With the news that Manchester United and Wayne Rooney are set to agree terms on a bumper new five and a half year contract worth a staggering £300,000 per week and the club captaincy from next season, let’s take a look and see if this deal really makes sense.
Wayne Rooney is an enigma, or has been at least since he first revealed a darker side to his personality around four years ago. He burst onto the Premier League scene in 2002 as a sixteen year old boy, die-hard Everton fan, fresh out of school having grown up kicking football on the streets of Liverpool. The last of a dying breed of ‘street footballers’ as his manager David Moyes called him, he emerged onto the world stage at Euro 2004, he was heralded as England’s saviour who would surely go on to become one of the greatest players to ever play the game. It hasn’t quite worked out that way.
On the back of his breakout performances in Portugal in the summer of 2004, Rooney, then aged just 18, signed for Manchester United for a fee worth as much as £27m, which remains the highest fee ever paid for a teenager. He made his debut in a Champions League tie with Fenerbace, famously scoring a wonderful hat-trick, and giving off the impression that United were set for a Rooney-inspired period of dominance. He continued to impress but never quite became the all-conquering icon, in league with Pele, Maradonna and Zidane that the English media touted him as and certainly hasn’t been THE driving force behind United’s success during his career at Old Trafford so far.
Rooney already has a wonderful resume, one most players would die for. Five Premier League titles, Champions League winner, PFA Player of the Year, the fifth highest Premier League goal scorer of all time (he will climb to at least second place before the end of his career), but he’s never really fulfilled his enormous potential. His development at United was somewhat stunted by the emergence of Cristiano Ronaldo as a phenomenal talent around 2006/07 season. He spent the next three title-winning seasons quietly playing second fiddle to Ronaldo, often being forced to play out wide, particularly away from home in the Champions League, to accommodate the talents of his Ballon d’Or winning teammate. It helped the team enormously but no doubt Rooney was silently growing frustrated as his Portuguese counterpart picked up one individual accolade after another.
Ronaldo’s departure in 2009 thrust Rooney into the spotlight once more and he became THE man at United for the first time in three seasons. He revelled in this new role, playing as an out-and-out striker every week at last and responded with a personal best return of 34 goals, becoming PFA Player of the Year in the process. He picked up an injury against Bayern Munich in United’s Champions League quarter final, failed to score again after this game and never really looked fully fit for about ten months. United suffered as a result, crashing out of Europe to Bayern and conceding the league title to Chelsea.
Ferguson said in his book that Rooney was not naturally a very fit human being and this causes him to take longer to recover from injuries than some other more thoroughbred players, David Beckham being the prime example Ferguson gave. Rooney’s season ending injury at United carried on into the World Cup that summer where he looked incredibly tired and unfit as England failed spectacularly.
The summer and autumn of 2010 saw Rooney’s turn to the dark side and we began to see a different side to the English striker. A more sinister side to his personality emerged. Gone was the boyish shyness and the kid from the street who just wanted to play football. In his place was an egotistical, financially driven mercenary. Rooney did something completely out of his former character in late 2010, handing in a transfer request to Manchester United, questioning the desire of the club to sign the best players and compete at the top level in the future, essentially saying his team-mates weren’t good enough for him. This whole issue was resolved within days of it becoming public knowledge and Wayne was rewarded for his treason with a nice new £220,000 per week contract. His form on the pitch failed to reach anything near the heights of the previous season. Dimitar Berbatov won the golden boot, Javier Hernandez took much of the plaudits, United won the title but Rooney was once again relegated to the supporting cast.
The following year he bounced back to form, reclaiming his spot as United’s talisman. He equalled his best goal tally of 34 but United were denied the title in dramatic fashion on the final day. Rooney scored the goal to beat Sunderland that day and had they won the title he would have been entitled to a great deal of the plaudits. If 2007, 08 and 09 were ‘Ronaldo’s titles’, then 2012 would surely have been Rooney’s crowning glory. That summer saw the arrival of Robin van Persie at Old Trafford and Wayne Rooney relegated once more to a supporting role, even dropped to the bench at times as United cruised to title number 20. This one belonged to the Dutchman who scooped the Golden Boot.
According to Ferguson, Rooney ‘asked away’ again towards the end of the season having played some of it in midfield and finding himself dropped for the crucial Champions League knockout tie with Real Madrid, this prompted his aforementioned dark side to come to the fore again during the summer.
‘The Rooney Camp’ provided one of the biggest transfer stories of the summer as they quietly attempted to engineer a move for their man away from Old Trafford with Chelsea the preferred destination. August came and went and he was forced to remain at United for another season at least. Now, with just one full season remaining on his contract and turning 29 later this year, Rooney knows this next deal will be the final big one of his career.
Six months on from his last attempt to leave, Rooney looks to have been persuaded to remain at United, thanks in no small part to this rumoured £300,000 a week contract he’s just signed/about to sign. Money has to have been the deciding factor here. United have slumped from runaway champions last season to Europa League hopefuls this year with virtually the same squad.
Do United need Rooney? With Mata and Kagawa in the ranks now it seems as if they are overloaded in the ‘number ten’ spot behind van Persie. Would you pick Mata or Kagawa ahead of Rooney? The two alternatives are different types of players to Rooney and while they lack his dynamism, they make up for it in terms of creativity and vision. Moyes seems determined to try and jam at least two of them into the attacking midfield line, paying £37m for a player and playing him out of position wide on the right seems like a bit of a waste to me. Kagawa, although not as expensive as Mata has seen his talents criminally wasted since his arrival in Manchester, shifted out to the left to allow Rooney to play through the middle and this new deal for Rooney should see him sent packing back to Dortmund in the summer.
Also, is rewarding a player, who has twice asked to leave in the space of three years, with the biggest contract in British football history and the captain’s armband really going to do the team any good? There can be no denying that United’s squad needs a major overhaul over the coming years but is building the team around Rooney really the answer right now?
To me, it seems like he’s more trouble than he’s worth and I think United are making a mistake by handing him this enormous contract. Rooney is good but he’s not in the same league as Messi, Ronaldo, or even Luis Suarez at the moment. £300,000 is an awful lot of money to pay one player when he’s not the very best available. If the team continue to flounder on the pitch as they have this season, there’s every chance Rooney will throw another strop and demand to leave again in eighteen months. To me, given the amount of money involved, the stage the player’s at in his career, his ability relative to other similarly well-paid players and his already tarnished reputation, it just doesn’t seem worth it.