Thursday 22 March 2018

Wayne Rooney a blue-chip legend but where is the love?

Mark Ogden recalls the events which left player accused of act of betrayal

Alex Ferguson says players like Wayne Rooney deserve the huge wages they take home
Alex Ferguson says players like Wayne Rooney deserve the huge wages they take home

Mark Ogden

Wayne Rooney will probably become Manchester United's all-time record goalscorer before his 31st birthday in October and, barring injury, climb to sixth in the club's appearance charts before Christmas.

Rooney will eclipse Treble-winning defender Denis Irwin with nine more outings for United and then overtake 1968 European Cup-winning full-back Tony Dunne with a further seven appearances before overhauling goalkeeper Alex Stepney when he plays his 20th first-team game for Jose Mourinho this season.

From that point on, only Gary Neville (602 appearances), Bill Foulkes (688), Paul Scholes (718), Bobby Charlton (758) and Ryan Giggs (963) will stand ahead of Rooney in terms of games played for Manchester United - the United and England captain goes into the new season on 520 appearances.

Rooney's United CV is majestic, his numbers and medal haul make him a blue-chip club legend. However, as he prepares for his testimonial game against Everton at Old Trafford tonight, it is a valid question to ask 'Where is the love?'

There is nothing worth winning that Rooney has not won at least once with United and he could secure his 14th winners' medal with the club on Sunday with a victory against Premier League champions Leicester City in the Community Shield at Wembley.

Many United players with fewer medals, goals and appearances than Rooney have earned themselves the affection and love of the Old Trafford crowd, but then none have perhaps taken the club to brink quite like the Liverpudlian who left his boyhood club to become the world's most expensive teenager by signing for United in August 2004.

Rooney almost left United on two occasions. Chelsea were ready to take him away from Old Trafford in the summer of 2013 following his fall-out with Alex Ferguson, when the Scot retired as manager having claimed that Rooney had asked to leave.

But that stand-off did not come close to matching the controversy of the first, back in October 2010, when a week-long battle of wills saw Rooney come close to leaving for Manchester City before United's American owners, the Glazer family, sanctioned a lucrative new contract for their prized asset to stay.

It was the events of that week which inflicted permanent scars on Rooney's relationship with United.

To many United supporters, Rooney committed an act of betrayal, with a statement issued just an hour before a Champions League fixture against Bursaspor questioning the club's ambition proving the most incendiary development of the entire saga.

That week, and Rooney's readiness to play Russian roulette with the club over a move to City, may ultimately define his United career, but six years on, was his statement really so treacherous?

Let us reflect on the situation at the time. City were spending heavily, signing the likes of Yaya Toure and David Silva, while United, having sold Cristiano Ronaldo for a world record £80m in June 2009, went into the 2010-11 season having signed Chris Smalling, Javier Hernandez and Bebe.

Smalling and Hernandez proved themselves to be astute signings, but Bebe was a disaster and remains the most inexplicable acquisition of Ferguson's 27-year reign as manager.

So where City were spending big - Ferguson accused them of 'kamikaze spending' - United were failing to punch their weight and Rooney made his frustrations clear by pointing to that in his controversial statement.

"I met with (chief executive) David Gill last week and he did not give me any of the assurances I was seeking about the future squad," Rooney's statement said. "I then told him that I would not be signing a new contract.

"I have had a number of meetings with the club about a new contract. During those meetings in August, I asked for assurances about the continued ability of the club to attract the top players in the world.

"For me, it's all about winning trophies - as the club has always done under Sir Alex. Because of that I think the questions I was asking were justified."

Clearly, as a player and club employee, it was not Rooney's place to publicly ask those questions, but they were the same as being asked by the supporters at the time.

United were not competing in the transfer market and the full cost of their policy was eventually borne out on Ferguson's departure, when the squad he left behind lacked the depth and quality required to maintain the club's position at the top of the Premier League.


Rooney's mistake was to be seen as challenging Ferguson, who would always win any battle at Old Trafford, but his misgivings about United at the time were justified and, even after signing his new contract, the club failed to make impact signings - Robin van Persie aside - until Gill and Ferguson vacated the stage.

But the damage was done and the affection which Rooney should expect for all of his achievements at United is not there.

The fans will turn out for his testimonial - Rooney is attempting to raise £5m from the proceeds for childrens' charities - but there will still be some sense of a disconnect between him and the supporters.

Yet when the dust settles on his United career, time may offer a different view of Rooney's contribution.

Yes, there have been controversies and mistakes, but there have also been goals and trophies and his place in United's history is secure.

Independent News Service

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