 50 goals for England shouldn’t be considered an afterthought either. Neither would the increasing likelihood of reaching 300 goals for Manchester United.
Then, we may finally appreciate Wayne Rooney for who he is. As Barney Ronay wrote in the Guardian, Rooney, like the England team, is “pilloried for not being great rather than celebrated for just being good”. We should appreciate what he has done not what he should have done.
Tope Ajibade @iamferguson