John Giles: Wayne Rooney was billed as a legend but he's far from one
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ALEX Ferguson was once asked about his methodology when it came to buying a player at Manchester United. He always made a point of taking a look at pictures of the lad’s parents and he explained this by using two examples – Ryan Giggs and Wayne Rooney.
On the one hand he had Giggs who never had a spare ounce on his frame which matched his father’s physique as he grew older.
But Ferguson didn’t spare Rooney’s blushes when he pointed out that his background and physique meant that he had to be playing games all the time to keep everything under control.
I think he looks out of condition now. Dropped by Jose Mourinho he has been denied the regular action he needs
But not by England. After beating Scotland and playing as well as anyone else in the victory, Rooney was foolish after hours and managed to get himself into some pictures which went around the world.
He has since been forced to apologise and his difficulties have been portrayed in the media as another step in his decline.
But there is one harsh truth which everyone seems to be forgetting in the Rooney story. He is billed as a legend, and has the records to match but for me, he is no legend.
I feel great sympathy for him at the moment. There is a very vicious campaign against him and it is being carried out by the people who were the first to write glowing headlines when Rooney equalled Bobby Charlton’s goal scoring record.
But he is no Bobby Charlton.
The problem, of course, is that people who never saw Charlton play assume that because he has scored as many and more goals, he must be just as good.
But Charlton never let up in his career. He never lost the hunger to be great which Rooney so clearly has. Ferguson’s assessment of Rooney as a player who needed to play in every game just to preserve his fitness came at a time when he had just been given a huge contract to stay at Old Trafford in the face of big offers from across town at the Etihad.
Personally, I’ve always thought that Ferguson would have let him go if it was his decision to make. I think that the call was made higher up the Old Trafford food chain.
And I think Jose Mourinho has now made the same calculation. The great pity is that a career which could have been great, could have placed him up there alongside Charlton and all the other Manchester United greats, is now more than likely to end in Los Angeles or some other outpost of the MLS in America.
I think Rooney lost his internal driving force somewhere along the road and I could probably trace that back to the very same contract he won by threatening to go.
I remember when Rooney first signed for Ferguson and being asked whether it would be good, as someone so young, to play with a man like Roy Keane who would be his protector.
His response was simple enough. He could look after himself, thanks very much and when I heard that, I thought that we really had a good one.
But that self-belief seems to have evaporated. The inner fire which made him want to win beyond everything else went out.
And yet they kept giving him awards for club and country and even when his form on the pitch told us one thing about him, the headlines were promoting a completely different line. It was jarring because there was pretty much universal agreement that Rooney hasn’t been playing well for a number of years but they still celebrated his achievements as if had earned them rather than simply accumulated them by sticking around for long enough.
Now, they have decided that Rooney is a target and the line will be pursued from the international arena into his club football and the sense of crisis around him will continue.
What will he do? Well, as I said, I think Mourinho has made the call and wouldn’t be unhappy to see him go.
Rooney himself may well have other ideas and there is always the chance that if he knuckles down and puts in a huge amount of work he could still have a lot to offer.
Realistically, while possible, it is very rare. To try and get back to a peak which if we’re honest, Rooney reached over four years ago, is very, very difficult.
The most important thing - hunger - has been missing for an awful long time. The one thing with Rooney which might allow him a chance is that fundamentally, he just loves playing football.
He’s a good lad. A few pints over the odds after beating Scotland 3-0 is not a mortal sin, even if you are England captain.
If you look at how he and his wife have conducted themselves down through the years, you would have to say that they have done very well in a savage media environment.
What looks more likely to me is that he will take the road Robbie Keane took successfully, Steven Gerrard took in a much less committed way and might just suit Rooney and his family.
The MLS will give him the respect and adulation he hasn’t been getting in England and maybe that’s enough now.