A Tribute to Wayne Rooney: The Red Devil with Limitless Potential but Limited Achievements
This one really makes me feel a bit old. I remember it like yesterday seeing Wayne Rooney in the starting lineup for a United match and now it’s just a part of a distant pleasant memory. Premier League is one of the toughest things in modern football. It’s an epitome of class, grit and rivalry, which also makes it one of the most popular competitions amongst its sister leagues. Ever since its inception, Premier League has housed the biggest stars this sport has ever seen. Their path to greatness has more often than not encountered a tough period of Premier League action. Henry, Beckham, Gerrard, Lampard, Scholes, Giggs, Vieira, Torres, Suárez, Xabi Alonso, David Silva, Yaya Touré, Cristiano, Agüero, Drogba. It’s hard to list all the names but you get the idea. There’s one player who might not stand out in this list but is one of the greatest icons for the most successful club in this competition’s history. Wayne Rooney.
In the mid-2000s, the world of football was ready for a transition into the next generation of players ready to carry the baton. This was the golden age for Premier League and English football with the rise of Premier League big 4. Much is owed to the Invincibles, Special One’s Chelsea, Liverpool with the Miracle of Istanbul and the 3-peat United. Every team boasted of a deep squad with tough defence, visionary midfielders and lethal strikers. Even the national team had their best chances in the 2000s named as the Golden Generation but their failure to do so is a story for another day. One can arguably say that Manchester United was able to pip the other teams in the league through their domestic and European success. It is important to set this context to help people understand the importance of Wayne Rooney for this Manchester United team.
Manchester United has produced iconic strikers and midfielders in its illustrious history. Some of the greatest no. 7s ever. Makes sense, how else do you pile up 20 league titles. Wouldn’t it take something special to eclipse them all with the records which prove your longevity, class and talent? What makes it more special is that many people would not remember that it was Everton where Rooney announced himself to the world. At the age of 16, he became the youngest goalscorer in league’s history with his match-winner against the Invincibles. A long-range bullet into the top corner from one of the youngest and brightest talents the nation ever produced. His exploits as a teenager brought him in the radar of the top managers in the league eventually landing him at the Old Trafford. He won the Golden Boy award in 2004.
Wayne Rooney was a natural with the ball. His short stout physique equipped him with physicality, aggression as well as the finesse of a midfielder or a striker. Due to his talent as a teenager, he earned the nickname Wazza as a reference to another English player. He surely was a revelation for the team when paired with Cristiano, Tevez and Berbatov in that lineup. No other club has managed to achieve the continued success as United of 1999–2001 or 2007–09. Much credit to the motor of those players, especially the likes of Wayne Rooney. His aggression and behaviour surely got him in the bad books of the referees and the media on a few occasions but has served him and the club well in the longer run. His dedication on the defensive end to press the opponents and recover the ball is noteworthy as well. He was the perfect team player who sacrificed when needed but also rose to the occasion if asked for.
If you think that goal against Arsenal was good, his debut for United is a story for the ages. Champions League fixture, debut match as a teenager and he scores a hattrick. He had a proper combination of explosion and accuracy for a striker of his age. Even though the team wasn’t making any significant strides, he still managed to hone his skills. He could manage to channel his anger and frustration in the right direction. There is a brilliant piece of highlight where he was arguing with the referee while pressing forward and the next second, strikes a perfect volley from way outside the box in the top left corner. Remember the red card incident between Ronaldo and Rooney at the 2006 World Cup. Everyone awaited a dressing room drama during their reunion at the start of United’s season. But guess what, it was a beginning of a partnership which would help United and Ferguson realise a much-awaited dream, tying Liverpool for the number of league titles. He still was just scratching the surface of his true potential but was overshadowed by Cristiano Ronaldo during that period.
Once Cristiano parted ways for Real Madrid, Rooney became the star striker of the team. The next few seasons saw him carrying the team on his shoulders and he could truly embrace the role he desired. He managed to breach the 30 goals tally for the season across all competitions earning him PFA Players’ Player of the year in 2010. He found multiple avenues of scoring goals and became a regular set-piece choice for the team. Although he was streaky but still posed threat for the keeper every time he stepped for a free-kick. He wasn’t bad in the air as well. Remember, the overhead bicycle kick in the Derby. One of the greatest goals scored in a United shirt. Or how about his goal from the halfway line against West Ham, a Déjà vu of Beckham’s goal against Wimbledon. United could win another league title finally trumping Liverpool for most league titles and reach Champions League final and Rooney was the key architect for the team.
Ferguson has had a history of falling out with a few stars during his regime. Rooney was no exception during his contract extension when he decided to leave the team. Emotions took over and Rooney decided to pen down the new contract. It turned out to be a good decision in the long run as Rooney managed to win a few more titles in his latter years as a United player. League Title, FA Cup, Europa League. At this point of time, he has managed to win everything a player could wish for from team’s perspective. He wasn’t the best player in the world but he was the heart of this United team. For the Gen-Z out here, he also graced the cover of FIFA game in his prime, if that’s a benchmark for individual success.
The one argument against Rooney which I would side with is that he peaked too soon and could not sustain it like Ronaldo or Messi. He surely had the talent but his bulky physique squeezed the miles out of his legs. With the arrival of Van Persie and emergence of a few youngsters in the team, he had to fall down the pecking order and resort to a deeper midfield role. He was no more the player people would try to find in the box but rather be the one to create those opportunities. Through his vision and playmaking capabilities, the team still managed to strive with him still scoring important goals once in blue moon. The most underrated aspect of Rooney’s game was his ability to score in the important games.
The most important reason why the Premier League is the toughest league in Europe is due to the fact that 6–7 teams have the capability to alter the standings any season. Any team aspiring to win it all need to target more than a mere draw against these teams. Look back at the league winners right from the inception and you will find this to be as true as a setting in the stone. Rooney was a match-winner for United on these occasions. He wasn’t just a looter in a riot. It’s simply not bragging when he mostly found the net against Arsenal in his career, is the highest goalscorer in the history of Manchester Derby and has scored plenty against Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham. The hardcore United fans would not shy away from singing praises of Park Ji-sung and Solskjær for the very same reasons.
While he was a mere shadow of his former self in his later playing years, he could still produce spectacular moments on the pitch. I remember two specific moments — sealing a hattrick for Everton by scoring from halfway line and at DC United in MLS, chasing an attacker to recover the ball through a sliding tackle and providing an assist in the same play through a lofted pass from the midfield. Fatherhood is the ultimate truth and to be brutally honest, it caught up to Wayne Rooney a bit earlier than he would have wished for. His national team career deserves applause as well. He burst on to the scene at Euro 2004 becoming the youngest scorer in the tournament history. It’s a shame that England never managed to get over the hump with the sheer amount of talent and skill in the lineup. Rooney could maintain his position in the team eventually helping him earn most caps as an English outfield player, second-highest caps overall and all-time top scorer.
Wayne Rooney has been a true team player in every sense. His trophy cabinet is surely enviable which truly speaks of his resume as one of the greatest players to don the United red. Even with all the possible team success, he managed to make a name for himself with some of the greatest individual records in this league:
- Manchester United’s all-time top scorer including European competitions
- Most goals scored for a single club in Premier League
- Most Premier League seasons scoring 10+ goals
- Most goals scored by an English player in Champions League
- 2nd highest all-time goals and 3rd highest all-time assists in Premier League
- The only player with 200+ Premier League goals and 100+ Premier League assists
Looking at the current United roster, I am confident these records will stay for a long time.
While a few of his peers defied the critics even in the late 30s and 40s, it makes you wonder if he underachieved in his career. It is nothing short of remarkable yet he remains underappreciated, even amongst the United faithful. But it’s not the moment to retrospect rather celebrate. His contributions would always be cherished when reminiscing about the prosperous period in United’s history. He now embarks on a new journey as a manager of Derby County. The fans would wish that he instils some of those Ferguson tactics to help this team reach the same success he once enjoyed as a player. When it’s all said and done, Manchester United who truly be thankful for Rooney’s service and so would be us fans who witnessed his greatness in flesh. Thank you, Wazza!