Wayne Rooney, Manchester United and England all-time leading goalscorer, is on the verge of completing a move back to boyhood club Everton.
During his 13 year stay in Manchester, Rooney has played 559 games, scored 253 goals, and won 13 major honours. Despite this, marked disagreement, rather than universal gratitude, overshadows his exit.
The story of Wayne Rooney is typically forced into one of two narratives. The first of which dictates that Wayne Rooney is undisputedly a club legend. This narrative paints the picture of a starry-eyed street footballer, who arrived at the club at just 18 years of age and set the world alight.
This Cinderella story has resulted in 5 Premier Leagues Titles, a Champions League trophy, a Europa League trophy, an FA Cup, and 4 League Cups. His goalscoring record speaks for itself; after all, how could one not achieve legendary status after scoring more goals than Bobby Charlton? Never one to be selfish with the ball, Rooney also registered an impressive 137 assists. During his time with the club, he featured prominently in almost every campaign, never gave anything less than his utmost effort on the pitch, and became club captain.
He partnered Van Nistelrooy, Forlan, Ronaldo, Tevez, Berbatov, Hernandez, and Van Persie, making each better in some way. He led the club to countless derby victories, including by means of the famous bicycle kick against Manchester City in 2011. He took control of games when no one else would and was United’s go-to man season after season. He’s arguably given Manchester United more than any one footballer has given a club in the last decade. Wayne Rooney is a Manchester United legend.
This narrative is correct.
The second narrative, however, tells a very different tale. It tells of a boy wonder who trailed off into inconsistency and infamy. The idea that Wayne Rooney was this sensational, dominant, action man of a player is a revisionist fallacy. The Wayne Rooney we remember is not the Wayne Rooney who has been with us for the better part of the last decade.
While no one can discount his impact in the early days, since those rosy times, Rooney’s impact on the team has been inconsistent at best. For every good game, there seemed to be 3 bad ones. For every mouth watering cross-field pass, a misplaced 5-yarder crashing against the advertising boards.
Yet, for many fans, the inconsistency on the pitch could be forgiven. It’s what happened off it that leaves a bitter taste. Rooney held the club to ransom twice, handing in transfer requests and threatening to move to the club’s biggest rivals, Manchester City and Chelsea, only to sign two exuberant new contracts.
This lack of respect and careless indifference to the club’s well-being is not behaviour synonymous with the term “legend”. While all footballers admittedly must look out for their best interests, there is a line. True club legends, like Bobby Charlton and Bryan Robson, would never resort to this type of behaviour just to satisfy their bank accounts, and they certainly wouldn’t have the cheek to kiss the badge afterwards.
Wayne Rooney is not the exemplary club legend he is often made out to be; he is a deeply flawed character who should never be spoken of in the same breath as Charlton and Robson.
This narrative is correct.
The important thing about Wayne Rooney is that both of these narratives are correct. He has been an incredible player who’s scored an inordinate amount of goals, won an envious amount of silverware, and never once let his endeavour falter. But he has also had far too many bad games for someone of his quality and has held the club to ransom twice.
These two things do not contradict each other, nor do they undermine each another; quite the reverse is true, they are dependent upon each other. These narratives both tell a story but neither tells the whole story. One without the other is misleading and incomplete.
People love to classify things into simple and straightforward schemas. It’s something that’s encoded within our DNA because it served an evolutionary purpose; classifying things as dangerous or safe, or edible or non-edible, for example, allows us to effectively apply what would otherwise be an overwhelming amount of information.
But the story of Wayne Rooney is not one that is straightforward and it is certainly not one that is one-dimensional, so we must fight the urge to do this. Wayne Rooney is both legend and flawed, saint and sinner; this is not a story of or, it is a story of and.
When the story of Wayne Rooney is told, and it deserves to be told, it should appreciate the majestic, yet haunted nature of his time at Manchester United Football Club.