Okay. Yet another contender, following hot on the heels of the Liverpool pantomine of villains and tragedy, for the biggest story of the year. Wayne Rooney, the darling (what a misnomer) of English football, becoming disillusioned and uppity, and deciding to leg it. Normally players who decide to become all prima donna and diva get a little bit of attention, get their wish granted, give two fingers to their over generous employers and earn a quickfire move to pastures greener. No big deal. Bog standard. But this is the talisman and tyro of the biggest team in England (give up the ghost Liverpool) and arguably, the world. Rooney has grown into the most indispensable player at the club since he departed Merseyside, and last season showed that United were essentially a one man team at times, showing both staggering grit and flair to drag his team single handedly to a close second in the title race. It should have been a grim reminder for United fans that the reliance on one individual for that gamebreaking spark was at times extremely unhealthy. And now, he wants to leave. ASAP. Where does that leave them?
This story is going to get an unhealthy deluge of coverage, and Sir Alex Ferguson is going to delight in dictating the pace of its exposure, and no doubt will endure plenty of fellating from the press for his doing so. So I’m going to veer away from all that, and also not speculate too much on where he may end up, and offer a slightly alternative view. Perhaps this isn’t going to end up being such a big deal. Perhaps United aren’t going to miss out so much after all if our Wayne departs. Perhaps, if the money is spent wisely, they will procure someone who will end up proving more effective, and someone who will provide more longevity at being effective. Perhaps, Wayne Rooney is already past his best, and is about to enter a period of gradual decline, and will never recreate the blistering form of last season, before the nightmarish World Cup shattered our illusions of him, and provided a stark indication of what is to come.
I heard someone say that perhaps Wayne Rooney is the new Norman Whiteside. How right they may yet be. It got me thinking that they could end up eerily similar in their career trajectory and decline. Both started out insanely young, both wooed the Old Trafford faithful with dazzling brilliance and spectacular and vital goals, both were/are incredibly physical players, both began/are beginning to suffer from recurring niggling injuries in the same area, and both suffer from weaknesses that can overpower one’s personal life, and obviously as a corollary, their on pitch performance. Ferguson, as he has always done, got rid of a player at the right time, by shifting off Whiteside when his boozing was becoming overly influential, and his injuries were taking their toll on his performances. Here, although he is playing the jilted one, I’m sure he is appreciating that Rooney’s new found wishes are the proverbial blessing in disguise, and will now gladly show him the door.
From Rooney’s perspective I refuse to believe he wants to leave because United aren’t good enough anymore, and don’t boast enough quality in their squad. Thats a knee jerk reaction if I’ve ever heard one. But then again he’s hardly going to admit that his relationship with Ferguson has run aground, or that he wants even more money. He’s stupid enough not to be able to repair a broken bridge, and stupid enough to be that greedy. Either way, I have a sneaking suspicion that no matter where he ends up, this is the other side of the watershed for a player who has already been through a ludicrous amount for someone who is yet to turn 25. The physical toll is already creaking, while years of flirting with tabloid disaster finally combusted spectacularly, resulting in unrecognisable performances on the pitch.
It is actually a very long time since he curled that arcing screamer in off the bar against David Seaman as a 16 year old. In the intervening 8 years he has run himself into the ground, come close to burning himself out at the end of each season, accrued multiple ankle/metatarsal injuries, become an increasing target for media fodder, and had a entirely over expectant nation’s hopes placed on his broad but brittle shoulders for the constant duration. Anybody else his age has spent the last few years doing a few exams, trying to get a standard job, with a primary aim of getting locked on a Friday night. For Wayne, the candle will almost certainly be burning at both ends, mental and physical, and at a ridiculously young age. How he could play at the top level and sustain the standard he has set himself, for another 10 years, is completely beyond me. The type of player he is, chasing down a meaningless lost cause of a ball to the squealing delight of the Stretford End, will not result in a Tugay-esque elongated career, and instead, he could be now beginning that descent, slowly but surely.
It is I feel, a descent that could easily be accelarated by this rash and miscalculated decision to leave a club that has has treated him so well and where his position as talisman has ensured a regal status. Where to? Chelsea? Unthinkable surely… City? Unthinkable rivalry wise, and foolish, yet financially possible. A self destruct button given their queue for striking places, unsustainable wage structure, lack of trophies and credibility and a consistently gelled squad. I just could not see it work. The continent? Settling is obviously the issue, along with fitting in amongst the star studded galactico squads of Inter or Real or Barcelona. If the guy can’t learn to stay away from prostitutes he can’t learn a few words in a foreign language. Also, would he truly be found out if he was to play in the technically superior La Liga, and in competition with Real and Barca players? Not a far fetched point at all.
It is a completely daring point to make on my part, that perhaps we are witnessing the beginning of a decline of Wayne Rooney. I may end up being completely wrong. But is it hard to fathom? Not particularly, given his style, personality and the length and tumult of his career to date. For any other 25 year old, it would be on odd suggestion to make, but as I said, look no further than fellow Red Devil’s cavalier Whiteside to prove the parallels, and how possible it is to burn so brightly, and fade so quickly. Ferguson needs only refer to his handling of Whiteside to illustrate to us how he knows exactly how to deal with this kind of thing, and his wounded animal approach to dealing with the press in surely a smooth move at distracting us from a likelihood, that he is perhaps aware of exactly how Rooney’s career can possibly regress from here. Maybe the creative impetus behind that overblown Nike World Cup ad was eerily prophetic. That horrible beard and scrapyard caravan could prove to be a more vivid prediction of the future than most, at least of his playing career anyway. I just can’t wait for those substituting ‘ROO’ for ‘You’ headlines to end to be honest. Can we move on already?