A wink to make everyone think; how are these two going to play together again?
Regarding the winker Ronaldo, he was disposable. Three years at Old Trafford had shown glimpses of his raw talent but frustration about the youngster’s inconsistency reigned supreme. For Rooney, the ‘victim’ of this wink by an opportunistic Portgueuse prodigy, the sky was the limit. He was the star; Ronaldo the pretender.
That was the summer of 2006. Wayne Rooney had just been sent off at the World Cup for stamping on Portugal’s Ricardo Carvalho. Cristiano Ronaldo, his Manchester United teammate, was quite happy to see the Liverpudlian sacrificed on a global scale to benefit his own country and was caught on camera seemingly winking toward his bench.
England, as a nation, was livid. It was serious business at the time and it makes for fantastic comedy in retrospect.
Nevertheless, Sir Alex Ferguson had a diplomacy task like little else in his tenure to repair this now seemingly broken relationship between two exceptional hotshots so full of talent and promise but who had yet to prove that together at their club.
On the opening day of the following season, United thrashed Fulham at home. The pair scored a brace apiece and would end the season having each won their first Premier League title. What followed was a couple of years of domestic dominance decorated with European glory. What broken relationship?
Fast forward 12 years…
Wayne Rooney has struck a shell-shocked figure since his relatively low-key transfer to D.C. United. It is now two summers in succession that two different clubs have wished him well for the future.
In an interview with ESPN, Rooney was at a loss to explain why Everton were so willing to let him leave after just one season back at Goodison. He was, after all, the club’s top scorer.
Yet the statistics have commonly been at odds with the perception of Rooney. He is the greatest goalscorer in the history of both Manchester United and England. He has captained both, at times with distinction. He has won the lot at club level. He has scored some of the most outrageously brilliant goals of the 21st century. He is also one of the most maligned players in this period.
If you stick around after the comedy routine stops amusing the masses, what is left? Rooney is only 32. He is eight months Cristiano Ronaldo’s junior and yet CR7 has just completed a multi-million-pound move to Juventus.
WR9 just doesn’t have that ring to it.
Ronaldo, of course, is a sporting freak whose case is another article in itself. But, think back. There was a time when Rooney was the slightly better prospect.
Belief like few others
In his first six years at Manchester United, Wayne Rooney blazed a trail that made it very difficult for any other English player to equate. He burst through defences in a body mature beyond its years as seasoned pros bounced off his thundering frame.
But there are lots of footballers shaped like that who do not come close to scaling the summit of the beautiful game.
Rooney was different. He had wonderful technique and close control, especially while running at full pace. His power and fearlessness on the ball so fabulously complemented his long-range shooting accuracy. He was a man for the big occasion and that is a priceless attribute in the eyes of any manager.
He was also ridiculously self-confident. The football journalist and Manchester United specialist Andy Mitten claimed that Ferguson struggled to deal with his unwavering self-assurance. Rooney would often approach the boss the day before a match enquiring about who would be partnering him up top.
Ronaldo, who arrived in Manchester a year prior, took time. Where Rooney was scoring iconic goals against Newcastle United, Middlesbrough and a debut hat-trick against Fenerbache, Ronaldo’s first three years at Old Trafford were an education after his eyebrow-raising bow against Bolton Wanderers.
Removed from the potential media spotlight that may have consumed the teen in Lisbon, Ronaldo grew into a man in Manchester and came out the other side as one of the greatest. Bar those opening 36 months in England, it has all gone quite swimmingly for Portugal’s skipper.
Cristiano Ronaldo's physical state has been compared to a 20 year old after his Juve medical.
Body fat: 7% (10-11% is avg w/pros)
Muscular mass: 50% (46% is avg w/pros)
Ran 33.98km in World Cup, fastest in the entire tournament
— Matteo Bonetti (@TheCalcioGuy) July 23, 2018
The boy wonder turned adult wanderer
Rooney’s iconic status in the game is caught on an awkward thread; too parochial to be universally admired outside of the teams he has represented – nevermind possessing the ability to transcend the sport like other historical figures – and too controversial to be perceived as an unequivocal legend from within.
He has been a selfless player often tarnished with a selfish trait that is perceived in the typical modern-day player. But Rooney was a beacon of light for United in the club’s relatively barren mid-noughties era and his importance to England reached preposterous levels when his fitness ahead of the aforementioned World Cup dominated the news bulletins for weeks.
When Ronaldo began to run away with the headlines in his final two seasons at United, Rooney worked diligently as an incredibly gifted team player, often moved to the flanks to accommodate Carlos Tevez and Dimitar Berbatov while providing a perfect foil for all three to flourish at various intervals.
In the club’s first year without Ronaldo, 2009/10, Rooney had scored 34 goals by early March until an ankle injury against Bayern in the Champions League derailed his season and subsequently his career as he was rushed back rapidly.
Rooney picked up Ronaldo’s dropped torch to once again become the club’s talisman, scoring over half a century of league goals between 2009 and 2012 before Robin van Persie’s arrival saw an end to the over-reliance bestowed upon him.
When he submitted a transfer request in autumn 2010 citing a lack of ambition at Old Trafford, he panicked the club. Days later, an improved contract nullified those fears but the biggest price paid and sacrifice made was a now conscious mistrust towards the player by both supporters and, crucially, manager.
When he repeated the trick three years later and asked to leave again, his star power had waned to such an extent that Ferguson was more than willing to part ways. Only a power play by a newly-appointed David Moyes meant that Rooney stayed around long enough to solidify his place in Manchester United folklore.
Ultimately, patience wore thin with Rooney. He had a knack for being a purple patch player but also a propensity to be truly horrid when bad. The latter deficiency was tolerated less as his commitment to the cause was questioned and his dynamism diminished.
He was, without any ambiguity, a victim of both his record-breaking and early success.
‘Remember this name…’
Rooney’s final four years at Old Trafford served as seldom-seen examples of his sometimes-genius but the period was peppered with infuriating reminders of his increasingly sluggish play, partnered with a suspicion that he was no longer as fit and focused off the field.
While Ronaldo broke records in Madrid Rooney broke the mould in being the greatest striker to ever represent his club and country on paper while simultaneously leaving doubts about whether he truly fulfilled his potential.
At some point, form does become permanent and class a rearview memory. His peak was reached and breached some time ago while his old Portuguese pal continues to flourish. Yet, still, Wayne Rooney has been the brightest national star of his generation.
One of English football’s most monumentally successful and lucrative careers is coming to a crescendo, while a whole new life in management (something he wants) and punditry (he is more articulate than given credit for) awaits with open arms. The wonderboy from Croxteth broke ground that people never realised existed, ensuring we would never forget the name.