The reactions may have been over the top. There may have been a certain amount of sensationalism. It may be just a little bit too convenient that the stories emerged in the aftermath of the striker finding himself on the bench for the biggest game of United’s season.
Whatever the doubts surrounding the recent press speculation, what cannot be doubted is that Wayne Rooney has been a very good player for Manchester United for nearly nine years now. The fact that he is within perhaps two seasons of becoming the club’s top scorer, standing on 195 goals, just 64 goals short of Sir Bobby Charlton’s record, is testament to his contribution. He has been a talisman since the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo, a role that has perhaps been transferred to Robin van Persie, the Dutch striker who arrived from Arsenal in the summer of 2012.
It can also be argued, however, that Rooney’s performance levels have dipped below their 2006-10 height even as his goal outputs have risen, initially to compensate for the loss of Ronaldo and Tevez and latterly to cover the poor goal returns of his fellow strikers in last season’s run in. It is hard to argue that a striker who returned 35 goals had a poor season, and perhaps a better word to describe the post-2010 Rooney would be ‘inconsistent’, certainly in terms of performance if not goalscoring.
Indeed, Rooney’s best season was probably 2009-10, when consistently good performances were accompanied by what was then a career best goal tally of 34. Rooney then, however, failed to score from March onwards, highlighting his importance to the club when his replacements failed to match the form and goals of the then struggling Liverpudlian, ultimately leading to Chelsea winning the Premier League. Rooney’s performances since the injury plagued end to that season have struggled to reach that standard, with occasional flashes of brilliance or bursts of form not matching the consistency of 2010. Those who will inevitably point to last season’s tally of 35 goals are missing the point; yes, he scored goals, but Rooney’s performances were generally average.
So, in summary, Rooney has been an important player who initially exploded as a raw 18 year old, achieved his best performances from 2006-10 and then declined in levels of performance from 2010 onwards. The facts and figures can be analysed to the point of boring everyone, yet the point remains: whatever the arguments about his declining performances (although contributing with more goals), Rooney has been an important, if not recently dazzling, player for Manchester United for nine years.
And yet, while his influence cannot be doubted, what must surely be called into question is the attitude bordering on delusion of some United fans who continually flag up Rooney’s loyalty and commitment. Rooney works incredibly hard on the field and is rightly praised for it, yet could it not also be stated that this is something to be expected of any professional footballer? Whatever your views on that, it is my opinion that Rooney’s on field commitment has always been exemplary, but that off the field he shows an incredible lack of commitment to maintaining a lifestyle befitting a Premier League footballer. He smokes, he drinks, he returns from pre-season almost a stone over weight. This attitude compares unfavourably to that of Ryan Giggs or Rooney’s ex-teammate Cristiano Ronaldo. Committed? He may be on the pitch but he’s certainly not committed to maintaining an appropriate lifestyle off it.
And loyalty? Rooney’s contract stand-off in 2010 was the antithesis of the word. It has been reported that, had United not nearly tripled his wages, Ferguson was convinced that the player would have joined Manchester City. And this is where I have trouble comprehending the attitude of some fans towards Rooney and a player who did leave, Cristiano Ronaldo.
Whereas Ronaldo’s requests to leave were motivated by a desire to fulfil a boyhood dream, Rooney’s was nothing more than a drive for a much bigger contract. Not only that, but Rooney released a statement containing criticisms of the manager and club as well as veiled, subtle implications that the playing staff were not up to the standards he expected. Ronaldo never did this, and the only way in which he criticised the club was by agreeing with a comment from Sepp Blatter regarding him being a ‘slave’ at Old Trafford. While a misjudgement, this was not a press release in the middle of the season on the night of a Champions League group game, like we had from Rooney.
Rooney has been- and, I’m sure, will continue to be- a fantastic player for Manchester United. He’s been committed on the pitch, although with a wage packet of over £200,000 per week I’d expect nothing less. Yet what can be called into question is his commitment off the pitch. And loyalty? Don’t make me laugh. A good player he undoubtedly is, but the near delusion of some fans about his fabled loyalty and commitment is at best baffling, at worst foolhardy.
I’ll round off this piece by saying that I don’t necessarily want Rooney to leave the club, especially not if United are unable to secure a suitable replacement in his place. What I would like to point out however, is that Rooney’s departure is no longer the earth shattering prospect it was in 2010; his form and fitness is no longer inextricably linked to the fortunes of our football club. He is no longer the explosively powerful player of old, yet his goal tallies have increased. It ultimately comes down to whether you prioritise performances or goal returns, but why should we have to choose? The very best players- and Rooney has the talent to be in that bracket- combine the two, often with devastating results.
Wherever you fall in that debate is not really the issue, however. What has to be recognised and dispelled is the myth that Rooney is not some leading exponent of loyalty and commitment. No matter his commitment on the pitch- his 9-5, if you like- he is simply not that committed off it, nor can loyalty be considered a huge part of his personality.