From prodigious young talent, to Premier League bad boy, to Manchester United’s very own captain, leader, legend and then ultimately an ever-supportive squad member in a reduced role, Wayne Rooney’s career with Manchester United has been absolutely stellar.
Normally, one might channel Harvey Dent and say “You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become a villain”, but in this case, a slight alteration is required. “You either leave a hero, or stay long enough to suffer through your own extended decline.” For Rooney, the last few years have seen us witness a natural decline that, though often painful to watch given his storybook history with the club, was expected given his age.
Though he periodically reminded the world of his talent as an attacker, he often seemed a shell of his former self, struggling to be on the same wavelength as others and visibly frustrated with himself for errant shots and baffling first touches.
Having arrived at United as an incredibly talented and highly rated 18-year-old for a then record sum for a teenager, Rooney immediately set Old Trafford alight, scoring a hat-trick in his debut match vs. Fenerbahçe. Though the rest of the club’s season failed to match Rooney’s magic in that debut game, one thing was for certain. An elite talent who could do great things for the club was here, and he was here to stay. As his goal tallies increased over the next few seasons, so did his reputation as an absolute warrior willing to leave everything on the pitch in defense of Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United empire.
Despite being shifted around to accommodate Cristiano Ronaldo’s meteoric rise to become the club’s main man and x-factor player, Rooney worked selflessly week in, week out to complement Ronaldo’s proficiency in attack, the efficient passing and ball control in midfield, and no-nonsense defensive approach. In short, he did everything he was asked for the club he loved, thus endearing him to the Old Trafford faithful.
Following Cristiano Ronaldo’s transfer to Real Madrid in 2009 and up until the arrival of Robin van Persie from Arsenal in 2012, the burden of being Manchester United’s leading player in attack fell squarely upon Rooney’s shoulders. Aside from a distracting and underwhelming 2010/2011 season marred by alleged transfer requests, an extended contract saga, and what was widely interpreted as very public questioning of the club’s ambition, Rooney, in the style of a true champion, rose to the occasion. He delivered an impressive 34 goals in the 2009/10 and 2011/2012 seasons respectably. The former season, despite the scoring records for both being the same, stood out in the memories of fans as arguably his most impressive ever in a United shirt.
As he climbed up the leaderboard of United’s top scorers, fans, neutral observers and detractors alike were treated to commanding displays of the extent of Wayne Rooney’s innate footballing prowess. His relentless pressing from the front, deadly finishing and willingness for fight tooth and nail for 90 minutes to match the club’s and Sir Alex Ferguson’s ambitions endeared him to football fans globally.
This peak, however, was not to last, with the 2011/2012 season being the final one in which he managed to score more than 20 goals. Extra firepower was brought into the club with a view of taking United to the next level, leaving Rooney to make do with various supporting roles once again. Despite his displays at the very top of his game being limited to such a short period, Rooney continued to be a regular double-digit goalscorer, thus bolstering the validation of his own attacking prowess and boosting his rapid chase of Sir Bobby Charlton’s then record of 249 club goals.