Up until 7.45pm on Tuesday night, in keeping with a lazy habit that wants everything to be boiled down to one individual, Manchester United – Real Madrid had been billed as the “Ronaldo homecoming”. As the teamsheets were announced, the game became a sort of unofficial “Ryan Giggs day”, before ultimately, and rather depressingly if you are a Red, turning into Cuneyt Cakir’s night.
One man has since elevated, or rather has been elevated, above the game itself by the media after United bowed out at the hands of Jose’ Mourinho’s men. Ironically, the player in question spent a mere 25 minutes on the pitch but speculation on his future has been rife from the very second Sir Alex decided to omit him from the starting line-up. Rooney’s omission against Madrid is bound to create a number of Manchester United transfer rumours but is there any truth to them?
The general consensus among tabloids and broadsheets (not to mention Michael Owen’s ever so insightful intervention on talkSPORT yesterday) is that the writing is on the wall for Wayne Rooney and has been so for over 18 months, since he dared to question the club’s hierarchy and its policy which, he felt, didn’t show enough ambition to match his own, insatiable, desire to win. From that gloomy October afternoon, Rooney has secured a much improved contract, lifted a title and came within a whisker of winning another, played and scored in a Champions League final.
Despite a traumatic period after his return to action in 2010 when section of United fans were, understandably, unwilling to welcome him back with open arms, Rooney seemed to have restored his credit with the club, working tirelessly for the team and recovering from an initial slump of form earlier in the season to forge a formidable partnership with Robin Van Persie, whose purchase provided a stark contrast to United’s perceived lack of ambition.
Yet, for the majority of the media, Tuesday’s omission was an ominous sign for Rooney, despite the fact that United’s gameplan had worked brilliantly until Nani’s controversial red card. Sir Alex had been waiting for a chance to send out a message to the former Everton striker and what better occasion than dropping him for United’s biggest game of the season yet?
Forget about United being 12 points clear at the top and in the quarter finals of the FA Cup, Sir Alex was relishing the opportunity to pull the trigger on a player who, despite being only 27, has already notched 195 goals for the club – 14 goals in 24 starts this season, a better time/contribution ratio than Robin Van Persie – and is willing to be deployed out of position if required. Undoubtedly Rooney hasn’t helped himself with his taste for a drink or two accompanied by the occasional cigarette, but one has to wonder why the story has exploded after he was left on the bench rather than, say, when he was dropped altogether after reporting to training out of shape in December 2011.
Ironically the media who have always enjoyed a pop at Rooney’s inability to leave a mark on the big occasions were quick to portray him as irreplaceable on Tuesday. After all it wouldn’t be the first time that a home game against Real Madrid spells the end for a United player, with David Beckham’s successful cameo off the bench eight years ago regarded as the final nail in the coffin in the relationship between Fergie and the former England captain who, in the wake of his omission (and with a couple of strategically placed stitches above his eyebrow) decided to depart at the end of that season, becoming another of Sir Alex’s illustrious casualties.
Then, and when Ruud Van Nistelrooy departed a couple of season afterwards, Ronaldo and Rooney stepped up to fill the gaps, a luxury United couldn’t afford when Jaap Stam and Roy Keane stormed out of the club and one that they might not be able to afford now. Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez development has been nothing short of impressive, while Robin Van Persie has slotted into the team seamlessly, but Rooney’s departure would deprive the team of a proven goalscorer, as well as of a selfless character.
Ronaldo’s triumphant return poured yet more fuel on an already blazing fire, with pundits and writers alike quick to point out that Rooney, once considered amongst the most talented players in the world, hadn’t matured to the level of his former teammate and Lionel Messi. The English media take Rooney’s perceived involution almost as a direct insult to the national public, a public that had long been craving for a saviour and thought to have found one when the Liverpool-born teenager burst onto the scenes. How dare Sir Alex Ferguson play Rooney out of position and curb his belligerence in the interest of his club, thus depriving the English public of the chance of having a player capable of terrorising Europe and the world every two years?
As reports linking Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo with a move to United intensified over the last couple of weeks, Fergie’s selection against Real Madrid couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time, but a couple of questions ought to be asked. Would we be talking about it, had United gone through? Would the media be talking about it with such insistence if another club was involved? “No” is probably the answer to both questions.
He might not have matured into the “White Pele” that terrace chant compares him to, but Wayne Rooney has been an extremely good servant to Manchester United and if that upsets members of the media, too bad for them.
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Tags: Opinion Piece