During Michael Carrick’s testimonial this past weekend, a few things stood out. Patrice Evra should be back at United in come capacity as soon as possible. Clarence Seedorf and Paul Scholes could probably both do a job in midfield right now. José Mourinho would have loved Ji Sung Park. Wayne Rooney, 31, and still being paid handsomely to play football at the highest level, didn’t look at all out of place among 40-something year-old retirees.
Close watchers of United have known for at least five or six years that Rooney was no longer good enough to command a starting place at a club of United’s ambitions. But he had still managed to cling on, through one manager after another, until this season when the jig was blatantly and irreversibly up.
Mourinho, in retrospect, played it to perfection. He gave Rooney ample opportunities to earn his place in the side earlier in the season. Those appearances likely came at the expense of points in the league, and a chance to accelerate the formation of anything resembling a coherent product on the field, but they had what was presumably the desired effect.
Rooney's first touch is gold. The commentary was even better. pic.twitter.com/MKPdOFiFk0— eulogy (@insidesafstand) November 3, 2016
Mourinho gave Rooney enough rope to hang himself.
Those early appearances exposed the Englishman for the spent force that he was. All lumbered movement and telegraphed passes; heavy touches and wayward finishing. Rooney was no longer up to it, and Mourinho laid it so bare for everyone to see that Rooney’s later absences from matchday squads - never mind starting XIs - barely warranted a mention. For a player of his stature, it has been a swift and remarkable fall from grace, even if it has also been long overdue.
Rooney’s 26 appearances are the fewest he’s made since signing for United 13 years ago, and his meager return of 9 goals in all competitions also marks the first time that he’s failed to reach double figures. He did finally manage to break the club’s goalscoring record though, with a sublime free-kick that rescued a point against Stoke in injury time.
9. Against Stoke. What a way to break the record. 93rd minute screamer to rescue a point, just as you thought the game was over. Goosebumps. pic.twitter.com/zVWhd6WDjU— David. (@Rooney_esque) January 29, 2017
Even this historic goal carried with it a tinge of sadness and futility. It was a reminder of what Rooney was: a player of astonishing ability who could produce breath-taking moments like this one out of nothing. It was also, because of how incongruous it was with his now-normal contribution, a reminder of what he had become: an ineffective bit-part player whose sole season highlight is a (very good) goal that ultimately meant nothing.
Moments like those should serve as a reminder that he’s still got it. But he doesn’t have it, hasn’t had it for years, and this season has removed all doubt.
José Mourinho approval rating: A glowing tribute, a warm embrace, a bottle of fine Portuguese wine, and a door shut firmly in his face.