“Wayne Rooney scores for Manchester United, and it’s not the last time you’ll hear that.”
Rarely is a player’s debut met with such anticipation, and yet delivered with such grace as that of Wayne Rooney’s Manchester United debut. A hat-trick in the Champions League speaks for itself, but for a player as brilliant as he it was only fitting that he make us believe the hype. He had to wait over a month to get to work at United, but he made it worth his while, on his terms, under the lights at Old Trafford. The Theatre of Dreams will never see another quite like Rooney — he was truly one of a kind.
Wayne Rooney has retired from playing football. This is not a normal news post, but Rooney was not a normal player. He meant a lot to Manchester United and the club faithful, and inspired an entire generation that grew up watching the beautiful game. Objectively he is one of Manchester United’s greatest ever players, and their leading goalscorer with 253 goals. And, like many others who grew up watching his career play out, he was a personal hero of mine. He embodied the dream that so many of us had, to break through and become a legend at the greatest club in the world. Yet millions of fans lived vicariously through him; only he could have possibly played his way. His was a game that uniquely translated his own personality and ethic into the sport. One which not only scored goals, won trophies, and broke records, but produced incredible moments that captured the imagination and made us all remember the name.
My Grandad passed away recently, which brought back a wave of memories from my childhood, especially my love of football which he helped foster. Living in the US, I didn’t get to see him much, but he regularly called and sent us gifts. When I got into the sport, and Manchester United, he began sending all number of books, DVDs, and gear. My first ever kit was a Wayne Rooney England kit, which he and my Grandmother brought over on a rare visit just before the 2006 World Cup. I’ve collected a few more of Rooney’s shirts since then, and that one would rip if I tried to put it on again, but I’m going to keep it forever because of what it means to me. I don’t mean to make this about myself on a day that should be spent celebrating Rooney and his career, but I hope that others have found as much meaning and fascination with him and his career as I have.
Rooney won the lot. He and Michael Carrick are the only two English players to have won every single piece of silverware at highest level of club football, and he was of huge importance to one of the greatest periods of success in Manchester United history. Alongside Cristiano Ronaldo, he led the line for one of the greatest footballing sides ever from 2006-2009, winning 2 League Cups, 3 straight Premier League Titles, the UEFA Champions League, and the Club World Cup.
He’s inspired millions of us as fans by what he accomplished on the pitch in those years, but even as he declined in form he grew as a leader. He captained Manchester United through some difficult years, and mentored the next generation of players, including Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford. The congratulations being shared this weekend aren’t only from those who played with Rooney, they’re from people who learned from him. Like many athletes he’s had to shed a “Dumb Jock” label unjustly given to him, and he’s done so brilliantly. In media appearances, podcasts, and now in a spell as a player/coach and interim manager at Derby, he’s shown footballing intelligence and eye for the game that his peers have always said he’s had. He’s earned this next step in his career.
Rooney didn’t quite have the longevity or peak of his ridiculous of peers, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, but is still arguably the greatest English player ever, and is rightfully heralded as one of the best of his generation. He was very human in the way that he played and lived, and certainly was not as boring a character as those aforementioned peers. Perhaps he paid for it in his later playing career, and his life outside the game has certainly taken a toll on him personally. But for all his mistakes he remained a success while balancing a remarkable amount of expectation and responsibility, no small feat for a man that bore the hopes of an entire country, let alone the biggest club in the world.
As he moves into management with Derby County, he starts a new chapter. Like he did so many years ago as a teenager at Everton, he will hope to capture the attention and respect of the footballing world. Who knows what the future holds for him, but he’s got all of his fans still supporting him, hoping that one day he can add more memorable achievements and silverware to an already stellar footballing career.
So thank you, Wayne Rooney. Thanks for the memories, the goals, the wins. For the legendary moments. Thank you for sharing your love and passion for the game with the us, and creating lasting memories with those we hold most dear.
Thank you, Wazza, and good luck.