Seemingly having been around forever; Rooney burst onto the scene in 2002 aged just 16, scoring that famous goal for Everton against Arsenal. Since then he has won Premier League titles, the Champions League and the FA Cup with United. However, in the past few seasons he has struggled for consistent form in a below-par United side.
To attempt to combat this lack of form, Rooney has been tried out in a number of positions in recent seasons. Initially he was moved from his natural number nine role into a number ten, behind the striker, where it was hoped his loss of pace would not stop him contributing to the United attack. After mixed performances Rooney was moved further back still, into a central midfield role. It was hoped he could use his creative ability to spray balls across the pitch and create chances for his teammates, again this did not go to plan.
The arrival of José Mourinho at Old Trafford in July signalled a return to his previous attacking position, with Mourinho saying, “For me, he will be a No 9 or a No 10, or a number nine-and-a-half, but with me he will never be a No 6, not even a No 8.” However, this change did not lead to improved form for Rooney, who has managed just a single league goal this season, in the first game of the season against Bournemouth. His poor form led to calls from fans and the media alike for him to be dropped from the starting eleven, which he was for the game against Leicester City. He was also named as a substitute for the following games against Zorya in the Europa League and Stoke City in the Premier League.
A potential cause for Rooney’s absence of form in past seasons is the fact that Manchester United have not been playing consistently well for a number of seasons now, arguably since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013. They have had three permanent managers in that time: David Moyes, Louis Van Gaal and now José Mourinho. Moyes and Van Gaal in particular failed to bring the attacking football to Old Trafford that the United fans enjoyed under Ferguson. Whilst the jury is still out for Mourinho, he is known for favouring defensive solidity over more positive football. This does not bode well for players in attacking positions like Rooney, especially as he is now no longer guaranteed a position in the starting eleven.
So what next for the once talismanic striker? If the United management team think his time is up at the club, there will be a queue of teams abroad who would love to take a chance on him. Clubs in the MLS in America and the Chinese Super League have been rumoured to be keen to sign Rooney, who would be a landmark signing, even if his on-pitch ability is not what it used to be.
Speculation earlier this year linked 30-year-old Rooney with a move to Shanghai SIPG, who are managed by former England boss Sven-Goran Erikkson. Last year MLS commissioner Don Garber told the Manchester Evening News that he would be keen to see Rooney play in the MLS. He said, “We would love players like Wayne Rooney, and those who have been able to be really successful at the highest level, to be thinking about Major League Soccer.” Rooney himself also spoke about a potential move to America last year. He did not rule it out, saying “when that time comes, that (the MLS), that will be something that I will think about.”
Rooney has a contract with the club until 2019 and is rumoured to be earning around £300,000 per week. This is not something he will be keen to give up lightly, so any prospective club would realistically have to match or better it. He is also still a headline name and is able to help the club draw in large sums through sponsorship deals. Yet much like his position in the starting eleven, this is also under threat. The summer signing of Paul Pogba was noted as a big signing for United, not only for his technical ability but also for his marketability. Soon Rooney may not have the same attraction to sponsors, and that is when he may find himself out of the door at Old Trafford.
On the pitch Wayne Rooney is a fading force, dropped by club and country, with his commercial value under threat. It might not be long before he is playing his football in Los Angeles or Shanghai rather than Manchester.