There’s something I’ve been thinking about for a long time which has always had me in two minds. How is it a man who has devoted his career to Manchester United, equalled (soon to beat) the all-time goal-scoring record and won every trophy possible is still not regarded as one of the best ever players to pull on a United shirt?
Statistically speaking, Rooney has played 541 games, scored 249 goals, won 5 Premier League titles, 1 Champions League, 1 FIFA Club World Cup, 1 FA Cup, 2 League Cups and 4 FA Community Shields. By anyone’s standards, that is impressive. Which begs the question, why do we even question his place on a United all-time 11?
To begin, Rooney started when he was 16 at Everton. This kid was that talented, they couldn’t keep him out of the first team for much longer. He was making waves in the reserves, so much so that United, Chelsea, Barcelona and Madrid were keeping very keen eyes on him. Even Liverpool asked the question to see if he wanted to cross the divide, Everton politely told them where to go and rightly so. Rooney’s first match was the opening of the 02/03 season against Tottenham and his first goal in October 2002 couldn’t have gone any better with an outrageous last minute winner against arguably the best Arsenal team Wenger has ever put together boasting the likes of Seaman, Henry, Pires, Vieira to name but a few.
So the cat was out of the bag and the questions started to be asked. Who was this kid? Where did he come from? Why is a 16 year old unknown kid beating one of England’s best goalkeepers from outside the area with a shot that looked more like that of a seasoned professional?
Fast forward 2 years and Rooney being an 18 year old is England’s rabbit in the hat in Euro 2004. And what a rabbit he was. He was absolutely immense in that tournament and although I take very little interest in how the England national team performs, it was fantastic to see this raw talent absolutely rip teams apart, score 4 goals and actually give England something they haven’t seen since the days of Paul Gascoigne. It was a real shame he got injured as the momentum was with England going into the knock out stages and boasted some real talent in the team.
Fergie couldn’t wait any longer, he clearly identified Rooney as his next signing and told the board to get him at any cost. One of the questions was if Rooney wanted to leave his boyhood club so soon after starting his career and showing his undivided love for the cause, Once a Blue, Always a Blue – Is that so, Wayne? Turned out the kid actually had his head screwed on right and chose United for the betterment of his career. Footballers know that if Manchester United and especially Sir Alex Ferguson come knocking, you have a big chance of winning some of the Europe’s biggest trophies as well as playing with some of the best footballers in the world. Bill Kenwright and David Moyes tried desperately to keep him and understandably so. But the pressure got too great, with the player making it perfectly clear where his priorities lie and came to the point of a defeated Kenwright crying to his wife down the phone exclaiming ‘They’re taking our boy, they’re taking our boy!’. This one hurt Everton and did do for years after. They hadn’t had a talent of his calibre for many years and after his magic Euro 2004 performance, it was an inevitable scenario that one of the big boys would cough up a lot of money to take him away. The boy was special, everyone knew it. Importantly for us, Fergie knew it.
£30 million pound later, becoming the world’s most expensive teenager in the process and a long drawn out transfer saga, Wayne Rooney was a Manchester United player. I, like many fans, were desperate to see him play and hopefully live up to the hype and maybe score a goal. His debut came against Fenerbahce and he didn’t disappoint. This was a boy destined to play for United. He scored an incredible hat trick as well as showing his trademark aggressive, passionate, heart on sleeve personality. He lit up Old Trafford that special night and still remember my old man saying ‘I really didn’t think he was THAT good, bloody hell, was I wrong’. Everyone sat up and had to take notice and we instantly took Rooney to our hearts as one of our own.
So, why is it that nearly 15 years later, with Rooney devoting his career to us, becoming captain in the process and boasting some incredible statistics do we still harbour some bad feelings towards the guy?
Rooney has always had an agent called Paul Stretford who poached the precocious talent from under the nose of Peter McIntosh which in the end went to court and McIntosh lost. Stretford has always been about money and it’s shown in the history of Rooney and dare I say, given that history, he’s done a very good job of squeezing every penny out of his client while he made sure he made a good percentage himself.
Now, as like many United fans, it infuriates me when a player holds the club to ransom for more money or a bigger contract. We had the Roy Keane saga, Rio Ferdinand (to the point he was being booed) and Wayne Rooney on a number of occasions to name a few off the top of my head. While Keane and Rio had the thought this was their last big contract, something they’ve got to think long and hard for, Rooney was different. Rooney, while being stoked on by Stretford seemed to want a new contract every 2 years. Don’t get me wrong, everyone wants a pay rise every now and then and it’s a good way for the club to show their loyalty to someone important but while most us earn minimum wage or above, £100,000 per week is so far above our league that we feel resentment and anger towards someone demanding more and quite literally holding the club to ransom on a number of occasions.
The occasion that sticks most in my mind however which changed everything was the summer of 2010. Ronaldo and Tevez had departed in the summer of 2009 much to our sadness and anger, were replaced by Antonio Valencia and Michael Owen. Not exactly like for like replacements. Naturally, the quality of football had dropped and Chelsea went on to win the league. In the process however, Rooney became our talisman. He went on to have his best season at United, embarking on a run of 18 goals in 13 games and scoring 34 goals in 46 games. At the end of his most productive year and when fans worshipped him, he came out with a transfer request, even giving us his reasons for wanting to leave. He stated it was because he thought United weren’t able to attract big name players and the United board weren’t spending enough to keep us on top. I can tell you right now, this is bullshit.
This is Manchester United he is talking about. This is a club who is the envy of nearly every other club in the world and the place players’ dream of joining. The little-known secret at the time was that Rooney and Stretford were not only in talks with Manchester City, they’d actually agreed a deal to move and his transfer request even showed his willingness to move as when you request a transfer, you waive any right to a fee from your current club as they are unwilling to sell at that time. This was a big move from Rooney and Stretford as money talks more for them than it does a lot of other player/agent duos.
We know that Manchester City were on the ascendancy and were going to be a big player in the next couple of years, but they were that confident and arrogant that they could not only overtake United, they would rip the heart and soul out of the club by taking our talisman and captain, which was made worse by the fact Rooney agreed to this. Fergie was fuming. He couldn’t exactly come out and say that Rooney was right, he had the duty of defending the club and it’s history. Forget the conspiracy theories of the two working together to get more money out of the Glazers, Fergie knew it would have been an unmitigated disaster if City succeeded and took United’s best player, we would send a clear message to City and the rest of the world that Rooney was right and City were the new team on the block and that United were on a rapid decline. United’s ‘Ultra’ division known as the Men in Black stood outside Rooney’s house basically threatening him if he went ahead with the deal. This didn’t change Rooney’s mind but would have at most have shaken him up a bit. Fergie gave the go ahead to give him a contract that beat City’s offer and keep him at all costs. It would turn out it took a couple of days to bring Rooney back on our side and he signed a multi-million-pound deal to keep everyone happy.
The problem was, it didn’t keep everyone happy. The fans don’t forget that sort of treason and regardless of the season he’d just had, his reputation and standing with the fans took a massive hit and one which he will never recover from. Made all the worse that only 3 years later when Moyes took over, Rooney was given a further improved contract worth £275,000 a week when he had clearly peaked years earlier.
For months now I have been thinking about the questions at the start of this article and trying to get my head round why I, like many fans, still grumble about Rooney. I believe it is because when we take a player to our hearts, who we loved dearly as one of our own (moronic Scouser aside) it crushes me to think that one of our greatest players tarnished his whole career with us because he followed the cash that City were offering. This wasn’t a Real Madrid or Barcelona (See Ronaldo for reference). This was our small neighbours trying to rip the heart out of United and Rooney gave the go ahead for it.
It comes down to 2 aspects. His professional career and his personality. His professional career, statistically speaking is incredible and I for one will forever be grateful for the memories he has given to us. The overhead kick against City alone will always go down as one of my best moments at Old Trafford. However, personality wise, this is man driven by money but wanted to further City’s rise and contribute to United’s decline. This is not acceptable for a United legend. And that folks, is why Rooney will never be regarded in the same ilk as United’s finest.
Thank you for all you have done Wayne, and we know you will smash the record, but I can’t ever forget what you did.