Seldom are testimonials a chance for a player to look ahead to his ambitions, rather than behind at his achievements. Yet that’s exactly what Wayne Rooney wanted.
His career with Manchester United has been littered with successes. Five Premier League titles, the Champions League, the Club World Cup and the FA Cup have been the highlights of a 12-year spell in which he has scored 245 times. Five more, and he will become the club’s greatest goalscorer.
It’s not enough.
“When you don’t win at Manchester United, it’s not something you look back at,” Rooney told the official programme for his special night at Old Trafford, watched by 50,000 home fans and a smattering of Everton faithful. “The seasons when you won the big trophies are the ones you remember.”
In Jose Mourinho’s era, Rooney – a constant amid years of turbulent change at Old Trafford – will have the chance to add to his collection of medals. One man who threatened to take Wednesday’s limelight could be the key. The night may have belonged to Rooney, but it was Zlatan Ibrahimovic who got the loudest cheer.
In his time at Old Trafford, Rooney has been praised for his tenacity, his goalscoring, his work-rate, even his “boisterous” approach, as Bobby Charlton described it. His willingness and ability to adapt is still too often overlooked.
Signed as a free-wheeling attacking force of nature, he has embraced practically every possible position in the final third – and a little deeper. He has played as a number 10 link-man to goal-getter Ruud van Nistelrooy, a hard-working inside forward alongside Carlos Tevez and Cristiano Ronaldo, a central lone target, a partner-in-crime for Dimitar Berbatov and Robin van Persie, and just about everything in between.
His place alongside Ibrahimovic represents a true acid test, even for a player of his experience. But for a fledgling partnership, the signs are encouraging.
Ibrahimovic, on his first home outing for the club, was never going to be the understudy. But Rooney, still eager to impress the new manager, was happy to support as an efficient and effective number 10.
The movement was quick, the interplay slick between both from the first whistle. The goals should have followed in the first half. Maarten Stekelenburg twice intervened, denying Ibrahimovic from a tight angle after a good through-ball from Rooney, before blocking the big Swede at the far post after the captain’s devilish deep cross.
Neither lasted beyond the hour mark, but the reception each received was telling. They looked sharp, creative and hungry to win – the very essence of Rooney’s career to date. “I’ve had great success, and hopefully a lot more to come,” was a fitting sign-off after full-time.
As Ander Herrera summed up before the match: “That’s when you know he’s one of the biggest in the history of football – he always wants to achieve more.” With Ibrahimovic alongside him, Rooney’s United story could still have plenty to offer.