Every football fan, no matter which team they support, believes they are in some way special. A combination of history, tradition, romance and personal mythology lead to the feeling that the supporter has a unique bond with the club, something others couldn’t possible understand much less emulate. In most cases, this feeling is largely a trick of the mind, a means of justifying the colossal amount of time, energy and money that goes into following a football team. In a sense it is rather depressing, rather like a man exiting a strip club and assuring his friends that they don’t understand, this was different, ‘I think she really liked me.’ At the risk of sounding like that selfsame, deluded punter, it always felt different with Manchester United.
There are very few clubs with such a storied past. The history and glamour of United were enough to convince great players to sign for United even during the 26-year itch between winning the league title in 1967 and 1993. In Busby and Ferguson, the club can boast two genuine contenders for the mantle of the greatest manager in the history of the game and, in the journey from Munich tragedy in 1958 to Wembley triumph a decade later, one of the most inspiring tales of redemption. Clearly, then, this is no ordinary football club.
The most disappointing aspect of the whole Wayne Rooney situation is the way it has slowly become apparent that he sees United as simply a club like any other. Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes have often been praised for the fact that they never handed in a transfer request but such plaudits always seem slightly disingenuous. The fact is that United have been consistently successful over the last two decades so any move away would likely have been a step down. If City had had their way and ensnared Giggs as a schoolboy then I suspect we wouldn’t be talking about him as the quintessential one-club man in 2013. In terms of football, Giggs has never had an affair because he found the perfect wife.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer never had a problem sitting on the bench. He scored far less goals for United than Rooney but will unquestionably be remembered more fondly. Much was made of Rooney’s celebration after his stunning bicycle kick against City but it matters little that he turned his back on the away fans if he moves to another English club a couple of years later. We all know the players care less than the fans but playing for United is still supposed to seem like a privilege. More often than not last season, for Rooney it seemed like a chore. If starting on the bench at home to Madrid truly was the turning point then he’d be wise to think hard about why he might have been left out. A look in the mirror might help.
It is not hindsight that compels me to state that I have never been an enormous fan of Rooney. He’s always struck me as the footballing equivalent of Pink Floyd, demanding respect more than genuine love. At times it has simply seemed as though he didn’t want it enough. That mythical ‘it’ that turns a very good player into a great one. It is hard to believe now that there was once a genuine debate over whether Rooney or Ronaldo would emerge as the better player during their formative years at United. Ronaldo pushed himself to the limit and trained obsessively, Rooney spent (and spends) the off-season with scant regard for his fitness. Considering a footballer’s career lasts a maximum of about 20 years, is it too much to ask that he refrain from drinking beer and eating kebabs during the summer months? There’ll be plenty of time for that post retirement and sacrifice is essential for any professional athlete. There is a reason Ronaldo is one of the top three players in the world and Rooney would be fortunate to be named among the top 30.
Perhaps the issue is that Rooney is a difficult man to warm to. In terms of United forwards, he’s no Hernandez or Welbeck. But then he could have become popular in a Mark Hughes kind of way, the tenacious forward who’d put his body on the line for the cause. Instead, he remains a childish and petulant figure. To suggest you want to leave Manchester United once may be regarded as a misfortune, to do it twice looks like carelessness. All this would have been forgiven if he’d made that elusive jump between good and great. A number of fans will tell you that on his day Rooney is still the best player at the club but that day is starting to feel like it comes around as infrequently as a solar eclipse. It is also rather hard to argue, using any available criteria, that Robin van Persie is not the more gifted footballer.
I suppose the most telling aspect of the whole situation is that, like many United fans, I’m simply not that bothered. How the mighty have fallen. We are entering a brave new world post Ferguson and it remains to be seen whether we can cope with such a cataclysm. The Rooney news still seems like small fry in comparison, just as it did when Fergie informed us of the striker’s desire to leave on his final home game as manager.
In all likelihood, Rooney could have gone on to overtake Sir Bobby Charlton and become the highest scoring player in United’s history. There’s still every chance he will break Charlton’s England record. For all this, United can cope without him. Better players have left the club over the years and we’ve always recovered. It is an honour to play for Manchester United. If Master Wayne has forgotten that then it’s about time he moved on. Like that devious stripper, he made us believe we were special for a while but was really only in it for the money. He can be replaced, from within or without. And let’s hope his successor provides us with true love.
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