Wayne Rooney is a Man United great - but he is still unloved
The Old Trafford striker - who turns 30 on Saturday - can blame his flirting with Manchester City five years ago for United fans refusing to call him one of their own
It is a strange quirk of Wayne Rooney’s relationship with Manchester United’s supporters that, if you were to conduct a straw poll on the Stretford End to gauge whether he or Cristiano Ronaldo was held in greater esteem, the current United captain would come a distant second to the guy who upped sticks and left for Real Madrid.
There is a pantheon of greats at Old Trafford and Rooney, because of his achievements, his goals and his longevity, deservedly claimed his place in it long before celebrating his 30th birthday this weekend.
But if there was to be a top 10 of players in the hearts of United supporters, Rooney is unlikely to be in it and he can probably thank a dalliance with Manchester City, five years ago this week, for his absence from that exclusive group.
Eric Cantona, Roy Keane, George Best, Bryan Robson, Denis Law, Bobby Charlton, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville, along with Ronaldo, would probably all beat Rooney to a place among the United elite, but it is the Ronaldo fixation which would perhaps most warrant Rooney to raise an eyebrow.
Rooney, after all, stayed at United when he could have pushed through two aborted attempts to leave, to City in 2010 and Chelsea 2013, but Ronaldo left, at the end of a two-year battle to leave Old Trafford for Real, in 2009.
Ronaldo has since played the PR game almost as well as he has performed on the pitch for Real, however, with regular comments about his debt to Alex Ferguson and United, not to mention his teasing refusal to rule out a return to the club – shortly before signing a lucrative new five-year contract at the Bernabeu two years ago.
Rooney has never quite played to win hearts and minds, though, and it may explain why he is not loved by the United fans.
A boyhood Evertonian, a Scouser, who has never made a secret of his devotion to the blue half of Merseyside, Rooney has conspicuously stopped short of saying what supporters always like to hear.
For Rooney, his career at United has been purely business. He has benefited hugely from that relationship, but so has the club, who have won titles and trophies on the back of his goals. Both have been good for each other, so it has been a perfectly successful piece of business.
But Everton has always been the team closest to his heart, so when he came close to leaving United for City in five years ago, what was viewed as an act of treachery by many Old Trafford supporters was merely another example of Rooney putting football as a business first.
United were not making the signings and showing the ambition he deemed necessary, but City were and they were also ready to pay a king’s ransom to take him across town to the Etihad Stadium.
The fact that Rooney quickly performed a U-turn by signing a new deal with United has never been able to repair the damage caused by his week-long stand-off with the club, but in the end, well, business is business.
As a leading performer in his field, Rooney knew his worth and made sure he got what he wanted from United, but the accusations of disloyalty have never gone away.
It was different for Ronaldo, with the Portuguese leaving for a foreign club rather than a direct rival, but he still left, and Rooney stayed.
Disloyalty? Imagine if Gary Neville, as a teenager at United, left for another club because his boyhood team could not match his ambitions.
No matter where Neville ended up, supporters of his new team would know all about his ties to United and affection for the club, but they would expect him to pledge similar love for his new employers.
But deep down, Neville would always be a red, just as Rooney has always been a blue and the absence of emotional ties to the second club would inevitably rear its head when contracts or interest from elsewhere emerged.
Despite his current battle for form, Rooney has undoubtedly delivered during his time at United.
He could end up surpassing Charlton as the club’s greatest-ever goalscorer and surpass all but Charlton, Giggs, Neville and Scholes in terms of time served at Old Trafford, but neither achievement is likely to earn him the love and affection of the supporters.
Perhaps that is all down to his readiness to consider a move to City and the realisation in the stands that United’s best player was prepared to swap red for blue.
But despite it all, he stayed and Ronaldo is not the only player to have left Old Trafford who leaves Rooney in the shade when it comes to the adoration of United’s supporters.