Wayne Rooney is unquestionably one of the greatest footballers ever to pull on an England or a Manchester United jersey, but is enduring a period of form so bad that at times it has bordered on the farcical.
Rooney's slump is generally agreed to have endured over the last number of years but criticism of the England captain has never been higher than at times so far this season, with Rooney being dropped for United's last two Premier League games and the Europa League clash at home to FC Zorya Luhansk. Therefore, it seems like an opportune moment to analyse just where Rooney stands at United and what steps he might take next.
To do this, we caught up with three United fans and experts: Paul Ansorge, United correspondent for Bleacher Report and co-host of the 'Rant Cast' United podcast, Dale O'Donnell, United journalist and co-founder of fansite 'Stretty News', and Adam McKola of hugely popular United Youtube channel 'Full Time DEVILS' (you can watch their own brilliant debate on Rooney here).
What is the current opinion on Wayne Rooney amongst United fans?
It varies wildly. He’s an incredibly divisive figure. He has people who will see no wrong in him, and in a way they’ve been empowered by the fact that his last two managers - not including the present one - got fully 100% behind the cult of Wayne Rooney…there are plenty of people who are sick of having him in the team. Especially sick of his completely undroppable status in the team.
Some people think he’s dead and buried, finished, get rid right now. Some people think that he needs to start the games. That he can do no wrong. That he’s being disrespected.
Did Rooney's 2010 and 2013 transfer requests affect United fans' view of him?
It was a kick in the teeth. this youngster we’d bought, a ‘prodigal son’...United fans loved him. Then, to make it worse, there was a second request to (move to) Chelsea (in 2013).
From a fans’ points of view, they were looking at it as a betrayal. He could have been poorly advised.
I’d say a big section of fans have got over it. There’d be a minority of fans - match going fans, away fans, people who go week-in, week-out - that still feel let down. But on a global (fan) basis, some probably don’t know what happened, to be honest.
The City move definitely permanently changed his relationship with the fans of the club. But (it's) not like everyone hates him…his name still gets chanted and I bet his song will be sung long after he leaves the club. The incredible service he’s actually given to United on the pitch won’t ever be forgotten. Some of what he said got quite a lot of sympathy from United fans. There was great concern that the club wasn’t being ambitious enough and so there was a little bit of mitigation in that.
But the fact that it was City he was prepared to go to, a lot of that was very painful from a United perspective because Rooney had been the absolute talisman for such a long time.
Is there a future at Old Trafford for Wayne Rooney and, if so, what role would he fulfil?
I don’t think Wayne Rooney will accept sitting on the bench at Manchester United. I could see him being tempted by a big money move to America - or even Everton, who have money now. I can’t see Rooney sticking around on the bench for two or three years like Ryan Giggs did. But he can still offer something to the club, he still has the experience, he still has the leadership - and I think the players like Wayne Rooney in the dressing room. He’s on big wages at the moment - is he going to be happy sitting on the bench? Are the club going to be happy with him sitting on the bench? Eventually I think that will come to a head and he’ll leave after a year or two. But I think he’ll get the record first, before any of that happens.
A lot of the problem with Rooney is the received wisdom around him…it was always presumed he will drop back into midfield later in his career, even though he doesn’t have what it takes to be a good midfielder. He doesn’t have the touch, the quickness of thought he once did.
Watching him, I’m not convinced he’s got what it takes to become a super sub – or that he would want that, even. He’s been the big man on campus for most of his career – ever since Ronaldo left, especially.
As for coaching, I don’t know. And I don’t think anyone does, except for the people who have worked with him directly. From the outside looking in, he’s never seemed like a teacher. His era of on-pitch leadership has been one of the club’s worst periods of its recent history. Now that is absolutely not all Wayne Rooney’s fault, no way. But it is true that it has happened.
Most fans seem to agree that Rooney’s slump in form has been going on for a few years. How has he survived in the team for much of that period?
Ferguson wanted Rooney sold...David Moyes gave him a massive contract. Part of that, too, was that United fans were afraid of him going to Chelsea. When you give a contract that big, Moyes was nearly forced into playing him. Louis van Gaal continuously said, ‘If he’s your captain, he starts.’ I think that logic was flawed.
Wayne Rooney is a big personality, he’s well liked by the hierarchy of the club, they know it’s significant in terms of market value. We all know Manchester United is led by the commercial side more than what happens on the pitch, sadly. And Rooney’s a massive part of that.
It was quite obvious Sir Alex Ferguson didn’t want to keep him at the club. He has a great measure of when a player’s finished at that level and when they have to get put out of the team...I think it was obvious Fergie wanted to get rid of him and then David Moyes kept him. Following that, (under) Louis van Gaal, Rooney seemed to be guaranteed a first-team spot regardless of how he performed. And whilst other players have been playing badly, they’ve usually been taken out of the team, whereas Wayne Rooney hasn’t.
Obviously he’s got respect in the dressing room, he was one of the last links to Fergie’s success, Wayne Rooney was one of the few players that stuck around. But I don’t know why they gave him that preferential treatment.
When Wayne Rooney’s playing days at Manchester United are finished, how will he be remembered?
When United won the European Cup in 2008 with a three-pronged attack of Rooney on the left hand side and Tevez in the centre, Ronaldo on the right, even though Ronaldo was on the right he was still the focal point of the team, the main man, the main goalscoring threat...Rooney was capable of having the team built around him, he was that good. He was superb, and no one could argue that.
Is he a Manchester United legend? Of course he is. The records he’s breaking, you can’t argue that. He will be a United legend, will be remembered. There will always be a part of me, a part of other fans, too, that will feel let down (because of the transfer requests), but lookit - that’s just the way it is. Football is unpredictable at times.
There’s no question he will be remembered as one of the all-time greats. Rooney is a unique paradox because he is literally one of the most successful footballers in history. He’s already his country’s (all time) top scorer. He’ll probably be United’s top scorer. Five Premier League titles, European Cup, Club World Cup – all that is very impressive. Yet it is also true to say that there is a sense he hasn’t lived up to his potential. Which is insane, when you listen to those stats. But when you remember that kid, the 18 year old who scored the hat trick against Fenerbahce or that 20 year old who scored that goal against Newcastle – that absolute raw power and enthusiasm and ability he had at that age…he was miles ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo when they were peers in their late teens, and he’s been nowhere near Ronaldo since about 2010.
So there is that slight sense of sadness, and I think there will be a kind of lingering sadness or resentment about the couple of (attempted) moves away and how it’s all petered out…but I think ultimately what will be remembered is the goals, the trophies, the breathtaking team that Ferguson built around the young Rooney and Ronaldo. Those are the things we’ll think back on with Rooney. I think in the end he’ll go down in the books as a hero.