Saturday’s sublime strike into the top right corner at the Bet365 Stadium is not the first-time Wayne Rooney has saved Manchester United’s blushes. Certainly, those moments haven’t been too common in the last four seasons, but even in the latter stages, most would say the worst stages, of Rooney’s career at Old Trafford, he has proved vital more than most of his teammates.
Even since Fergie left with one final parting shot at his prodigy turned frustration, Rooney has still proved essential for United. Under Moyes, there were equalisers against Stoke and Hull in eventual 3-2 victories, two levellers against Tottenham Hotspur to earn a draw. There were doubles, late winners, match saving moments and words, inspiration from the captain. These last few seasons were not the finest of Rooney’s career, but he’s scored 53 goals since Ferguson’s departure.
Rooney's still proved vital in latter stages of United career
Leaving the last few seasons to one side proves difficult despite the awful reputation, thinking of his winner at the Emirates under Louis van Gaal, a thumping strike to win at Anfield, a wonderful response to newspaper criticism against Spurs at Old Trafford, a hattrick against Club Brugge, a stunning curler against Derby County in the Cup, a true captain’s performance to lead United to FA Cup glory, in both the semi-final and the final.
Rooney’s career is evidently a controversial one. Now 31, he is assuredly one of football’s living legends. Football is teeming with supporters who will dispute this, but Rooney is his country’s top goalscorer and his country’s biggest club’s top goalscorer, while captaining both. Very few have, can or will ever say such a remarkable thing, certainly not outside of their dreams.
Rooney must be celebrated and thanked
Argument, after all, is futile and trite. Rather, celebration and gratitude to Rooney for the moments he’s given United fans are apt. Rooney, despite the lack of loyalty shown in 2010 and allegedly in 2013, illustrates much of Manchester United’s allurement to supporters across the globe. Never give up, the Manchester United way, an adage associated with the club unlike any other. Rooney embodies it, he’s a fine captain, running back to his half, seeking an even more spectacular winner after his equaliser.
Muted celebration from Rooney is rare. Not on occasions like this, with a win still possible, granted. For those stunners, nevertheless, his smile has always shone through, just like it did when we were instructed to “remember the name”.
What else could Rooney have achieved?
For all those who say Rooney hasn’t fulfilled his potential, the statistics and facts dissent. Rooney has directly contributed to 380 goals in 546 games for United. That is spectacular. Those 380 goals have helped United to a UEFA Champions League, five Premier League titles, a FIFA Club World Cup, an abundance of domestic victories.
It’s not just 250 goals, though. Football is about entertainment, moments that make you gasp, or celebrate until your head pops off. Rooney has hardly fallen short of fulfilling that aim. An entertainer, Rooney’s goals have often been breathtaking. Free-kicks that make you howl in satisfaction, against Fenerbahce for his debut hattrick, against Arsenal in an 8-2 win. Volleys that thump into the top corner, against Newcastle United in that second season that seemed almost designed to rid a young Rooney of his frustration at referee Neale Barry, or against Middlesbrough in the FA Cup. Lobs, from the edge of the box against Portsmouth, or the halfway line against West Ham. An overhead kick to top the lot, to win the Manchester derby after the English press’ biggest period of criticism against their national team’s best player.
Rooney was praised for his aggression and his schoolboy cheekiness in his teens, vilified for it in his twenties and his thirties. He’s been hacked away at by the English media for his personality. It hasn’t stopped him breaking the two goalscoring records that seemed to evade the greatest of strikers. Gary Lineker, Eric Cantona, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Alan Shearer, Cristiano Ronaldo. That’s only the best of the elite who have failed to do what Rooney has done.
Rooney will be honoured with an award at Sunday evening’s Football Writers’ Association awards ceremony. They have often failed to honour his talent. They’ve often tried to tear him down. He hasn’t let them.
Even United fans sometimes deny Rooney’s legendary status. Apathy exists to their captain since his 2010 transfer request. Had Ferguson stayed at Old Trafford, Rooney would never have broken this record. But football fans have short memories. George Best, revered as a legend, part of the Holy Trinity, would often come close to missing matches after a night out, would break as many club rules as you can imagine. Eric Cantona kung-fu kicked a fan in the face. Cristiano Ronaldo used United to move to his dream club Real Madrid. Denis Law moved to Manchester City.
Rooney was the 'water carrier' for Ronaldo
So much talk is on Rooney not fulfilling his potential and betraying United fans. What is often forgotten is that Rooney has been used to accommodate a plethora of forwards at United over 12 seasons; van Nistelrooy, Ronaldo, Berbatov, Nani, van Persie, Hernandez, Welbeck, Saha, Tevez. He is a team player. His career has often been sacrificed for the benefit of the team and others, and he’s been happy to follow with that. Comparisons are often made to former-teammate Ronaldo, who loved playing with Rooney. He was allowed to flourish, to earn a move to his dream club because Rooney was moved wide, was his water carrier.
Rooney will be appreciated more when he leaves the game, when there is time to look back at the moments of his late teens and early twenties which astonished the world, ripped teams to shreds, without knowing the hero of millions of children around the world is on the way down, and out.
United bought Rooney as a teenager. First, he won everything. Then he became England’s record goalscorer. Now he’s Manchester United goalscorer. A legendary career that is unlikely to ever be repeated.