A formerly-brilliant captain, railing against the limitations of his ageing body. A manager struggling to try and find him a role. Performances that don't measure up to the standards of the club, or those that have come before. It possibly counts as foreshadowing, if you squint a bit. But where Rooney leaves United after a season of limited contributions and minimal grumbling, Roy Keane spiced 2005 right up by going to MUTV and calling all his colleagues useless.
Well, most of them. Despite playing all 90 minutes of the 4-1 defeat to Middlesbrough that set Keane off, Rooney — unlike Edwin van der Sar, Rio Ferdinand, John O'Shea, Darren Fletcher, Alan Smith, and Kieran Richardson — escaped his captain's wrath. Indeed, it might even have been Rooney on Keane's mind when he said "The younger players have been let down by some of the more experienced ones -- they are not leading. There is a shortage of characters."
Alternatively, perhaps Keane was really worried that Chris Eagles might not be getting the guidance he deserved.
Anyway, this all goes to illustrate that United, in 2005-06, were in a bit of a strange place: the senior players were restless and the kids weren't quite there yet. Keane eventually left in mid-November, having failed to recover from an injury sustained against Liverpool. Meanwhile Ruud van Nistelrooy was moping around the training ground with an even longer face than usual, picking fights with the kids and making Cristiano Ronaldo cry.
Van Nistelrooy, so the story goes, had asked to leave shortly before the 2005 FA Cup final, citing his belief that United couldn't compete in Europe without players more experienced than Rooney and Ronaldo. Ferguson convinced him to stay on for one more season, only for United to turn in their worst European campaign in a generation. They failed to score home or away against both Lille and Villareal, and a defeat against Benfica relegated them to last place in their Champions League group, without even a Europa League parachute for consolation.
Still, both Ronaldo and Rooney showed enough of themselves to suggest that if Van Nistelrooy had a point, then he was also being a little short-term. Rooney in particular slipped into United's first team as though it was a much-loved pair of trousers. He spent much of the season playing as Van Nistelrooy's strike partner, and ended the campaign with 19 goals — his best return yet — and his first trophy, as United overcame Wigan Athletic in the League Cup final. Rooney scored twice and was named Man of the Match.
United's league campaign wasn't quite the disaster that Keane anticipated, but an eight-point gap to champions Chelsea pointed towards a lot of work to do. For Rooney, however, we saw not just increasing confidence and a decent goal return. We also saw the arrival of one of the themes of his career; the obsession, the addiction, that defines him perhaps more than anything else. We're talking, of course, about chipping the keeper.
At the time, Rooney's two successful chips this season — over the heads of Wigan's Mike Pollitt and Newcastle's Shay Given — seemed pleasingly impudent. But perhaps Rooney and the rest of us might have been better served if one keeper or other had managed to get a paw to the ball. Then, perhaps, Ferguson might have taken his prodigy aside and had a word. Two words. "Stop chipping."
Instead, they both went in, and went to his head. Rooney started to think of himself as a footballer who chips the keeper, and so became a footballer who delicately spoons the ball onto the roof of the net while everybody around mutters "Oh, for God's sake, just shoot properly." And yes, it might seem churlish to criticise the goalscoring record of the record goalscorer. But we don't think it's unreasonable to suggest that if he'd missed his first couple of chips, then he could have ticked off the record years ago. Thanks, Mike. Thanks, Shay.
2005/06: 48 games, 19 goals, one League Cup. The chips in question are at about 2.55 and 5.02 in the video above.