Wayne Rooney put in the performance of an experienced captain when Manchester United beat Crystal Palace at Wembley. He was obviously aware that this may be the last opportunity to win a trophy that had eluded him throughout his career, and he wasn’t about to give up the FA Cup without a fight.
After Palace had gone a goal up late on, it was vital that United equalised quickly, and they did so through Rooney’s determination. He must have taken on four or five players before delivering a perfect ball into the box for Marouane Fellaini to chest down to Juan Mata to make it 1-1.
Playing in a deeper role to the one he has been accustomed to throughout his time at United, he played very well, maybe finally fulfilling the prophecies that he would finish his career playing a role similar to that of Paul Scholes before his retirement.
With United, Rooney now has a full house: winning the Premier League, Champions League, FA Cup and League Cup, throwing in the FIFA Club World Cup for good measure.
His goal against Bournemouth in the final Premier League game of the season means he is now just five goals shy of replacing Sir Bobby Charlton as the club’s all-time leading goal scorer. However, when Rooney hangs up his boots, you wouldn’t expect to see his name donning one of the stands at Old Trafford.
Who would have thought it would be possible for a player to win as many trophies as Rooney has for a club, be the captain, play in more than 500 games, score 245 goals, yet still be the focal point of a debate over whether he can be considered a club legend or not.
It would have been so easy for Rooney to claim his legendary status at United, even as a scouser, with his hatred of Liverpool allowing the fans to warm to him straight away.
He was the next big thing when United signed him from Everton, the club he had scored for as a teenager and proudly shown a “once a blue, always a blue” T-shirt. He would go on to return to Goodison Park during the years, met with jeers and boos whenever he went near the ball, and would respond by kissing United’s badge.
“Once a blue, always a red” the United fans would chant, totally besotted with this young and exciting footballer, who charged through defences, scored excellent goals and looked as though he was made for United.
It’s hard to remember that Rooney now, with his tired legs preventing those bursts of speed, his poor touch too often letting him down, and his finishing not what it used to be. It’s also difficult to recall just how strongly the fans felt for him back then, how he was universally worshipped, with his name being chanted and song being sung several times a game.
In 2010, Rooney’s reputation took a kicking that he never fully recovered from when he dropped the bombshell that he would not be renewing his contract at United.
This sort of thing just didn’t happen to United, so Sir Alex Ferguson was flabbergasted, as were the fans. It was reported that Rooney had been talking to Manchester City behind United’s back, all hell broke loose, with some supporters paying the player a “visit” at his home.
He is often accused of claiming the club lacked ambition, although these were never the words he actually used, but he might as well have done so. He revealed that he had met with David Gill and “he did not give me any of the assurances I was seeking about the future squad. I then told him that I would not be signing a new contract. For me it’s all about winning trophies — as the club has always done under Sir Alex. Because of that I think the questions I was asking were justified.”
Ferguson went on to play a blinder, getting in front of the world’s cameras, looking like a wounded animal.
“I was dumbfounded,” Ferguson claimed of his reaction on hearing the news. “Only months before he was saying he was at the greatest club in the world.”
Ferguson went on to suggest Rooney hadn’t been respectful of the club, and how disappointed he was in the player after United had always been safe harbour for him any time he had been in trouble.
“We cannot quite understand why he would want to leave,” Ferguson continued, reminding everyone how ludicrous it was for Rooney to suggest that desire to win trophies, and not money, was behind his desire to leave. “No one can deny this club is one of the most successful in British football.
“We don’t understand it. I can’t answer any questions about why he is doing it. We can speculate. We can have opinions. It won’t matter a dickie-bird, simply because the player is adamant he wants to leave.”
Ferguson ended his emotive and perfectly executed speech with the offer of leaving the door open to Rooney. With that, the player was trapped — could he afford to now betray the club that had done so much for him?
Rooney had escaped the tag of being a mercenary by most people when he left his boyhood club for United because of his motivation to succeed. But there was no way he wouldn’t be dubbed a money-hungry traitor if he left United for City, particularly then, with the blue side of Manchester still in their 34-year wait for silverware.
Rooney quickly had a change of heart, put pen to paper on a new massive deal, and both parties were happy. United didn’t lose face by allowing their star player to leave for City, and Rooney got the big money he had been craving.
Six months later, United won the league and were in the Champions League final, which Rooney scored in, putting to bed any notion that United weren’t the club to be at if trophies were your main aim.
A lot of fans forgave Rooney throughout time, and although they probably never felt the same way about him, he seemed to recognise the error of his ways and was committed to the club again.
In September of 2012, Rooney reflected on his decision to ask to leave, and claimed it was the biggest mistake of his life. “Hopefully in 10 years I’ll still be at United,” he said. “As long as the club want me I’ll be here.”
Just six months later though, after Ferguson celebrated lifting United’s 20th league table, he confirmed that Rooney had asked to leave again. Jose Mourinho returned to Chelsea and the West London club put in a couple of bids for him, but Rooney remained silent, clearly learning from the mistakes of old.
The transfer window went by without Rooney refuting Ferguson’s claim. The only statement he made that summer was to deny news reports that he had changed his Twitter bio from “Manchester United player” to “Nike athlete.”
The fans weren’t stupid, or most of them weren’t at least, and could work out that if he had no interest in leaving the club, he would say so. He was quick enough to deny some non-story about his social media account, but said nothing to deny the daily reports that he wanted to leave for Chelsea.
When the transfer window closed and manager David Moyes “convinced” Rooney to stay, after the club rejected Chelsea’s derisory £20 million offer, the player then claimed he had never intended to leave.
In a television documentary at the start of this season, Rooney finally admitted he did go to speak to the manager about wanting to leave, but denied handing in a transfer request, a claim that Ferguson had never actually made anyway.
Rooney had already signed a new five-and-a-half-year contract by this point though, and while the previous extension felt like a victory for the club, this was definitely a success for the player. Without the leadership of Ferguson, stuck with Moyes instead, United were desperate for any small wins, and couldn’t afford further embarrassment.
If Rooney left for Chelsea or City, and won the league with them, it would be disastrous for United, so they paid over the odds on a contract that was far too long in a bid to save face. It worked, but it then meant that United were now tied to a player who was earning a fortune that he didn’t deserve.
He’s scored 37 league goals in 90 appearances during the past three seasons, but it was 50 goals in 89 games the three seasons before that.
Like his pal Jamie Carragher pointed out, he may be 30, but he’s had the career of a 35-year-old thanks to starting so young, so it’s no surprise he’s been past his best for years.
If Rooney had any sense, he would leave United for Everton this summer, taking a huge pay cut, and playing for his boyhood club once more. Maybe then he could get his big-money move to the USA or China when he’s finished on Merseyside, just in case he hasn’t earned quite enough yet.
The temptation to stay at United, play for Jose Mourinho, beat Charlton’s scoring record and add another medal or two to his collection is likely to be greater though.
Mourinho is his own man and if he felt Rooney was surplus to requirements he would be brave enough to get rid of him, almost certainly. But that would be a huge move in his first summer, to come in to United, and kick out the club and England captain.
When you weigh in the fact that Mourinho is a Rooney fan, it’s almost certain that the player will be at United next season, albeit in midfield.
For some fans, they will be pleased. For others, who are all too aware that Rooney would be kissing City or Chelsea’s badge when he scored at Old Trafford if not for the fact the club refused to sell him, having to endure another season of him plodding around the pitch is frustrating.
Can he reinvent himself in the midfield role next season? If anyone can help a player pull off such a feat, the Special One can.