In the biggest match of the season so far Wayne Rooney walked to his wonderfully cosy seat on the bench and he could ruefully wonder who had picked that particular song. ‘Should I Stay Or Should I Go?’ by The Clash was ringing around Old Trafford as Manchester United were preparing to face Real Madrid and you could forgive him for singing along.
Indeed, it was only October 2010 when Rooney had signed that bumper deal. At £200,000+ a week, the figure was staggering yet this meant more than simply a gargantuan wage package and a successful bout of brinkmanship with Sir Alex Ferguson. He had posed questions about United’s immediate future and with the deal signed it symbolised his status as the main man around whom the team would be picked. Wayne Rooney was indispensable.
That was then and while 14 goals in 24 starts is form not to be sniffed at, Rooney has dropped down the pecking order. The decision to omit him from the starting line-up against Madrid sent Fleet Street – but this was not as seismic a dropping as Ruud van Nistelrooy in 2006’s League Cup final or David Beckham against Madrid in 2003. This time it was purely tactical.
Anyone who regularly watches England will appreciate that in big games Rooney’s defensive discipline can be sporadic at best, a liability at worst. Against Italy in Euro 2012 it was called into question when the one man in Europe you do not allow time and space, Andrea Pirlo, could pick out inch-perfect passes and generally conduct proceedings from a deep lying position.
In the first leg against Madrid, the same problem occurred again only Xabi Alonso was the exponent until Danny Welbeck performed an admirable job both in the second half of the first leg and for most of the second leg itself. There remains a lingering ‘what if?’ over the game in which we will never know what might have happened had Nani remained on the pitch. However, tactically the match was very much in United’s favour and proved that though Rooney remains a valuable talent he is far from indispensable.
Football is a cruel game where sentiment can be conspicuous by its absence, a factor that Sir Alex Ferguson is all too aware of. Mark Hughes, Andrei Kanchelskis, Paul Ince, Roy Keane, David Beckham and Ruud van Nistelrooy have all been dispensed with and the trophies keep on coming. Make no mistake, Sir Alex Ferguson would have weighed up the pros and cons himself with the future of the team remaining his most pressing concern. Despite the quality of the players moving on there is always someone able to fill the void. The team moves on, it always has done.
Add Wayne Rooney to that list as at 27, there are already lingering concerns over his fitness and lifestyle decisions. To put it bluntly, against Madrid he looked the wrong side of bulky and after the state of his figure at the start of the season there have to be serious doubts whether he can sustain a career at the very top, considering he has already been there for 12 years. You also appreciate that while Sir Alex Ferguson was publicly pleased to keep his man at the club the damage his transfer request caused will not have been forgotten.
Compare his development to that to Cristiano Ronaldo because at a point not very long along the two were considered equal. While the Portuguese winger would dominate the Ballon D’Or if it was not for one certain diminutive Argentinian genius, the same cannot be said for Rooney. The potent talent at Euro 2004 has been tamed and moulded into a more rounded footballer. Where once he was thought as the main man and at least a willing ally to the burgeoning talents of Ronaldo, his status has been usurped.
There is the impression that Rooney thrives on responsibility, that sense of being the fulcrum of the side. Immediately after Ronaldo’s departure he set about becoming the team’s main goalscorer and the first name on the team sheet. By Easter that season, he had become so vital to the team’s success that he was rushed back from an ankle injury to surprisingly start against Bayern Munich. Within seven minutes United were 2-0 up and Rooney was at the heart of it all. Almost inevitably the Germans tested that ankle, off went Rooney and United’s chances of progression diminished with him off the pitch.
Wayne Rooney will probably remain a Manchester United player over the summer yet if he was to be sold, there would probably not be a better time to recoup a sizeable transfer fee and lower the wage bill. The signing of Robin van Persie was what Rooney wanted yet it could spell the end of his time at the club. Rumours also continue to persist around the signing of Borussia Dortmund’s Robert Lewandowski which could make a lot of sense.
Should he stay or should he go? The team will carry on no matter what.