The major talking point of Twitter, and indeed Talk Sport, who ran a poll on it after the Manchester United vs. Reading game, in which Wayne Rooney equalled Sir Bobby Charlton’s record of 249 club goals is, unsurprisingly, a Wayne Rooney one. Not the one where he was congratulated for his scoring feat but rather the debate which continually rages over Wayne Rooney, our club captain, and the exact nature of his legendary status as his career draws to a close.
In the distasteful poll, Talk Sport enquired as to whether Sir Bobby Charlton or Wayne Rooney was the biggest legend at Manchester United. Whilst some dismissed the poll as a joke, others became aggressive that Wayne Rooney should be compared to Sir Bobby Charlton, and went on to extol the virtues of the latter compared with the younger man.
All of this bitterness and furore which the achievement evoked left a sour taste in my mouth. Particularly given the fact that the pair about whom this argument entails have nothing but the utmost respect and admiration for one another.
In this article, I will not be drawing a direct comparison between Sir Bobby Charlton and Wayne Rooney, particularly given the fact that no Manchester United fan I know of disputes the former’s legendary status. However, Mark Goldbridge, of our very own United Stand, reflected that the past few years of Rooney’s tenure at Manchester United had seen such a steep decline in his overall effectiveness and telling contribution to the team and that he was not a Manchester United legend.
Added to this is the feeling that Wayne Rooney’s flirtation with our City rivals in the summer of 2010 which forced even the redoubtable Sir Alex Ferguson into budging over contract demands, has demanded that regardless of exploits, his reputation irks to the degree that he does not merit legendary status. With all of these factors in mind, we will now take a look at Wayne Rooney’s Manchester United career and ask ourselves is Wayne Rooney truly a Manchester United legend?
Our tale begins over 12 years ago, when Manchester United paid out a then record amount for a young player under 20. Indeed, Rooney was still only 18 but had already inspired Sir Alex Ferguson to stop at no sum in order to bring the hottest young prospect in Europe to Old Trafford. At this juncture, in Rooney’s fledgling career, he had already proven his merits in a simply outstanding Euro 2004 where he had scored four goals, become the youngest goal scorer in the history of the combination and been named in the UEFA Team of the Tournament. Undoubtedly, Sir Alex might have strongly suspected he would reap the rewards from his purchase but little would even he have expected Rooney’s astonishing introduction. He made his debut in a 6-2 Champions League victory over Fenerbahçe where he scored a hat trick and even got an assist. The hat trick meant that again he became the youngest player to ever score a hat trick in the Champions League and although Manchester United failed to take a trophy, despite totally dominating Arsenal in the FA Cup that year, Rooney top scored with 11 goals for the season. Additionally, he was awarded with PFA Young Player of Year for his efforts during his debut season. To put into context, how phenomenal an achievement this was, the only other Manchester United player to win this award since the turn of the century, is Cristiano Ronaldo, once, and Rooney won it twice. In fact, in the entire history of that trophy of 43 years, only 2 others have won the award twice, Robbie Fowler and Ryan Giggs. Ryan Giggs’ legendary status is undisputed for his accomplishments with our club.
Furthermore, Rooney won The Goal of the Season award for his effort against Middlesbrough in the FA Cup. A feat he would later repeat twice more in his career thus far, leaving him the only man standing alone, on a mark of three of these prestigious awards. When you think of the amazing depth and calibre of players we have seen since this award’s inception in the 1970-71 season till present day, this mark is well worth acknowledging.
During the 2005-6 season, Rooney won his first trophy with United the League Cup, scoring twice in the final and being awarded Man of the Match. He also scored 16 goals in 26 Premier League games during this season. As well as the Young Player of the Year award, Rooney picked up the PFA Fans’ Player of the Year Award. Sadly, we missed out on a title in this season, with Rooney sustaining a broken metatarsal in a 3-0 defeat to eventual champions Chelsea which left us runners up during this period of Manchester United transition.
In the 2006-7 season, Rooney was integral as Manchester United won the Premier League, Rooney’s first Premier League title and he scored 14 league goals. Manchester United would go close in the Champions League, exiting to a Kaka inspired Milan team, who proved too strong in the San Siro. However, the first leg showed Rooney’s import to the team when he equalised from a quite brilliant Paul Scholes improvised hooked through ball and then showed a supreme piece of opportunism in striking the winner magnificently first time, in injury time, to win us the match. At this point, Cristiano Ronaldo won the main individual awards at the end of the season but Rooney had proven himself an invaluable asset with his work ethic, goals and overall play. The two combined indeed, superbly for a counter attack goal against Bolton which secured Rooney his 2nd Goal of the Season award.
The 2007-8 season was a season where Rooney was hampered with injuries, missing 6 weeks for a fractured metatarsal in his left foot and also injuring his ankle but managed to end the season with 12 league goals (18 goals overall) as Manchester United won the League and the Champions League. By this juncture, Rooney was being forced often into more of a left wing role at times because of Cristiano Ronaldo’s sensational goal scoring season. The football played during this year was absolutely scintillating, and Rooney was a major part of that as part of an incredible attacking triumvirate with Ronaldo and Tevez.
In 2008-9, Wayne Rooney ended the season with 20 goals overall (12 league ones) as Manchester United again won the league and fell just short in the UCL final against Barcelona of an as yet never accomplished record of retaining the Champions League. The season was notable for Rooney for one performance against Tottenham Hotspur in the latter stages of the campaign where Manchester United came from two goals down at half time to win 5-2. Rooney scored two, set up two and provided the assist for Carrick to win the penalty for the first as the other. It was, in short, an incredible individual performance and one that was integral at such a key stage of our title tilt.
In 2009-10 despite a season in which Manchester United only ended up winning the League Cup, Rooney enjoyed his 2nd best goal return for the Red Devils, notching 26 goals in the Premier League. It was to be the outstanding nature of these performances which not only resulted in the contract dispute, which I alluded to at the start of this article, but also Rooney winning the PFA Players’ Player of the Year for the first time.
In October of the 2010-11 season, Sir Alex Ferguson stated in a press conference that Rooney wanted to quit the club. Rooney was angered that Sir Alex was keeping him rested for longer than he deemed necessary and that he wanted to leave due to the club’s seeming lack of ambition. This could be evidenced by letting go of world class players such as Ronaldo in 2009 and not bringing in top class replacements. The player Rooney brought up in his talks with Sir Alex at the time was the fact that we hadn’t pursued Mesut Ozil who had joined Real Madrid from Werder Bremen. In Sir Alex’s autobiography it is clear that he holds no ill feeling towards Rooney and that it was not a monetary affair.
“It was a sorry episode for Wayne because it portrayed him as a money man who had dropped his grievance the minute his salary was raised. That’s the way it was presented, but I don’t think it was Wayne’s intention to make it a financial issue. It blew over quickly. With the fans, however, there was a residue of mistrust.”
This perfectly sums up how the dispute coloured the view of a significant proportion of Manchester United fans who still hold a lingering grudge against Rooney for his behaviour at the time. However, who can really blame Rooney when you see how, only a few years onwards, that the squad did need a dramatic overhaul which Jose has started to facilitate in the summer of 2016. Furthermore, rather than disrespecting Sir Alex, in a statement he released he said that “For Manchester United’s sake I wish he could go on forever because he’s a one off and a genius.”
By the spring things were forgotten between the pair especially when the record 19th League title was secured with Rooney scoring the penalty to equalise at Ewood Park to win us the title. The season was also particularly noteworthy, due to Rooney scoring an overhead kick for the ages against Manchester City. The goal not only gave Rooney his third Goal of the Season Award but was also awarded the Best Goal in the 20 Seasons Awards and Ferguson described it as the best goal he had ever seen at Old Trafford.
In the 2011-12 season, Rooney enjoyed his most prolific season scoring 27 League goals, bettering his previous best mark in 2009-10 where he had scored 26 but was again runner up for the prestigious Golden Boot. Sadly, that season Manchester United lost out on the title on goal difference despite the fact that Rooney had outscored Sergio Aguero (23).
In the 2012-13 season, Rooney was again required to play second fiddle, to the man to whom he had lost the Golden Boot to the previous season, new signing Robin Van Persie. This season Rooney still scored 12 league goals, 2 of which were in the 3-2 victory over City that, I feel had proven so monumental in our reward that spring, the 20th Premier League title. Again, Rooney as he had one with Ronaldo, had still done well despite playing 2nd fiddle to another player.
In the 2013-14 season, Rooney during an incredibly difficult transitional period under David Moyes still managed to hit 17 league goals as Manchester United’s top scorer and 4th equal on the overall scoring charts. Also he was top for assists with 10 in the league and had the most assists in the 2013-14 Champions League with 8 out of any player in the Champions League. All of this during a season in which United finished 7th marked a good personal year but an atrocious one for the club. This was reinforced by him being named club captain the summer of 2014 by Louis Van Gaal after Vidic’s departure.
During the 2014/15 season, under Louis Van Gaal, Rooney was often utilised as a midfielder but was again top scorer for the season with 14 goals. Again, Rooney had shown his worth even if the football under Van Gaal had been extremely cagey and uninspiring, with the team recording its 2nd worst ever goals tally in the Premier League.
In 2015/16 Rooney endured a torrid time with injuries and was again used in a midfield role as it appeared that was where he and Louis Van Gaal saw his career being prolonged. The highlight was a majestic mazy dribble against Crystal Palace and cross which lead to the equaliser in the dying minutes of our FA Cup triumph.
During all of these fallow years than for Manchester United, Rooney has proven himself our top scorer, often having played in midfield and has also had many assists as is shown factually above. Furthermore, would we even have an FA Cup trophy had he not torn up the Van Gaal tactics sheet to go on that run?
In conclusion, there is a reason why I have run through a brief summation of Wayne Rooney’s career. It is to allow you, dear reader, the benefit of being allowed to make your own decision based on the facts and figures of Wayne Rooney’s Manchester United career, the trophies and personal accolades he has won whilst at the club.
There will always be fans that dismiss people who champion Rooney’s cause as “Rooney Fan Boys” but as I watched Rooney’s plethora of highlights, researching for this article, I couldn’t help but feel myself smile with pure pleasure. There have been moments of unadulterated brilliance that should never be forgotten. For the players who played with Rooney, there is nothing but respect and admiration when they talk of him, Scholes, Giggs, Neville and Ferdinand to name but a few.
There is an argument to be made that Rooney’s influence and contribution is on the decline. A brief look at Rooney’s appearance total gives, to my mind, the main reason why. As of the time of writing he has 543 Manchester United appearances, putting him 6th in the overall standings, but all the players ahead of him played for many more years than him. In fact, of those five players that have played more than him, only three have played for our club within the last 40 years, namely Gary Neville, Scholes and Giggs and all of them played for the club for twenty years. Put simply, Rooney has definitely put in the work for United over the last decade or so but has borne the brunt of his exertions. Rooney’s records certainly evince his inclusion as a legend but again, it is your, the reader’s, decision as to whether he is or not.
I will just leave you with the quote from Lionel Messi, which sums up my own feelings towards Rooney:
“Wayne Rooney is for me a once in a generation player. One of those special players, who is not comparable to any other. There are many special players, but Rooney has exceptional quality and technical ability as well as being one of the strongest players I have faced with an exceptional work rate- there is nobody like him.”