Such were the vast expectations, Wayne Rooney’s career is a tough one to assess. But his legacy is secure at Manchester United, writes Adam Bate.
Where do you go after scoring a 37-minute Champions League hat-trick on your Manchester United debut? If you’re Wayne Rooney, you go on to become the club’s all-time top scorer, winning five Premier League titles and a Champions League along the way.
And yet, for some, that will never be enough. Not for the boy whom Arsene Wenger described as „the biggest England talent I’ve seen“ following his first Premier League goal for Everton against Arsenal. The events of Euro 2004 raised expectations still further.
Nobody who watched Rooney overwhelm European defences in Portugal that summer would dismiss the furore surrounding him as mere hype. The best player on a pitch that included Zinedine Zidane and Thierry Henry. The most exciting talent at the tournament.
When Sir Alex Ferguson paid £30m for him soon after, he was happy to compare Rooney to Eric Cantona. „I think we have got the best young player this country has seen in the past 30 years,“ said the legendary United boss. „I can see Wayne having the same impact as Eric.“
That comparison was unhelpful. Cantona had restored United to the very top. When Rooney arrived they were near enough there already: the reigning FA Cup holders, winners of four of the past six Premier League titles. But what he did do was make Manchester United better.
Rooney had to wait until his third season for his first title but his Old Trafford impact was instant thanks to that hat-trick against Fenerbahce. His volleyed equaliser against Newcastle the following April was extraordinary in both execution and ambition.
The PFA young player of the year in each of those first two seasons, he was part of United’s title-winning team in the following three. By that stage, he had the maturity and mobility to play an important role for United in wide areas, sacrificing himself for the side in big games.
It helped the team to back-to-back Champions League finals – winning the first in 2008 – and when Cristiano Ronaldo departed for Madrid he did more than anyone to fill the void, embarking on the greatest goalscoring run of his career in scoring 26 goals in 24 games.
That sequence included a League Cup winner at Wembley. Even more memorably, in 2011, there was his overhead kick winner against Manchester City that played its part in propelling United to the title. It was later voted as the greatest goal in Premier League history.
During that period of his career, Rooney’s goal record was world class. He scored 34 goals in a season for the second time in 2011/12. Expert poacher Ruud van Nistelrooy is the only other player to do that for Manchester United since the days of Denis Law.
But while the Dutchman confined his work to the box, Rooney not only had a flair for the spectacular – think of his halfway strike at West Ham in 2014 – but he was a creator too. He’s one of only four men to bring up 100 Premier League assists and the only forward to do so.
Rooney was still the team’s top scorer in the first season under Louis van Gaal but he was unable to arrest United’s slide even if there was time for a first ever FA Cup win in May 2016. All that remained was to break United’s goal record – a feat achieved against Stoke in January.
In the end, Rooney exits in relatively placid circumstances given the dramatic departures of the past, having seen his on-field influence and importance to the current team reduce under Jose Mourinho. And he leaves having failed to heal the world, square the circle or even replicate Geoff Hurst’s World Cup final hat-trick without the help of an Azerbaijani linesman.
Indeed, even in departure it feels natural with Rooney to reflect on what he was not. England’s saviour? Not quite, just his country’s record goalscorer. At United, he is seen as neither Cantona nor George Best, neither Sir Bobby Charlton nor Paul Scholes or Ryan Giggs.
But he won more than most and scored more than them all. Team man and individual. Artist and artisan. Roundhead and cavalier. A United star for over a decade. And while exceeding expectations was impossible, Wayne Rooney is entitled to feel that he met them in style.Soccer Accumulator Bonus
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