First, I’ll start by admitting that as a lifelong fan of Manchester United, in my opinion, he will never and should never go down as a club legend. Someone who has twice tried to force their way out of the club to its main rivals can never achieve that status; especially at the first attempt as he targeted a transfer to Manchester City because his ambitions weren’t matched where he already was. Really?! A team led by the greatest manager of all time and were the most successful team in English history didn’t match his ambitions? This is an unforgivable act, an act that Giggs/Scholes/Cantona – the real legends of the club – would never have committed regardless of the pay package Rooney was awarded with. Whether it was a move orchestrated by his agent or not, it automatically disqualifies him from being a club hero which is why I think so many United fans are hoping Marcus Rashford will eventually supersede him as the all-time club scorer.
This aside, has Rooney lived up to his potential as a player? All off field issues and questions of loyalty excluded from the argument, or will he merely go down as a good player in strong teams, who failed to reach the upper echelon he seemed destined for?
In my opinion there are four groups of players that young footballers, with perceived potential, will eventually develop into; Tier 4 [Freddy Adu etc.], Tier 3 [Theo Walcott etc], Tier 2 [Ryan Giggs/Alan Shearer etc] and Tier 1 [Cristiano Ronaldo etc].
Tier 4 I’d describe as a player who moves up from the youth team with such hype surrounding their introduction to football they’re subsequently expected to be the next big thing but ultimately their careers fizzle out resulting in journeymen of average clubs who retire young. For example, Freddy Adu was proclaimed the next Pele who was constantly linked to the big clubs and even trialled at Manchester United perfectly sums up this category; others that come to mind being Isaac Cuenca, Ravel Morrison and David Bentley. I won’t dwell on this tier because it’s clear even for the biggest Rooney haters that he’s much too good for this.
At the other end of the spectrum are the Cristiano Ronaldos and Lionel Messis of the world. Now obviously, there’s no one in history like these two but I’d include the likes of Zidane, Henry and Ronaldinho in this category. These are the players who come through with big expectation and not only deliver but change the way football is played and viewed; constantly raising the level of expectation. These are the individuals we pay the big money to see, who collect the Ballon D’ors and are fondly remembered by fans of all clubs for long after they have retired; the ones we simply feel blessed to have ever witnessed. Rooney has never been close to a Ballon D’or, never carried England far in a tournament and for the most part been the third best player on his club team so there’s next to no case for him being in this tier regardless of his goal scoring records.
The two remaining categories can be argued more; I believe that several players could overlap both or at least have a case made to go either way.
Beginning with tier 3; this again involves players who come through with a lot of attention and heralded as the next big thing. I’m sure most (certainly Arsenal fans) can remember seeing the videos of both Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain’s youth team games at Southampton where both were touted to be huge stars. I hate to target Arsenal but to a lesser extent I’d also throw in Aaron Ramsey and Danny Welbeck here and, depending on how the next few years go, I could throw in Wilshere, Barkley and to an extent Jesse Lingard in this category. All these players are good players with good careers and I certainly don’t label them as flops. They are serviceable players and perfect as squad players for those top teams competing on numerous fronts but in comparison to the publicity surrounding the start of their careers they have never reached the potential expected of them. They became good players but not the great players they were destined for by the media and scouts who built them up so fast! This is no slight to them, but no fan can argue Walcott has become the second coming of Henry in North London.
Finally, tier 2: these are guaranteed club legends that are pushing on the door for the elite echelon of tier 1. They fully lived up to their potential with phenomenal careers but don’t quite have that X-Factor; the final ingredient that makes them into those names that automatically make people nostalgic regardless of their team loyalties. No one questions their ability or the things they achieved as part of their team or individually and they are certainly legends of the game; they just aren’t quite making your teams of all time.
Having explained my criteria, grouping Rooney is quite a blurred line and I appreciate that others may make solid arguments for him to be placed in a different category but this is my attempt at it all fan bias aside!
In 2002 Wayne Rooney burst onto the scene with THAT goal against Arsenal and from then on he was destined to be England’s saviour (which many before and after him – Beckham/Kane etc – can testify to being a difficult and thankless task); the new Paul Gascoigne. It was clear he had bundles of talent, a high work rate and an enthusiasm/love for the game unmatched and it was no surprise a big club came in quickly. 13 years on from the move from Merseyside and at the relatively young age of 31 Rooney is now both Manchester United and England’s record goal scorers surpassing the true legend that is Sir Bobby Charlton. He has accumulated 5 Premier League titles, 1 FA cup, 1 League Cup, 1 UCL medal, 1 Club World Cup and various Community Shields and is only a few caps from becoming England’s all time most capped player behind only Peter Shilton.
In summary, a fantastic career joined with the records he owns surely puts him at the top of tier 2? His stats are without a doubt impressive – he beat Charlton’s club record for goals in 209 less games – but when you look deeper, there is a question of whether they are inflated.
Indeed, Rooney scored goals at a faster rate for Manchester United but the reality is he was bought and played as a striker. Charlton scored his arguably more impressive haul as a midfielder and so it would be a shock if it hadn’t been a slower rate. Similarly, Charlton, who did eventually play alongside the greats George Best and Dennis Law, also spent an early part of his career with teammates of a much lower quality due to the tragedy of the Munich Air Disaster in 1958 that sadly cut short the lives of so many of United’s stars leaving Busby and Charlton to begin the loyal rebuild. Rooney on the other hand found himself playing with Scholes, Giggs, Ronaldo, Tevez etc. in a free scoring side and has still only bettered 20 league goals in two seasons (2009/10 and 2011/12).
At International level, he has attained 13 more caps than Charlton to return only one extra goal. Charlton may have been part of the World Cup winning team but Rooney has played in England’s golden generation so it’s certainly nothing to do with the state of the national side that caused Rooney’s strike rate to be lower; particularly with teams like San Marino (Rooney got 5 of his collection against them) and Andorra (2) not even possible fixtures in which Charlton could boost his total in having formed in the 1980s and 1990s.
|Player||Club Appearances||Goals||Assists||GPG||International Caps||International Goals||GPG|
|Sir Bobby Charlton||758||249||N/A||0.33||106||49||0.46|
This is by no means to denigrate his records, merely to contextualise them. For all the goals, he has scored only 7 came in the finals of a tournament: 1 in a World Cup [WC] and 6 in the European Championships [EC]. For the sake of perspective, Shearer scored 2 WC goals and 7 EC goals and had a higher scoring rate at both club and in the national side.
Wayne Rooney no doubt possesses talent but he’s never been the striker to carry a team on his back via goals except for the 09/10 and 11/12 seasons in which the team only achieved a League Cup win. He’s neither the influence of an Eric Cantona nor does it make an impact like Gareth Bale has done more recently for Wales. He’s categorically not on the Ronaldo level and based on the stats in context it’s difficult to even assign him to tier 2.
From a different perspective, does he really deserve the disservice of being relegated to tier 3? As mentioned before he is a record scorer for club and country with a trophy collection most clubs would be happy with so can he really be likened to the careers of injury plagued Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott.
I think, both individually and as a collective, he’s a tier 2 player based off what he has won; every trophy available for someone based in England at club level. He’s a perennial winner and even through the recent dark times at the club he’s not been corrupted; you only need look at his record breaking goal to equalise at Stoke yet was only concerned in finding a winner. However, based on pure talent and the hype that surrounded him as a teenager I think he has never quite reached that potential; thus, placing him in tier 3. He has never been able to elevate England and unlike the truly top players he’s been unable to adapt his game to prolong his career. By this I mean Mourinho does – quite rightly – not trust him to lead the line for goals, but he also knows that Rooney is not good enough of a midfielder to displace those already positioned there. He has not transitioned successfully at all in the way that Giggs, Scholes, Zanetti and the like have done before him. I’d also argue that for the way he performed at Everton aged only 16 he would’ve been predicted to be outscoring Shearer by now and leading his teams to the promised land yet he appears to have developed the mental state of a second fiddle player; I can only assume this was due to the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo so early in his career.
I think the best way to truly categorise this divisive figure is to answer this solitary question: where would his club/country be without him?
If you removed Wayne Rooney from United history I don’t believe the trophy haul during that time would differ too much and had he gone to Arsenal for example instead, I don’t believe he’d have changed the course of their history. He seems like a good to great player who benefitted from the environment he played in. His stats looked better when players like Ronaldo left for pastures new but the team suffered due to Rooney’s inability to carry a team. I think he has achieved the trophies he was destined to win but more as a product or cog of the dominating Ferguson football machine. Talent wise, I think he was never the best in the teams he played in and is only captain due to a combination of age, longevity/experience and default. Similarly, England have achieved nothing special with him in their teams, certainly he’s often come under criticism for underperforming, so there’s no difference if you remove him from these teams. So, whilst I think as a footballer he is a lot better than Theo Walcott and others in that tier, he isn’t of the likes I’ve listed for tier 2.
If I was to sit on the fence, I’d say he’s split between the two but I don’t want to do that and so in judging him on his career based on the potential he was predicted to reach when he burst onto the scene with Everton; I must place him alongside those in tier 3 who never really quite became the player expected of them. This is unlikely to change aged 31, burned out and seemingly less effective each year and I think Mourinho is doing the right thing to continue to reduce his minutes and prepare him for either a return to his boyhood team or a move stateside.