And so, after debates over his best position, his place in the side for club and country, being dropped by club and country and any number of tabloid storms, comes the landmark.
Wayne Rooney’s strike against Stoke City to snatch a 1-1 draw established him as Manchester United’s all-time record goalscorer, ending a prolonged and, at times, unbecoming wait.
Rooney, one of the Premier League’s greatest ever forwards – his lofty place in United history puts this beyond dispute – became convinced he was a midfielder towards the end of last season.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) January 21, 2017
Then-England manager Roy Hodgson agreed, but incoming United boss Jose Mourinho insisted he would never play there under him and listless displays in both roles ended in the Three Lions and the Red Devils demoting their captain to the bench.
Weekly questions surrounded Rooney and his worth for Mourinho and whoever happened to be taking charge of England at that time.
Before Gareth Southgate’s England played Spain in November, and around the time Rooney unwittingly cast himself in his own production of Wedding Crashers , United team-mate Juan Mata was asked for his views on his club skipper to preview the showdown between their two nations.
“I consider him a legend,” Mata told Marca.
“As for matches and goals, he is up to above Sir Bobby Charlton and Gary Lineker [for England]. We are talking about the most important players in the history of English football.
“Wayne has achieved things that few have reached. He is at the highest level in the history of English football.
“Sometimes I have the impression that it is not fair to look only at the present and not the path – everything that has made a player for his club or country. That is the case with Wayne.”
— Juan Mata García (@juanmata8) November 24, 2016
In these uncertain times, it is reassuring to find a man such as Mata – who signs off his weekly blogs with “hugs” – getting easily to the nub of the issue.
Rooney’s present may not be looked upon fondly, but the path his colleague refers to is littered with wondrous deeds.
Five Premier League titles, two League Cups, an FA Cup, a Champions League and a FIFA Club World Cup make up the 31-year-old’s roll of honour since he joined United from boyhood club Everton 12 and a half years ago.
Last season was the first where he scored fewer than 11 Premier League goals for United. In 2009-10 – arguably operating at his absolute peak – he hit 26 in the top flight, outstripping this with 27 in 2011-12, but the path has been one of consistent returns outside those two high watermarks.
Within the 250 times Rooney forced the opposition to restart the action are timeless moments that sit alongside anything in the United pantheon. Sinking Arsenal’s “Invincibles”; that searing volley fuelled by referee rage against Newcastle United; the overhead kick for Manchester derby glory; the goal from the halfway line against West Ham before an applauding David Beckham.
Record-breaker and history-maker.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) January 21, 2017
All of those and more dazzle in a way Rooney seldom does today and his previous greatness does much to induce present frustration, which is where Mata’s words are instructive.
Sports stars who burn with a furious brightness in their youth or scale the heights of their profession tend to trouble us more than the rest when time inevitably diminishes their talents.
In this instance, Rooney has the misfortune of ticking both boxes. Every impressive deed now is a reference, a reminder of something better. Take his thumping long-range strike against Fenerbahce in the Europa League this season – a fine goal but a consolation against the club he terrorised en route to numbers one, two and three of his handsome haul.
As with England, Charlton is the man Rooney unseats in United’s all-time charts.
His Old Trafford career ended in 1973, with a 1-0 defeat to Chelsea a month after his final goal versus Southampton. A cherished period was coming to an end, his comb-over endured an evermore tenuous relationship with his scalp and the following season United were relegated.
But no one remembers this when they recall Charlton, the European champion and World Cup-winner, and his hammer of a right foot. The same will one day be true of Rooney, with trials, transfer requests, tactical quandaries and tribulations all cowering beneath his historic feats.
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