Wayne Rooney imperious reign at Old Trafford seems to be coming to an end – at the ripe old age of 27. “Ol’ Chunky Thighs” has had a weight problem for a while and it would appear that the mobility of old is rapidly disappearing. Sir Alex Ferguson’s decision to bench Rooney against Real Madrid, which horrified Mrs Rooney, is a clear indication that he will have to shape-up or ship out.
It’s not been a good season for Croxteth’s favourite son. Dropped in favour of Robin Van Persie at the start of the campaign, injury and weight gain have reduced Rooney’s effectiveness. But he’s still scored 14 goals in 27 games – a far more prolific rate of success than the player Ferguson preferred, the overrated Danny Welbeck. He’s still feared and there will be no shortage of takers if, as expected, Rooney is shown the door out of Salford. Expect local rivals City to mount an audacious bid, but Paris St.Germain – and a link-up with England pal Beckham – may be just the ticket.
The question is, has Rooney burned out? Michael Owen, another teenage prodigy, extinguished pretty early on after a whirlwind first six or seven years. By the time Owen was 27, his career was being punctuated by injury and lack of consistency. Rooney may just be entering the start of his decline, so the answer to that question is probably yes.
There’s many people who believe that Rooney has never fulfilled his potential. Certainly on the international stage, he will never be mentioned in the same breath as some of the true greats. It has been his misfortune that he has played much of his England career in one of the most inept England squads of all time. Too much has been placed on his shoulders for too long – that, coupled with occasional bouts of ill-discipline, has cost him.
Ferguson, and United, are canny operators. Rooney has two years to go on his contract and by then, he will be 29 and, arguably, even more prone to weight problems. By keeping Rooney on the bench, Ferguson sent a message to the player, the fans and to the market. The missive was: “He’s no longer guaranteed a start – offers please.” In the past, Ferguson has used omission as a communication tool. He did it with former acolyte Jim Leighton, with David Beckham and with Ruud Van Nistelrooy. United will try and maximize the opportunity and sell him while he’s still got shelf life. It’s one in the eye for Bosman.
Ferguson may also recall that Rooney spoke out about the club and hinted he was ready to move, thereby earning a pay rise. In a way, he held United to ransom. Ferguson will not have enjoyed that experience – after all, he’s the boss. Remember Jaap Stam?
What next then, for Rooney? The Real Madrid game will have alerted Europe’s big clubs that they could net a bargain at £ 20m. They will be interested and unless the signs are misleading, United want Rooney’s £ 250,000 a week off their payroll.