Manchester United has been the home of spectacular players since the records started being written. From George Best to Ryan Giggs, so many spectacular footballers have lit the Theatre of Dreams for so long. There seems to be a clear divide between status at United, with only one player consistently being undefined at Manchester United. After winning everything there is to win, coming that close to being United’s top scorer ever and breaking records left and right, the doubts behind Wayne Rooney’s tenure at Manchester United are still firmly in our perception.
Rooney is as famous for wanting to leave the club twice as he is for being a part of one of the most ridiculous attacking trios of all time when United won the Champions League in 2008. However, through all the controversy at length in Rooney’s United career, there seemed to be no doubt that he would be at United or somewhere else big because he was a tremendous footballer. A player doesn’t score 260 career goals without being a tremendous footballer. But another thing that doesn’t happen when a footballer is tremendous is the prediction of his fall from grace. Perhaps the worst impact of David Moyes’ United tenure that still remains was announced on the 21st February 2014, when Rooney signed a five-year-deal reportedly worth £300,000 a week aged 28. Rooney hasn’t kicked a football the way he used to for a long time, but signing a bumper deal is tying United down. It also arguably ended Shinji Kagawa’s now fizzled-out United tenure.
I mention Kagawa because he’s a perfect figure of contrast to Rooney. While Kagawa’s 13 goals and 13 assists last season proved to make a successful season at Borussia Dortmund, Rooney has undoubtedly failed as United captain. Recording two of their worst three seasons in the Premier League era during Rooney’s reign, he’s been one of their worst players on both occasions. The first time, the blame was focused on the fact he played in midfield too much. The second it was because he should’ve played in midfield. The endless loop of moving Rooney cyclically around the pitch because he can’t find a home needs to end. Jose Mourinho knows that Louis van Gaal is probably sitting in retirement thinking that and us football fans watching him every week know that.
Rooney’s home at the top of football, regardless of the controversy, would continue as long as he was a top footballer. Perhaps it is time for everyone to accept that he isn’t a top footballer anymore, and therefore he shouldn’t be at the top of football. It was made clear that his tenure as a lone striker was over in the 18 Premier League games in which he represented United there. In those fixtures, he scored six goals; Aston Villa recorded one the worst Premier League seasons of all time and Jordan Ayew had the same games/goals ratio as Rooney from up top. In Manchester United’s 0-0 draw with Manchester City (a game they should’ve won that directly cost them top four), Rooney was the worst player on the pitch according to WhoScored, completing 57% of his meagre 30 passes, missing his only shot and being dispossessed triple the amount of any United player.
Was it a one-off for Rooney? Absolutely not. In United’s following draw against Crystal Palace, Rooney’s first touch let him down four times, he didn’t draw any fouls, and once again he was United’s worst player to play the entire match. United lost their first game of the Premier League season against Swansea, a match that was blamed on Sergio Romero for terrible goalkeeping. However, Rooney missed two clear-cut chances that any striker in the Premier League would have scored, completed only one dribble the entire match and was, once again, United’s worst outfielder, leaving many United fans wanting him dropped for the following game against Liverpool. He was injured before that match, allowing Marouane Fellaini to lead the line for United,and even Fellaini was more mobile, passed the ball better and recorded a higher match rating than Rooney in a match against a better team. Unsurprisingly, that match was one of United’s best performances of the season.
After months of this above exemplified turmoil, United finally found a temporary home for Rooney in the centre of midfield. One of his best performances was believed to be away against West Ham, where Rooney apparently played some wonderful passes across the pitch. Unfortunately, that assessment was completely incorrect. Rooney’s immobility, lack of positional sense and inability to service the strikers left Morgan Schneiderlin and Ander Herrera stretched, for which they took the blame (though they were admittedly poor) when Rooney deserved a lot of criticism as well. Though Rooney made five tackles, he was poor in every other defensive department, and moving forward his “unbelievable passing” yielded no key passes and no through balls. Rooney’s touch let him down twice, he was dispossessed as much as every other United midfielder (Schneiderlin, Herrera, and Carrick) combined, and while people were claiming that Schneiderlin, Herrera, and Carrick were misplacing passes, Rooney received no negative attention whatsoever.
For an attacking central midfielder (or any central midfielder) to create 0 chances in a game isn’t just disappointing, it is dismal. Rooney turns 31 this year and he hasn’t yet become good at any other position on the pitch, turning in a particularly disappointing performance against Iceland as England bowed out from the Euros. In a game where England had 68% of the ball, Rooney only completed one key pass and, again, no through balls. His 11 long balls slowed England down, without mentioning the ones he attempted that missed as an England side with him as the chief creator failed to score from open play. With Rooney as chief creator, England only scored four goals in as many matches, none of which were created by him. Deeper midfielder Dele Alli, 19, created two of the four goals. United wants to have the best players, but Rooney, their supposed creative outlet, creates less than a deep-lying teenager?
Rooney lauded English youth and stated his intent to still be captain the England setup after their loss against Iceland, which represents the most contradictory thing he has ever said. But Rooney was correct in half of his statement. England is evolving faster than it ever has and some phenomenal talents are surfacing. Perhaps Danny Drinkwater or Ross Barkley would’ve used Rooney’s place at the Euros more effectively, and even Jack Wilshere looked better upon introduction. There are so many young jewels in England’s setup and Rooney, once like that, isn’t one of them anymore. The same can be said of his time at United, where the aforementioned Kagawa and Angel di Maria played sideline to Rooney when he knows, and we sadly know that they could have offered much more than him. It’s a somber way to look at it as much as it is true because Rooney is bidding farewell to the top-level of football as we know it.
If I was Rooney I'd take that big offer he has from China, there's no place for him in Utd's midfield & he's finished as a striker.
— Pilib de Brún (@Malachians) June 28, 2016
Some people say you should quit while you’re ahead, and if Rooney had packed his bags and left United in 2013, both him and United would’ve been better off. Now, it is time to resurrect the issue, and with offers coming in from China it could be the perfect way for Rooney to say goodbye. By moving to China, Rooney would be building an era of football the same way he shaped an era in England. The only difference is, for Rooney, the English era is over.