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Having joined at the tender age of 18 as an explosive young talent, Wayne Rooney approaches the new season having served the Red Devils for well over a decade. Just 4 short of Sir Bobby Charlton’s record number of goals for the club, the striker-turned-midfielder-turned-striker-once-more has undoubtedly given great service to Manchester United.
It hasn’t necessarily been a smooth ride, and there is no question that the former Everton man is far from universally popular amongst the United Faithful, but few should begrudge his contribution to a side who up until recently consistently claimed the game’s biggest prizes.
Had Sir Alex Ferguson remained at the club any longer, Wayne Rooney would be long gone. The Reds’ former manager believed Rooney had peaked and the player’s own desire to drop back into a midfield role is perhaps testament that the Scot was right. Nevertheless, as things transpired Rooney was convinced by David Moyes to remain at Old Trafford and now captains a side looking to erase the bad memories of an unsatisfactory few years.
Jose Mourinho was clear and uncomplicated in his assessment; Wayne Rooney will play as a striker, a no.10, or not at all. With the talents of Ibrahimovic and Henrikh Mkhitaryan arriving, and the promise and potential of Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford already in the ranks, the Evertonian’s playing time this season may well make for interesting viewing.
For the first time since the very late days of Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign, the striker has serious competition. The hunger remains and that competition may well spark one final resurgence. That is what Jose Mourinho will be hoping; but at last a manager has arrived with the experience and conviction to work ruthlessly with even the biggest names.
Time will tell if Rooney can rediscover some serious goal-scoring form in a forward role, but the early signs are positive and the England man has looked fit and determined in training. The added competition may just squeeze out the final remnants of a player truly at the top of the game at his peak in a system that should suit him, and it should not surprise anyone were Rooney to register over 20 goals in the forthcoming campaign.
The most likely scenario is that Rooney will play behind Zlatan Ibrahimovic, bursting into the box in attack and staying compact defensively in the mould Jose Mourinho treasures so dearly. With pace either side likely provided by Martial and Mkhitaryan United will have a fluid forward line, but Mkhitaryan’s suitability to the no.10 role does raise question marks as to Rooney’s starting place.
Perhaps one big factor in the United captain’s favour is in fact the armband. For all his limitations on the field, communication and leadership are not, and never have been, found wanting with Wayne Rooney. He remains a key figure in the dressing room and will no doubt continue to fight for the team on the pitch.
Some will never forgive him for handing in a transfer request (perhaps on more than one occasion), but with a testimonial next week Rooney’s commitment and achievements on the pitch should not be forgotten.
Not many will forget the hattrick on his Champions League debut, the volley against Newcastle, a Champions League final goal that brought hope and elation, and an overhead kick to win a Manchester Derby to name a few. It has been 12 years of largely great memories and it is hoped that there may be a few more to come.
It is difficult to argue that Wayne Rooney will have many years left at the highest level, but if Jose Mourinho can ignite one last resurgence the Old Trafford Faithful may just for the final time see a top player who has been a top servant to Manchester United football club deliver on the biggest stage.