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RedNews Editorial on why we should look back on Wayne Rooney’s Manchester United career more fondly

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  • RedNews Editorial on why we should look back on Wayne Rooney’s Manchester United career more fondly

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    this first appeared in February’s RedNews241

    “I regret my dispute over terms that led to the manager putting me on the transfer list. I acted very immaturely. When you are young you don’t listen. Those events are really my only serious regret in the whole of football. The important things is to learn from them I did and I am sure others will in time.”

    These words weren’t uttered by a chastised Wayne Rooney after Fergie seemed to reinvigorate himself (much needed at the time, and though crassly and selfishly done, ambition did need to be questioned at the height of the ‘value era’ under Glazers) in the space of 24 hours as he turned an incendiary situation into another battle for control as he came out on top with the inspired ‘cows’ and ‘grass’ speech as Wayne performed an eventual u-turn which saw some Reds never forgive him about.

    It was Denis Law speaking in 1971 about his then much publicised transfer spat with Sir Matt Busby a while before, and I offer it not to dig at a Utd legend, but to highlight that Law and of course George Best had their transfer issues and ‘want aways’ and it rightly hasn’t altered the respect and adulation their generations and subsequent have viewed them for they are heroes. Perhaps Wayne is a victim of an era when we all expect too much, of pretty much everyone, all of the time. Bobby Charlton, like Denis Law and Bestie, did not have very good last seasons for United, that happens. Few go out on the top, or maintain consistency or even improve from a serious blip, like Giggsy did, and even he and Scholes showed the label was coming off their vintage a bit at the end.

    “You can’t afford to let a player like Wayne escape your clutches just 30 miles along the road from you.” was how Fergie greeted his arrival and that remarkable debut set the tone that suggested we had a real gem on our hands. We did well to capture him, though I always suspect Newcastle’s counter bidding was agent led to try and force a late Utd move. And whilst I always applauded him for swapping blue for red I know it was purely down to greater ambition he knew would come at his new club, yet those origins have sometimes tied the argument against him in knots by some Reds whenever things didn’t go well.

    The argument about good and great will rage for years I am sure, until, like those heroes before, it doesn’t really matter as the smaller details are no longer obscured by the greater facts, and whilst I’ll admit I really didn’t like the way he handled ‘ambition/cowgate’, during a match week as well, nor the way both he and Fergie spun the acrimonious end to their relationship in 2013, nor the way Fergie’s retirement seemed to give the player, rather than the next managers the greater centre of power gravity at the club, I still try and see the whole canvas. And I honestly thought after a performance fitting for the occasion at the European Cup Final at Wembley, the only one in a Red shirt that evening, that he’d go on and start to really compete with Messi and Ronaldo in his prime. So I have not enjoyed watching the decline of a player sooner rather than later whose lifestyle and genes have accelerated the slowing down of a footballing body whose mind seems the only working part still able. But…

    It’s the modern way to highlight the negatives. Why should it take until after it’s over to really appreciate? Certainly in another era the beating of such a record would receive greater headlines and plaudits than it did, and though the way the approach towards the record slowed to snail pace, it began to feel like many - certainly Jose judging by his rather churlish comments at Stoke - were rather bored of it before it had even happened.

    Despite the publicised moments of ‘immaturity’ he did not up ship like Ronnie did, as Rooney put his shift in so a player like CR7 could become the world star he always knew he was. You can bet Ronaldo away from his own mirrors appreciates what Rooney did for him during that magical spell for United which pesky Barca apart, was as good as any in our history. Ronnie may well have won us many games, and he’s the best Utd player for ability and *it* that I have seen, but if we were in a hole, Rooney would be digging like fuck to get us out of it.

    He arrived half way through the ‘slump’ at Utd where we’d not won the league for four years and whilst some Reds doubted Fergie then, the ever re-ordered hampers of humble pie we regularly searched for online during Fergie’s many resurrections as shite tabloids split the Utd crest in half and talked of the fall of our empire, Wayne Rooney was one of the reasons we did return to the top. His goal return should have been higher then. 16, 14, 12 and 12 in those first four league campaigns highlighted his inconsistencies, still apparent, and how he always seemed to go on runs, and then not, of goals rather than a more natural beat. But then came 2008, and in 2009/10 and 2011/12 he was immense; 34 goals in each. And sometimes sacrificing himself not just with his workrate but with his body as he played when not fully fit or in the case of Bayern away, when clearly not able which was to cost him, us and England (not that many cared) that summer. I wanted more and thought we’d get it, but perhaps the injuries as much as the fags (both he and Bobby Charlton smoked so don’t tell the NHS, as pints and Chinese takeaways were taking their toll), and the goals started to dry up from 2011-12 around about the same time he started to control his aggression where, the odd red card (and what fucking what the FA were thinking of that one I still don’t know) apart we and he needed that rage; there is no greater tribute to him playing with a bit of the devil inside than that Newcastle goal as he barked at the ref, and then the ball, and then the back of the net felt all that anger.

    At Stoke away, in the dying embers of a Utd game as well as career, feeling unloved, but accepting his fate as he probably now sees what others could a year or two earlier, he didn’t do Giroud at Bournemouth and look for self gratification after the equaliser and record breaker. He looked to his team-mates to get the ball and try and get the winner. Cutting away from all the pub arguments and sometimes ridiculous social media bullshit about him, it was a man who had got Utd and wore it well. It was, still, great to see. One last splendid moment, possibly. An Evertonian who got United, that mentality. Imagine that. Not all players do, remember, or care as much. At Liverpool at home he came on, and gave Pogba, rightly so, shit for giving the ball away so carelessly. Pogba the man who has the world at his feet like he once did, hopefully takes on that kind of ‘advice’ for he’s good at that we hear. Good to gee up players.

    There was a period when Wayne Rooney turned up, and then you knew Utd would (and the stats that we have won 164 of the 189 games he scored in is quite remarkable) and for those questioning his body now, I prefer to reflect on that goal at Arsenal which showed the pace he did have, racing through, connecting to Nani’s speed alongside as Rooney rushes past him through the middle to receive the pass and for once Nani did the intelligent thing, lays it on and bang, it’s in at the Emirates. We were a joy to watch on the counter during that period. No team better at it.
    So some suggest he didn’t live up to the expectations, maybe we asked for too much (saw too much on the debut!) and if this isn’t reaching the heights then blimey, he didn’t do too bad did he?! After that four year toil, and Keane’s departure and all the shit we and Fergie went through, Rooney was at the core of a side who from 2006-07 won 5 out of 6 titles. For those who just see him as a ‘Scouse bastard’, who can’t see past that, this is perhaps the one example where I will say, look at the bloody stats, these are not alternate facts, they are one hell of a career.

    He became an easy target, and again, I’m not denying where once a big fan it pains me to watch such a decline, and I never thought it would take nearly 3 seasons to get the last 34 goals for the record, where he crawled to it like a boozer seeking his home after a night out, but that’s what happens when you watch from boy to man a player who has been here 13 seasons and like Fergie himself, and Ryan Giggs saw, you at times become too familiar with each other. He was shifted all over the place, he argues that affected his goalscoring and form, and affected his rhythm, and he has a point, but perhaps he was shifted too as he was no longer able to do what Zlatan has shown even at his age he can do well, put the ball in the back of net with a 1 in 2 ratio. His weight yo-yoed, poor from a professional. This talk of him moving to midfield also frustrated me. He might have the brain for it, but his legs don’t have the stamina or ability; he couldn’t do it at the top there.

    Certainly his power base in the dressing room became too strong and its hold meant that Moyes and LvG (of all people) never dealt with it head on, the painful truth that he was no longer the automatic starter he wanted to be. Maybe Jose gave him enough rope to hang himself with his own performances at the start of this season, maybe that was the intention or he discovered the man he had once courted at Chelsea was in decline, simply, the proof was in that performance at Watford away, a painful experience for both fan and player to witness.

    In the dressing room he was a force for good despite many rumours. For even with a disagreement, Marcus Rashford highlighted the importance of Rooney for Utd: “That reaction after the goal at Stoke is what we learn from the older players as well. He just broke the record, it’s an amazing achievement and he still wants to get the next goal, he’s not fussed about his goal. I think it does rub off on the other players and certainly the younger players.”

    Jose does realise what some Reds can’t. That as a sub he can still offer something these next few months. He scores irregularly but his assist rate is good this season, and he’s now in that awful island where so many can’t see any good no matter what he does, when that’s not quite fair even with this slide. He has kicked off in the past, but he’s handled this particul saga - in, out of the side, written off - without rocking the boat. Maybe he knows his footballing mortality now, but others would not be so forthcoming to accept their fate and at last it’s good to see an agent who was too manipulative in the past finally just give it a rest at the end here.

    For me there are three regrets. Some of what he did off the pitch, his ‘lifestyle’, his crass handling though Fergie’s reply was enigmatic and re-energised both men, and that his natural aggression and hump which drove him on declined for a few seasons near the end. But the good far outweighs the bad. He gave his all, worked tirelessly so the likes of Ronnie only need do that where they thought it mattered and he was the cog that got Utd clicking. The Captaincy didn’t propel him onto greater heights as it should, it seemed to signal a stagnation. This in itself seems mad but shows how high we thought he could go, that 250 goals, records for club and country, still sees this debate as if it wasn’t enough.

    Of course it’s horrible seeing a career come to its end, where it’s now China not Madrid he’s linked with, but I often say think what you’ll tell your grandchildren. We won’t tell them about Bebe when talking about Fergie the miracle worker, we’ll talk the great memories, and likewise with Wayne, we’ll smile at those moments we were lucky enough to experience in a grey, and now quite darkening, world. That hat-trick, Newcastle, the over head kick. You know them. The end should not define the middle and beginning, where his prime coincided with United’s renaissance not as a coincidence but as a result of his grit, determination and fucking plain stubbornness. He did that here, not elsewhere.

    I didn’t like some of what Wayne Rooney did away from pitch, I don’t like some of what I do away from the pitch, but I have read some ridiculous things about him. It’s just daft and wasted energy when there’s so many ABUs to direct it at. The hardest thing to do in modern football, strange when it has never been so full of creative players, well full of ego as much as ability, is to put the ball into the back of the net. Look how many toil across the world at it, or who look the part one year and then just falter the next. Rooney did the business for 10 out of his 13 seasons here.

    I’m so glad I got to see it. Here.

    Eyes are always drawn to the here and now but it should be about the whole. He chased lost causes, never gave up when others did, helped shape the best Utd team of its generation, and in an era when you question commitment, on the pitch he gave his all for a shirt that wasn’t his by birth. What a shift he would put in. Compare and contrast to the elegance of Berbatov, very much hit and miss for United, or RvP who only wanted to do it for a season. That was enough for him. Year after year, Rooney chased the lost causes with hunger. There are so very few like him.
    Let’s celebrate and for once not castigate. It’ll be a perfect time to part ways this summer maybe, because this sounds like an obituary for his time here, but I for one, will praise his achievements. Enjoyed him. Good or great is our pub debate, and we create them to bring life to life, together with wondering what might have been if he’d have lived his life with a more, er, Continental rather than Liverpudlian approach to his habits, but Manchester United, and us fans, yes, even the moaning ones, were fortunate to grab hold of this impudent, gifted, and unselfish youngster when Utd did.

    Well played, Wayne.


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