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Rooney can play on with more care, like Zlatan, says Mourinho


Wayne Rooney in action during the match between Manchester United and Reading at Old Trafford (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Wayne Rooney in action during the match between Manchester United and Reading at Old Trafford (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Getty Images

Wayne Rooney in action during the match between Manchester United and Reading at Old Trafford (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Jose Mourinho believes that record-equalling Wayne Rooney can extend his Manchester United career like Michael Carrick and Zlatan Ibrahimovic with careful management - but it means we will see less of him on the pitch.

At 31, Rooney is one goal away from becoming United's highest scorer after equalling Bobby Charlton's 249-goal record in this easy victory against Reading in the FA Cup third round on Saturday.

The England and United captain should get the chance to eclipse Charlton in tomorrow's League Cup semi-final first leg at home to Hull City, or in the eagerly awaited visit of arch-rivals Liverpool next Sunday.

That Rooney has also matched Charlton's goal tally from 217 fewer games (Rooney has played 541 matches, while Charlton held United's appearance record with 758 until Ryan Giggs broke it in the 2008 Champions League final) is also to be applauded, although the younger man played in the centre-forward position for longer.

However, while United manager Mourinho expects Rooney to write his own name in the history books, his way of ensuring that feat is achieved looks set to be against a backdrop of diminishing match time - and goals.

Rooney's appearance against the Royals was only the seventh time he has completed a full 90 minutes this season - a campaign which has been by far the scarcest amount of time we have seen him on the pitch during his near 13 years at Old Trafford.

Completing a full game just twice in the Premier League in 2016-17, he has made just eight starts in the competition, with a further six appearances coming off the bench.

It is perhaps no wonder he was back to his bustling best against Championship opposition at the weekend, when you consider he had not played for three weeks - since a 2-0 win at West Bromwich Albion on December 17 - at what is traditionally the busiest time of the year for professional footballers.

The goals are drying up, too. Rooney has mustered just one in the Premier League this season - in a 3-1 win at Bournemouth on August 14 - and, for the third successive season, it seems certain he will fail to hit double figures in top-flight football, a feat he managed in each of his first 10 seasons at Old Trafford.

We should remember, though, that while contemporaries such as Giggs - and to a lesser extent Steven Gerrard - had their game time curtailed in their latter years, Rooney was a man at 16 and, as such, has been playing regular first-team football every season since.

While others have plenty in the tank from later and less dramatic arrivals on the scene, Rooney has plenty of miles on the clock, and the maintenance that goes with a naturally stocky frame.

Mourinho, perhaps more than anyone, recognises the balance of playing Rooney enough to keep him match-fit and resting him sufficiently to ensure he has enough impact when selected.

With almost two-and-a-half years left on his £300,000-a-week, five-year contract signed in 2014, only the riches on offer in China could match his lucrative Old Trafford pay cheque at this stage of his career.

Similar 'game management' has already started with Rooney's team-mate Michael Carrick.

At 35, Carrick has made the same number of Premier League starts this season as Rooney - eight - but has only featured in 16 of United's 31 matches in all competitions.

Much like David Beckham's cameos for England during his drawn-out retirement from international football, it seems Rooney is destined for the same route to ensure he is as shiny as possible when he does eventually play.

"It's always a pity when these guys go to the end, but they get older and we cannot stop the clock," acknowledged Mourinho.

"But when they take good care about themselves, when the wives help, when they train well, when the manager and the staff is intelligent enough to understand the difference between the body of a teenager or the body of a man of thirtysomething - when there is a combination of factors, they can delay the end of their career.

"That is why we have Michael, Zlatan and Wayne performing."

And Mourinho believes Rooney's wholehearted commitment will see him remain playing at the top for a few years yet.

"I don't know, it depends on him - especially on his brain, on his desire," he said.

"I think everything is about desire - that's more important than anything else - so I think he has motivation, and if he keeps his motivation, he can play. He played against Real Madrid when I was in Madrid. He played almost left-back. I always saw him sacrifice for the team and with me he is the same.

"He is on the bench, he comes in. He plays, he doesn't play, but he's always positive with the group." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Rooney by numbers

249: Record-equalling goals scored for Manchester United

6th: Place on all-time appearance list at Old Trafford behind Ryan Giggs, Charlton, Paul Scholes, Bill Foulkes and Gary Neville.

72: Goals scored in one season for Liverpool Boys when he was 11 years old

25: Yard strike announced Rooney's arrival in style aged 16, having come off the bench against Arsenal in October 2002

£30m: The then world-record fee for a teenager United spent to sign Rooney from boyhood club Everton

3: Goals Rooney scored on an explosive United debut against Fenerbahce in September 2004

17: Goals scored in 43 appearances during his first season at United, leading him to being named 2005 PFA Young Player of the Year

5: Premier League titles won at Old Trafford

27: Most league goals scored in a campaign during his time at United, in 2011-12 season

1: Champions League triumph after beating Chelsea on penalties in 2008

53: International goals, making him the top-scoring England player of all-time

119: Caps, putting him second only to Peter Shilton terms of appearances for England