“Wayne Rooney is leaving #MUFC to return to Everton”, read a tweet from Manchester United last evening, ending months of speculation and confirming the inevitable. The tributes poured in from fans and footballers alike, my Facebook feed was filled with people sharing videos of Rooney’s top goals in a United shirt, and debates were on about whether Wayne Rooney deserved to be dubbed a Manchester United legend, or whether he was merely another great goalscorer who stayed on at the club because it was the best option he had.
None of it mattered to me. Fact is, Wayne Rooney has been a big part of whatever I have known and loved about Manchester United. This is not because I believed he was, or is, the greatest player in the world. It is also not just because Rooney has been the one constant while his strike partners have come and gone. It is not because Wayne Rooney leaves the club as its highest goalscorer in history, finding the net a whopping 253 times in his 13 year stay. Wayne Rooney has been a big part of my interest in football because he was not like the rest of them. He was different. He had a different attitude, and a different way of doing things, which struck me as the most distinctive feature I would like to inculcate.
Wayne Rooney is special not because he has won every trophy there is to win at the club level, not because he has surged ahead of legends like Dennis Law and Bobby Charlton to become Manchester United’s highest ever goalscorer (or England’s highest ever goalscorer, for that matter) but because he gave the best he could, day in and day out, leaving it all out there on the pitch every weekend for a club he clearly loved, and for fans he held dear.
Rooney is special because he stuck to his game. He was never cut out to be a superstar, but the stocky teenager went on to stun the world with his talent. Left foot, right foot, volleys, tap-ins, curlers, free kicks, spot kicks, headers, overhead kicks – he had them all, and used them often to bring Old Trafford to its feet. Yet, despite proving to be the key time and again, Rooney’s career has been laced with criticism. And every time, he has proved his critics wrong with sheer hard work and sacrifice. It’s the only way he’s ever known.
Rooney is special because he messed up. Wayne Rooney never tried to present himself as perfect. He had his moments to forget in front of goal. And then, in 2010, he lost the love he had so carefully built up from the Old Trafford faithful. But every time he was pressed to the wall, Wayne Rooney came back swinging. Be it an overhead kick to make Derby history, a precise free kick to go past Sir Bobby Charlton’s record of 249 goals for the club on a cold, windy night at Stoke, the thunderous volley against Newcastle when he was still the young kid on the blocks or the long-range stunner he scored from over 50 yards out against West Ham a couple of seasons ago, Rooney always had one more moment of magic up his sleeve.
Rooney is special because he became one of Manchester’s own. Arriving from Everton as a kid with the biggest of potentials, he let himself be molded the Alex Ferguson way, transforming into a true beast that would terrorize defences for a decade. When age came calling, Rooney diversified from his central striker role, trying out midfield positions, wondering where he could serve his team the best. The passion he had for the United crest was all too apparent every time he ran after the ball, every time he scored another wonder, every time he took his team to greatness and silverware. You can say what you want about his demeanour, but you cannot deny he loved the club.
Above all, Wayne Rooney is special because he was an ambassador of the English game. He was a leader, on and off the pitch. He was aware of the expectations he carried every time he stepped out on a football pitch, and he acknowledged that he had a duty to give his all. Wayne Rooney held nothing back, whether he was going for a header, trying to win a duel or rushing back to supplement the defence. He never held back on displaying emotion, often receiving yellows and reds for the same. Wayne Rooney has always played the sport wearing his heart on his sleeve, and I hope we see more vintage Rooney performances when he is back at his boyhood club.
Manchester United is a club that prides itself on nurturing talented youngsters into legends of the game. Wayne Rooney will always find a place in that Hall of Fame. His records are so staggering that they may never be broken. The iconic #10 jersey will move on, though, and so will the club. On to newer and greater things, but always with a soft corner for the man who never gave up. Rooney’s name will live on in chants and songs at Stretford End even after he moves on to the blue Toffee shirt.
As everyone takes their time out to bid #FarewellToALegend, all I ask is that we get to see the Rooney of old again. Maybe being back at his boyhood club was just what he needed. No matter how the rest of his career pans out, Wayne Rooney will always be the boy who won everything one can possibly win at Man United. He will, for the foreseeable future, remain the man with the most goals in a red shirt. And he will, for ages to come, embody the spirit that defines the Theatre of Dreams.
If you’ve read this far, you might as well leave misty-eyed. Take a look at this fantastic tribute to Rooney’s career at United. Remember the name, Wayne Rooney!