A beard and a new hair style. A newfound swagger. Wayne Rooney stepped on to Old Trafford on Thursday night against Feyenoord armed with all of this, knowing a win was imperative – both for the club, and for him. The media were on his toes for drinking while on England duty, and the club was in danger of perishing in Europe. He needed a performance to answer the critics, to show people he is not finished.
And he did not disappoint. He rolled back the years with a deft chip and a pinpoint assist. A vintage Manchester United performance, four goals, a Pogba dab, and a relieved man went home. Or rather, a ‘club legend’.
For now, Rooney is United’s top scorer in European competitions, going one clear of Dutchman Ruud van Nistelrooy, and just one goal behind the Mancunian demigod Sir Bobby Charlton. While this makes Rooney sound like a club legend, even a hero, his case is hardly so.
Testimonial marred by empty seats
You won’t have to look too far back for evidence of that. United faced Everton at Old Trafford before the season began to mark 12 years of Wazza’s arrival at the Theatre of Dreams. This was meant to be a salute. What resulted was a drab 0-0 and plenty of empty seats. It was a clear signal of one thing – what the fans thought of Rooney. He was a key player alright. But not a legend.
Much of this can be attributed to Rooney’s transfer requests in the past. He’s wanted to move to Manchester City and Chelsea, and it was Sir Alex who pulled the plug and convinced him to stay for higher wages.
In spite of scoring extremely key goals in key games for United, those transfer requests in the past have led to a feeling among the fans that the connect between United and Liverpool-born Rooney is a lot weaker than what it had been for Giggs, Scholes and the other club heroes.
Add to that the fact that much of United’s downfall over the last three years can be associated with the downfall of the 31-year-old. Poor form could not force David Moyes or his successor to take the bold step of leaving him out of the team. José Mourinho, however, took that step, benching the England skipper, and now Rooney faces the uphill task of finding a way back to the United starting lineup.
Struggle for a first-team berth
Juan Mata is in imperious form at the moment, producing his best football since joining the Red Devils from Chelsea in the January of 2014. Mata scored the winner against City in the EFL Cup, the opener against Arsenal on Saturday and another on Thursday night against Feyenoord. At the moment, he is one of the first names on the team sheet as fans revel in the magic of ‘Our Special Juan’.
On the other hand, Henrikh Mkhitaryan made his first start since the Manchester derby in September against Feyenoord, after his much-publicised transfer from Borussia Dortmund in the summer. And ‘Micki’ produced a performance that could finally end up convincing Mourinho that he is the dynamic component of attack his team needs, and that he is ready for the Premier League.
Leave out Mkhitaryan and Mata, and you still have Lingard, Martial, Young and Depay commanding a place in the attacking midfield positions. In Rooney’s preferred strike role as well, Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the obvious choice, followed closely at the heels by United’s nineteen-year-old teenage sensation Marcus Rashford, who at the moment has to be content in a wide left role.
Will we ever see vintage Rooney again?
So is the England skipper a finished product, considering the fact that even his place in the England starting lineup is contentious at the moment? And then you look at his performance against Feyenoord and wonder where was this man all this time. You look at his fantastic strike in the loss against Fenerbahce in Istanbul, and you are reminded of a vintage Wayne Rooney. So where next for Wazza? Does his career have an upward slope here on?
Manchester United drew again at Old Trafford against West Ham on Sunday and now sit 11 points below Chelsea in the sixth position. Rooney came on as a substitute, but could not salvage a win for the dominating hosts. They next face West Ham at Old Trafford on Wednesday in the EFL Cup quarter-finals.
Wazza’s place at the moment is far from secure, and he won’t be getting many chances to lock it down either unless he starts grabbing every chance he gets by the scruff of the neck. It could probably lead to a revival of his sinking career. A finish worthy of a club legend.
Two more goals would make Rooney the all-time top scorer for the Red Devils. The question is, would it change the way his career is headed? Would he really be spoken of in the same breath as Sir Bobby Charlton? Only time will tell.