Wayne Rooney’s first goal of the season came on October 20th. In the months leading up to that point, with him missing games through injury and missing penalties through poor technique, I repeatedly argued that he was our most important player. He wasn’t playing well and he wasn’t scoring goals but with Rooney, more than any other player, you could see that when he had a good game, United tended to have a good game. I didn’t feel any loyalty to Rooney, I wasn’t defending him out of some belief that he had seen the error of his ways in 2010 and was now red through and through, but I genuinely saw him as a vital part of our team. He hadn’t done much to justify that opinion at the beginning of the season, but I was basing it on the years prior, when he had repeatedly managed to drag us through games, and sometimes seasons.
Before Rooney’s transfer request in 2010, he was probably my ‘favourite player’ at the club. I knew he was an Evertonian but he appeared to really get United and it what it meant to play for our club. He kissed the badge, talked of his desire to stay at United forever and celebrated our big wins like a fan. In an age of mercenaries and agents, Rooney seemed to be cut from an old fashioned cloth, truly in love with the game and grateful to be at one of the biggest clubs in the world. But we were conned.
I can’t claim to know everything that happened behind the scenes at that time, but I do know that he had agreed to go to City and fabricated a falling out with the manager with the belief his betrayal would be forgiven by those not from the red half of Manchester. After all, Fergie had ‘forced out’ the likes of David Beckham and Ruud van Nistelrooy, so Rooney, or those advising him, believed this could be a convenient excuse for him to leave United too. He had gone off injured at the Reebok stadium with an hour played, was seen icing his ankle on the bench, and Ferguson claimed he was a doubt for England’s Euro qualifier in three weeks time. However, when Rooney was asked about the injury he claimed: “I’ve had no ankle problem all season.” When asked as to why Ferguson had said he had an injury, Rooney replied: “I don’t know.” I remember thinking this was fairly strange at the time but didn’t think too much of it, and scoffed at the idea there was something rumbling in the background.
Seven days later, Rooney announced that he wanted to leave Manchester United. He claimed that the reason behind his decision was the manager and David Gill hadn’t given him reassurances about the future of the squad and their ability to compete for titles. It was utterly bizarre. However, United fans had aided his cause, when the anti-Glazer protests reached a crescendo in the Champions League round of 16 game against AC Milan seven months earlier. With ‘Love United Hate Glazer’ banners draped from the Stretford End and Beckham walking off the field in a green and gold scarf, people were finally starting to sit up and pay attention to the awful position the Glazer family had put the club in. Maybe Rooney/his advisers saw this as a great opportunity to support their suggestion that United no longer matched Rooney’s ambition.
However, the whole affair was a PR disaster for our striker, with the press bemused by Rooney’s claims. Given the amount of trophies Ferguson had won, if there was one club that could guarantee Rooney success, it was Manchester United.
Ferguson played a blinder in his press conference, one of his many fine moments as our manager, and the pressure for Rooney to make a U-turn on his decision was too much to withstand. He ended the season scoring a penalty at Ewood Park to win us our record breaking 19th title and another goal in our Champions League final against Barcelona at Wembley.
Rooney released another autobiography last summer and reflected on the mess he had created.
“Hopefully in 10 years I’ll still be at United, that’s the aim and what I want. As long as the club want me I’ll be here. I was aware of the speculation. I’m sure if the manager thought he wanted to sell me, then I’d have been the first one he’d tell. Some things you’ve got to deal with but I want to be at this club as long as possible. Sometimes as a player you make bad choices and bad decisions and I think that’s what happened. Sometimes you see yourself somewhere else and that plays on your mind and makes you say things you shouldn’t have done. I spoke with the manager and David Gill and then I went home and I was sat there thinking ‘right, what’s the plan?’ I knew I’d made a mistake and I went back in and told them I’d made a mistake. I said if I can, I’d like to stay here if that’s what you want, hopefully we can work together and be successful in the future.”
Less than a year later, we again find ourselves with Rooney wanting to leave the club, with him apparently making his feelings known to the manager a fortnight ago. With the story leaked to the press, the club responded by insisting that the player wasn’t for sale, but did not deny the claim he had asked to go. Yesterday, Rooney released a statement on his website denying the stories in the press that he had updated his Twitter bio to remove “Manchester United player”. If he didn’t want to leave United, he probably would have rubbished that story in his statement too. But he didn’t. Both the club and player have had the opportunity to claim that Rooney was happy at the club and that the papers were talking rubbish, but neither of them have.
So what is the general feeling? “Indifference” sums it up well. We’ve just won our 20th title and Sir Alex Ferguson has announced his retirement. What sums is up best is “hearing Fergie’s retiring and Rooney wants to leave is like hearing your mum’s dead and the milks gone off.” It’s almost comical that Rooney penned that childish statement to deny the Twitter bio claim, as if it makes any difference this weekend. Even the fact there is an FA Cup final being played today has taken a backseat in light of Ferguson’s announcement, so as if anyone has time to worry about what Rooney does or doesn’t do on Twitter.
When I argued he was our most important player in September, October, November, I was waiting for him to recapture the form of seasons gone by. It was only a matter of time. Sadly, it never happened. We’ve managed to get through an entire season with Rooney unable to reassert himself as a vital part of our team. He’s had the odd good game, a few man of the match performances, but Robin van Persie has stolen the limelight and Michael Carrick has easily surpassed him in terms of importance.
His first touch has been poor, he hasn’t been finishing as well as he should, he’s struggled to make basic passes and his concentration has been off. Last season, after we beat Aston Villa 4-0 and Rooney scored two goals, the manager summed up Rooney’s performance in a way that seemed to prophesy what has followed this season.
“He was careless,” said Ferguson. “Wayne has to play on the edge of a game, when it is really close and competitive. When the game gets to that casual bit, he is worse than the rest of them. He gets really casual about it.”
Still, even having a poor season by his standards, Rooney has played a part in our success. Twelve players have scored more goals than him in the league but only one player has assisted more. 22 goals and assists means he matches PFA Player of the Year nominee Juan Mata in terms of contribution to his team, and only Van Persie, Luis Suarez, Gareth Bale and Theo Walcott have more goals/assists than him. That’s not too shabby for a player who hasn’t played well.
But with him turning 28-years-old in a few months time and not being deemed important enough to start in our biggest game of the season against Real Madrid at Old Trafford, is his greatest worth to the club now what we can get from him in a sale rather that what he can offer us on the pitch?
The manager has already hinted that Shinji Kagawa, who showed great promise despite not fully shining in his début season, is ready to take over from Rooney. Less than a month ago, in our 2-2 draw with West Ham, Rooney was hauled off with 20 minutes to play following yet another disappointing performance. “I think Shinji is doing very well for us now,” Ferguson said after the game. “He has fantastic composure on the ball and always seems to pick the more sensible pass. He was terrific for the first goal, showing the composure to take the player on in a tight area and roll the ball in to Antonio Valencia. As far as taking Wayne off, it was simple. He wasn’t playing as well as Shinji and we wanted to get that goal. There have been so many games where Wayne Rooney has been better than most players, but on the night, Shinji was playing so well.”
The Guardian claimed this week that Rooney is earning an incredible (and unconfirmed) £300k-a-week from United, which contradicts the £180k-a-week figure that was reported in the press at the time of signing his new deal in October 2010. Whichever sum is accurate, his sale would certainly free up a huge chunk of money to pay someone else. If United paid £16m for Ashley Young in the last year of his contract, paying the ridiculous ‘English tax’ which sees massively inflated price tags for players of our nationality, then it’s not unreasonable to think we should get £30m for Rooney. On the back of a poor season, we would be glad to be offered this amount for him regardless, but the fact he is keen to leave again should surely mean we’d bite the arm off anyone who was prepared to pay us that.
The issue though, as I discussed a few months ago when rumours of his departure first arose again, is where would he go. Why would the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid or Bayern Munich be interested if he’s lost his nailed on spot in our staring XI, and City won’t be interested after they got burned last time. The most likely destinations appear to be Chelsea or PSG, assuming they are just hoping FFP rules go away. Of the two, I’d obviously rather he went abroad and we could just forget all about him. They could pay him a fortune, he could do Brand Rooney some good by getting on the end of crosses from Beckham, and Coleen could live it up in Paris. Chelsea, you fear, could be a real threat next season, particularly if they bring in Jose Mourinho, so the idea of selling them one of the better strikers in the league isn’t too appealing. However, we have to remember that the club are the ones in the position of power here, in contrast to our situation in 2010. If we decide that we want to sell him and deem Chelsea an unfit destination, they would have to pay massively over the odds to get him, as they did with Torres. They certainly seem to have a habit of splashing out on strikers past their best. Or we could just point blank refuse to send him off to West London and put pressure on Paul Stretford to strike up a deal with PSG. Either way, the deal has to be done on our terms now.
It’s funny to reflect back on his first transfer request now and remark on how things have changed. The panic, the dread, the sickness of thinking we were going to lose Rooney to a rival, was almost unbearable. The relief at knowing he was going to stay was immense. Now, instead of feeling anger or betrayal, I just feel disappointment. Whilst some were prepared to write off last time as a “mistake”, it tainted him for me. I was confronted with my nativity and was forced to realise that he didn’t get it at all. So this time, I’m fairly unmoved.
“Sir Bobby is a legend and is such a presence around the club,” he said last November. “If I could break his record as Manchester United’s top goalscorer and maybe even England’s… wow! That is such a great incentive.”
In September, he gave an interview with the Evening News, claiming he wanted to spend the rest of his career at United.
“I have said many times that as long as I am wanted here at Man United then I will be a Man United player,” he said. “Obviously, I had that situation a couple of years ago but made it clear very quickly that I had made a mistake. As long as people want me to be a Man United player, then that is what I will be.”
I was angered by his contradictory comments about the club when he first decided he wanted to leave, because I truly believed everything he said, but this time around I’ve been less foolish. Every time he’s proclaimed his love for the club or kissed the badge, I’ve taken it with a pinch of salt. The bloke is a liar, a fraud, who can’t even show his pregnant wife a bit of respect, let alone us. I’ve appreciated what he’s given us since 2010, particularly the continuous stream of goals against City, but I’ve cared for him as little as he’s cared for us. Whilst I still believe he could offer us plenty on the pitch, he isn’t the player he was and there’s no way he deserves another go at this. If you have to be talked in to remaining a United player just once in your career then there is something wrong with you, but twice? It’s beyond a joke. But if we can’t attract a reasonable offer and if David Moyes feels like he’s worth talking round, then we are faced with the possibility of him still being a United player next season.
The disappointment I feel though, I suppose, is the timing of it all. We’re lifting the trophy tomorrow and saying goodbye to Sir Alex, so there shouldn’t be any thoughts wasted on Rooney’s future. You imagine he will be left out of the squad and probably won’t be on the pitch to celebrate us being crowned champions, and that just seems a bit silly to me. Whilst I think he’s a cock, he has contributed this season, but now we’re left with a bitter taste in our mouths. Still, what I wouldn’t give to be able to erase Carlos Tevez from our pictures in Moscow back in 2008, so maybe this is all a blessing in disguise.
You won’t catch me claiming Rooney is shit though, because he isn’t. He’s a quality player who probably never fulfilled his potential entirely, but he has been incredibly important to us and we owe him a great deal of thanks. But if he still thinks the cow in someone else’s field is better than his own, then it really is time to part ways. In his tenth autobiography, he will probably talk about his Manchester United regrets, but that won’t be our concern.
So thanks for everything Wazza, you’ve been quality, but it’s probably time you fucked off now.