“Options here for Van Nistelrooy, one of them is Wayne Rooney! Wayne Rooney scores for Manchester United, and it’s not the last time you’ll hear that.”
Clive Tyldsley’s call 14 years ago is perhaps more memorable than even he could have predicted. The man who has been there for countless memorable moments in English football correctly foresaw many more goals to come for Wayne Rooney. There were still more to come that evening for Rooney, as he completed a hat trick on his United debut in the UEFA Champions League against Fenerbache. Sir Alex Ferguson had answered the call of the fans and splurged uncharacteristically on the English teenage sensation in the summer of 2004. Rooney more than paid back the then massive fee. He would go on to become Manchester United’s greatest ever goalscorer with 253 goals, finally breaking Sir Bobby Charlton’s longstanding record after a memorable 12 year career at Old Trafford. He would go on top break Sir Bobby’s goalscoring record for England as well.
Wayne Rooney’s form was constantly criticized in his final years at Old Trafford, mustering only 14, 15, and 8 goals respectively in his final 3 seasons at the club. Team struggles under new management post-Sir Alex were certainly a source of the problem, but there was no denying Rooney’s legs weren’t what they used to be. Fifteen years of constant effort, sprinting back to defend, and several bumps and bruises along the way took their toll on Rooney. It was difficult for many to watch one of the greatest players of a generation decline so quickly, and his departure for Everton in 2017 signalled the end of a legendary era at Old Trafford.
Though Rooney looked back to his goalscoring self at Everton, change in management once again saw his form dip. He was told after just one season back at the club that his services were no longer needed. He chose the United States as his next destination, and after moving to MLS, a move labelled by many as signalling the end of his career, Rooney rediscovered his passion for the game.
DC United sat in last place in the Eastern Conference in MLS in July, 2018. Wayne Rooney’s arrival was initially seen as a positive, of course, but nobody expected him to make the impact that he did. DC began winning games as Rooney and Luciano Acosta quickly formed an effective partnership up top. They rose from the bottom of the table to claim a playoff spot with a game to spare. Rooney himself produced 12 goals and 6 assists in 21 matches in his first season in the American capital, and has raised expectations for his first full season at the club in 2019.
On November 15, 2018, just over a year since Rooney announced his intent to retire from England duties, Rooney made his 120th and final appearance for England. The match was fittingly a friendly against the United States, and resulted in a 3-0 victory for the Three Lions. Though urged to shoot whenever he received the ball, Rooney played his typical no. 10 role, and left the goal poaching to Callum Wilson, who scored his first England goal in his first England appearance. Rooney was the first to congratulate England’s newest goalscorer. Rooney had a few chances to bag a 54th goal, but it wasn’t meant to be. However, in another nice move by Gareth Southgate, Marcus Rashford also came on late to play with Rooney, his childhood hero and first-team mentor, one last time. It was a good night for everyone, especially the Wayne Rooney foundation, Rooney’s International charity benefiting children’s welfare.
Rooney’s career inspired millions of fans across the world. I grew up watching the Manchester United team that would eventually become Sir Alex Ferguson’s last generation of Premier League winners and European titans. The most successful years of that side were defined by the partnership of United’s record teenage signings, Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo. Though Ronaldo’s meteoric rise and celebrity superstar status often stole the show, it was Wayne Rooney’s gritty style that I most admired. His brilliance as both a distributor and goalscorer, his work for the team on and off the ball, and his championship spirit stood out even in a squad full of legends. He has been accused of not living up to his full potential, but anyone who can become the leading goalscorer for both Manchester United and England is world class and iconic enough to withstand those criticisms. The record breaking striker earned his Wembley sendoff, and perhaps there are more records to be broken across the pond before he hangs up his boots for good.