For the first time in thirteen years, Wayne Rooney won’t be starting a Premier League season as a Manchester United player. Whatever your feelings on a player affectionately dubbed the White Pele, there’s no denying his impact on a club that he joined in 2004. He won all there was to win, became top scorer and captain for both United and England and will likely now end his illustrious playing career back at his boyhood club.
Rooney provides an endless well of conversation for United fans, and even now, with his career at the club over and done with, it’s easy to be drawn into a discussion of some of the finger points of his time at Old Trafford. It was an incredibly successful stint, filled with trophies, goals, controversy, at least one woefully ill-advised transfer request before ending somewhat anticlimactically with a short, almost ceremonial substitute appearance in May’s Europa League final.
Still, wherever you land on the emotional spectrum when it comes to Rooney, there’s no denying that United’s former no.10 provided some fantastic memories during his thirteen seasons in red, and here are my top five:
A late header to break City hearts
It shouldn’t be of too much of a surprise to discover that this isn’t the only strike against Manchester City that makes this list, but in the 2009/10 season, a campaign that brought three stoppage time winners against our dear noisy neighbours, Rooney’s late header at Old Trafford in that season’s League Cup semi-final comes out on top as the most important.
09/10 was arguably Rooney’s finest individual campaign in a red shirt. Cristiano Ronaldo had left for Spain the previous summer, and he revelled in the role of United’s main man. A haul of 34 goals including countless important strikes followed; he was the team’s talisman almost all season, and this goal, whilst just a close-range header from a Ryan Giggs cross, felt gigantic. The atmosphere at Old Trafford that night was equal parts tense and electric, with Michael Carrick and Paul Scholes putting United ahead only for Carlos Tevez to flick City level on aggregate in front of the East Stand. With extra time looming, Rooney, arguably in the form of his life found a small measure of space and powered home Giggs’ cross past Shay Given. Chaos predictably ensued. Sure, it was only the League Cup, but in the context of keeping Roberto Mancini’s side trophyless for another season, it felt huge, and Rooney was right at the heart of it.
Wayne Rooney; actor extraordinaire
Did Rooney think about an eventual need to take acting classes before he signed for the club in 2004? Probably not, but it’s seemingly par for the course when you join United, isn’t it? You should be prepared to be involved in some cringe-inducing advertisements.
In recent years, a partnership between the club and 20th Century Fox has seen United promote Deadpool and Independence Day: Resurgence through elaborate trailers with Rooney front and centre. Extra special mention must go to this gem which was used to promote X-Men: Apocalypse, with Rooney’s delightfully friendly and chirpy delivery of “Hello, Charles” to Professor X a particular highlight. But his most iconic role was, of course, in an advert for Chilean wine brand Cassillero del Diablo, which birthed the beloved and simultaneously oft-derided line “They say…he is a legend.” To be fair to the guy, his delivery and ability to sell these advertisements despite their undeniable silliness improved over the years, and we should be grateful that such quality entertainment will live on long after Rooney’s career is over.
Rooney’s Twitter Game
It’s difficult to overstate this; Rooney’s Twitter account was a gift that I still feel like we mere mortals are unworthy of. Nowadays, his tweets are sleek and slick, firing off safe and succinct messages and statements in 140 characters, but it wasn’t always this way. Whether it was asking Rio Ferdinand if he wanted picking up in the morning, pal (without @ing him in) as his very first tweet, celebrating United’s 19th title win with a wonderfully antagonistic rinse of the red half of Merseyside or offering such gems as “Mate mate mate mate mate”, Rooney’s Twitter account consistently offered up unfiltered nuggets of weird, wonderful and often unintentionally funny gold.
That debut v Fenerbahce
It feels like a lifetime ago now, thinking back to Rooney’s debut for the club. In August 2004, United paid Everton £25.6m for his services, which at the time was a record for a player under 20 years of age. Injury meant that he didn’t make his debut until the end of September in the Champions League group stages against Fenerbahce, and what happened next sealed his status as one of the most exciting footballers on the planet.
Rooney hadn’t played for several months since he was forced to withdraw from England’s quarter final defeat to Portugal in Euro 2004, but appeared determined to make a grand impression on that evening. He took just 17 minutes to net his first of 253 goals, and a hat-trick on his full debut for the club duly ensued with the highlight a delightful free kick to round things off on 54 minutes in front of the Stretford End. Rooney was utterly lethal that night, seemingly on another level to those around him. Whilst time has blunted many of the assets that made him such a special player, this game was a perfect example of the purity of his football in those early days; all exuberance, desire, heart and great skill.
His greatest ever goal
What an odd situation in the context of Rooney’s career, that his finest individual moment in a red shirt came during a season in which he caused so much damage to his relationship and standing with the club’s fans. After agitating for a wildly ill-advised move to the blue half of Manchester before signing a bumper new contract, Rooney managed just 16 goals in the 2010/11 season, yet still managed to bag himself several more memorable moments in the process. A hat-trick away to West Ham United in a wonderful 2-4 comeback and scoring the penalty that sealed title number 19 away at Ewood Park will both live long in the memory, but for individual brilliance, that goal against Manchester City at Old Trafford can’t be beaten in this season, or any other, for that matter.
By the time the second derby of this season rolled around in February, City were five points behind United atop the Premier League table, and showing signs of genuine competency in regards to a title challenge. Matches between the two sides had become MUCH more significant for reasons other than bragging rights, with City now clearly capable of winning trophies for the first time in over thirty years. In terms of the game itself, Nani’s first half strike had been cancelled out by a deflected David Silva effort in what was a tight affair, until Rooney settled it in the most spectacular fashion. Nani’s cross from the right wasn’t particularly helpful, high and behind his target as it was, but on this occasion, that didn’t matter. An incredible bit of improvisation saw Rooney chuck himself into the air and blast the ball past Joe Hart into the top corner of City’s goal with a sumptuous bicycle kick, and win a tight derby in the process. A Christ-like celebration, with Rooney flinging his head back and holding his arms out wide followed, with the player mobbed after creating one of the greatest goals that Old Trafford will ever see out of absolutely nothing. In a season in which Rooney had struggled, in which he’d questioned the club’s ambition and seriously flirted with City, this one sublime goal almost made it all worthwhile. In terms of memorable moments, after thirteen years at Manchester United, this goal should stand the test of time as the pick of the bunch, and even if his best days as a footballer seem to be long gone, it’s a great reminder of what Wayne Rooney could do with a football.