I used to love Wayne Rooney. I knew he joined the club as an Everton fan but he seemed to really get what playing for United was all about.
Rooney would repeatedly talk about how he wanted to spend his entire career here, how he wanted to be viewed by the fans in the same way Giggs was, and how much he hated Liverpool.
He would kiss the badge, he scored almost every time he played against City, and appeared to fully embrace life as a Manchester United player.
However, things took a turn for the worst in 2010 when, with less than a year of his contract remaining, he released a statement to confirm he would not be signing an extension with United.
The reason he gave was, after a meeting with David Gill, his belief that United would not match his ambition. It was insane. United won trophies more regularly than any other club in the country. And had Gill really sat down with Rooney and revealed our transfer plans?
The insanity of his statement was confirmed at the end of the season when United won the record breaking 19th league title and he scored a goal in the European Cup final.
I had been naive and it was probably silly to think that players in this day and age could stay loyal to a club. But it was Rooney’s behaviour and comments in the press that lead us to believe that. Why say all that stuff? Why pretend that you’re a red? There’s no shame in just giving your best for the club, which he always has done, whilst being open to the fact you could one day leave.
Cristiano Ronaldo was a fantastic player for United, had a great bond with the fans, but made no secret of the fact we were essentially a stepping stone. He was always going to leave us for Real Madrid one day. You can’t begrudge players moving on, no matter how disappointed you might be to see them go.
Rooney had never been indifferent about his future though and regularly pledged it to the club. It was totally unnecessary to do that though and that’s why his decision to leave was all the more frustrating and upsetting for the supporters.
Whilst some fans are in denial about the fact he was ready to leave us for City, it is well known that the club thought it was a done deal. Paul Stretford had been in talks with our neighbours which lead Rooney to release his statement in October, possibly to put pressure on the club to sell him in January to ensure we could get as much for him as possible. It’s naive in the extreme to believe Rooney’s later denials of this agreement with City. Who announces in October they are certainly leaving without the promise of a better deal elsewhere.
Still, the press’ reaction to Rooney’s claims about United’s ambition, ridiculing him for his reasons, a blinding press conference from Sir Alex Ferguson, a home visit from some unhappy fans, and the promise of being the best paid player in the country, persuaded Rooney to stay put.
Everyone is entitled to a mistake though, so whilst many fans refused to forgive this betrayal, the majority of match-going reds welcomed him back. He talked about how it was the biggest mistake of his life (bear in mind he was paid a grandmother for sex when he was a teenager and another prostitute when his wife was pregnant with his child) and again committed himself to the club. He’d had a wobble but now it was certain he would be at United forever.
If that was the end of the story, then you could probably understand Louis van Gaal’s decision to name him as captain.
Sadly, last summer was a new chapter in Rooney’s betrayal, with him angling for a move to Chelsea.
He learnt the mistakes from three years earlier though and this time refused to confirm or deny any stories. However, “sources close to the player” leaked information to the press all summer about his unhappiness at United and his desire to join the London club.
Ferguson had confirmed the player had told him he wanted to leave. This is a claim Rooney has never denied.
The only thing Rooney did release a statement about was to refute articles claiming he had changed his Twitter bio from “Manchester United player” to “Nike athlete”. It turned out he’d never mentioned the club in his bio and that all players signed up to Nike changed their bio to reflect this.
It was clear Rooney was keen to go, even though Ferguson was no longer manager and his old pal David Moyes was. His relationship with the former manager had broken down, but any troubles with Moyes were water under the bridge.
Chelsea put in a couple of derisory bids and Jose Mourinho repeatedly spoke of his desire to sign him. Rooney remained silent… until confirming he had signed a new deal.
By this stage, United fans were so desperate for good players and to do well that any resentment towards Rooney wasn’t considered appropriate. Ferguson was gone and in his place was a man who’d won nothing in his career. The fans weren’t about to put pressure on a player to leave, when doing that would certainly ensure Chelsea would be champions at the end of the season.
During the first game of the season, with the transfer window still open, the travelling supporters at Swansea sung his name and clapped him off the pitch. He couldn’t use the fans turning against him as an excuse to go.
So, Rooney settled to see out his playing days at United. In doing so, he will almost certainly replace Sir Bobby Charlton’s record for the club’s top scorer. Imagine having to be persuaded not to join Chelsea when that record was waiting for you. But essentially, Rooney had no choice. He either signed a new contract or the club would let him leave on a free transfer just before he turned 30 when his current deal expired. With his waning fitness, there’s no guarantee that Chelsea or another club he was keen on joining would pay him a top salary then.
His contract isn’t the massive £250k-a-week that was initially reported, but something closer to the £180k-a-week he was already on with the potential to make more money from sponsors. But that’s still more than any club in England would have been prepared to pay him.
Whilst I recognise and appreciate all the good qualities Rooney has, like his desire to win, his ability to be one of the most effective players every season, and his love of football, I can’t be happy about him captaining our club.
If Rooney had his way, he wouldn’t be captain of United and on the way to breaking Charlton’s record, he’d be at City or Chelsea. And every time he played against us our fans would give him so much shit and he would respond by kissing their badge, just like he did to his boyhood club.
As it is, Rooney has made his peace with having little option but staying at United, and the captaincy can sweeten the deal.
But then maybe that’s just the way football works though. Whilst Nemanja Vidic didn’t behave like Rooney and his agent always denied transfer rumours, it was almost certain he was leaving us for Italy a few years ago. Then out of nowhere he signed a new contract and leapfrogged Patrice Evra, Rio Ferdinand and Ryan Giggs, who’d always worn the armband ahead of him in Gary Neville’s absence, to be named captain.
Maybe it’s silly of me to want someone who is properly committed to the club and doesn’t talk shit to be our captain. We can listen to Rooney talk of his pride and happiness at being captain of “this great club” and pretend he didn’t ask to leave twice within the space of three years to join our rivals. We can watch him kiss the badge after scoring and kid ourselves that this is a player who really loves Manchester United.
Van Gaal can only judge who is the best man for the job based on what he’s seen this summer. Rooney is a good candidate for captain, as vouched for by Ferdinand and Paul Scholes, because of the way he plays. He is a leader, a winner and he’s vocal on the pitch.
But the only reason he’s even at the club to be considered for captaincy is because he hasn’t got his own way. The club wouldn’t sell him when he wanted to be sold.
I can’t pretend to be happy that Rooney’s got away with his betrayal but then I suppose it’s only a piece of material wrapped around his arm, so it’s probably not worth getting too worked up about.
Congratulations to our new captain, Wayne Rooney.
The RoM 2019-20 Season Preview is available for just £6. It includes an EXCLUSIVE interview with Rafael Da Silva, a Q&A with the country's top journalists, articles by brilliant United writers, and so much more. All profit goes to Trafford Macmillan so please support this fantastic cause.