There was something particularly fitting about the way Wayne Rooney broke Sir Bobby Charlton’s goalscoring record on Saturday to write his name in the history books. With the odds stacked against his side, Rooney produced a superb finish, the kind of late goal that epitomised Manchester United during the Sir Alex Ferguson era.
However, while under Jose Mourinho United are hoping to rediscover the spark that characterised them for the best part of Fergie’s tenure, for Rooney, who made his name under the Scot, a return to the glory days of old appears unlikely.
United’s all time top scorer is entering the home stretch of his career, his powers have been on the vane for a while and he has lost his starting spot for both club and country. Rooney’s decline over the last couple of seasons has offered his detractors plenty of ammunition to fire at the former Evertonian, exacerbating a tendency that has seen Rooney fail to win the unconditioned adulation some of his peers, even those less successful than him, commanded and continue to command.
Few modern footballers divide opinions as much as Rooney. Some United fans have never forgiven him for allegedly fluttering his eyelashes towards the blue half of Manchester and flirting with Chelsea, while some just resent him for hailing from Liverpool.
Others, admittedly, have defended him staunchly throughout and others still have moved on and simply consider him just another player.
Whatever one’s opinion on Rooney, however, his achievements for the club can not and should not be belittled nor tarnished. The man who arrived at Old Trafford for £27m as the most expensive teenager of all times has gone on to score 250 goals for the club in 546 appearances, winning five league titles, one Champions League, one FA Cup and two domestic cups in the process.
Yet, while those numbers would guarantee him legendary status at every club in the world, they are still not enough to convince some of those who felt betrayed when Rooney allegedly demanded to leave the club in 2010 and in 2013.
For others, the resentment towards Rooney stems from the fact that his performances on the pitch have suffered a drastic decline, while he continued to collect a weekly salary to the tune of £300,000.
That, however, simply highlights what incredibly high standards Rooney set since joining the club as England’s most promising footballer in the summer of 2004. With the exception of the 2014-15 campaign, Rooney has scored 15 or more goals per season throughout his United career, an remarkably consistent record.
His return is even more impressive considering Rooney’s career at Old Trafford has encompassed his side’s peaks – of which there have been aplenty – and troughs.
From the mid-2005 side unable to cope with Chelsea’s emergence, to the all-conquering team that won three titles in a row, to Fergie’s final seasons and the shambles thereafter, Rooney has experienced highs and lows at Old Trafford.
Throughout it, he’s gone from being United’s young hope and irascible genius, to play Cristiano Ronaldo’s foil, becoming his side’s main offensive option and captain and, finally, occupying the role of part-time player.
There has been unhappiness, more or less concealed, at being shunted out of position but, mostly, Rooney has carried on with his job.
At 31, he’s not the player he was once was, the blistering pace and bulldozing style of play that characterised him in his youth are long gone, while his first touch continues to desert him with impeccable regularity.
He might, as some of his detractors claim, be finished at the very top level. But rather than on highlighting his demise, the focus should be on celebrating his achievements. Instead than wondering what could have been, we should treasure what has been.
Perhaps Rooney will never be fully appreciated until he retires, which would be a real shame as we might never see the likes of him again.