At the tick of a record-breaking 250 goals for Manchester United, Wayne Rooney has to be reminded of what he had just achieved in his post-match interview. He smiles lightly and mumbles monotonously, ‘It’s no denying that it was a proud moment for me and a huge honour to get that record, just a bit dampened by the result.’
Rooney has received the entirely necessary acknowledgement from the football elite. But it is revealing how he took it all with the slightest of smiles, with heaviness in his heart hiding behind professional humility.
Two things he couldn’t hide: how physically tired he was after only 25 minutes on the pitch and how disappointed he was at not winning the game.
And the third: he’s looked burned out for several years now.
Picture: Jubel Kibagami
Before Russian oligarchs and Arabian petrol magnates drowned old English football sentiments, the ever-potent question of loyalty to a club was hanging on each club’s star player. Criticism was reserved for those self-obsessed players who put money ahead of commitment to a particular club’s annals.
If this drastic change points to anything, it points to the widening split between the fans and players. The differences lie in time.
Football provides a short career which silently dictates that players squeeze out the penny out of every minute on the pitch. On the opposite coin side, the fans demand love from the people they turn up to see every week. The undeniable one-sided nature of the medium has skewed things.
Rooney is a footballer who can see both sides. And that’s possibly the crux of his ‘problem.’
What’s up with him, anyway? When he scored the goal that beat Bobby Charlton’s record at the top of Manchester United’s all-time goal-scoring chart, not a fibre in him rejoiced.
Instead Twitter took on Olivier Giroud’s explosion of joy for scoring the equaliser against Bournemouth and compared it to Rooney’s professionalism, meaning his lack of joy and total commitment to the ‘smaller scheme of things’: losing two points from the draw.
In truth, Rooney hasn’t looked the same since a year after he pulled out of a transfer away from United. His last spectacular season was in 2012 when he scored 34 goals. Number-wise, it’s been downhill since then.
In such a light, one thing becomes obvious about Rooney: Could it be that motivation is the culprit in his long-term dip in form?
Picture: Austin Ouside
Imagine you get your chance of doing what you’ve always wanted to do. You would take the chance, right - even if it meant getting little to no money for it? But then comes a day when the fire is gone and it’s time for a new challenge, a fresh start. Your whole being requires it. What do you do? Stay in exactly the same situation and take a pay rise to compensate for what you are giving up, or move away, start anew and still take a pay rise? It’s an easy decision if we consider it from this point of view.
This was the situation Rooney faced in 2010 when he put in a transfer request and got stick for it from the Old Trafford faithful.
Could he have asked for a transfer because he had just emerged from one of his strongest seasons? Did he want to use it as a bargaining chip to engineer a move away from Untied? And when he was offered the monetary compensation, and he agreed to remain at United, could he have felt guilty and looked for compensating for that in his second most successful season? The latter one is beyond doubt as even Rooney admitted to trying to win back the supporters once.
Picture: Philipp Richter
And even though the club gave him an astounding 250k a week salary and the fans vindicated him, it seemed his fire had disappeared. In the following seasons, 2012 onwards, Rooney scored 16, 19, 14, 15 and 5 goals–not in any the spectacular number people saw before.
Still, using simple mathematics, if we divide the 250 goals by the 14 years he has spent at Untied, we get an average of 19 goals a season. While a striker with such efficiency cannot win a title alone, he can certainly contribute to it.
Rooney’s professionalism becomes clear in view of his environment over the years. He is currently residing the club’s most turbulent time in the last 40 years–managerial changes, tactical changes and lack of players who could support him, just as Christiano Ronaldo did when he was playing for United. When Ronaldo left for Real Madrid in 2009, all the responsibility rested heavily on Rooney’s shoulders. He carried it well for over a year before he sought for a way out.
This was the turning point.
Picture: Leif Harboe
It is my opinion that had he moved, say to Spain, when he could, his fire would not have become extinguished and he would still have been a 25-30+ striker. Instead, he stayed and committed to repairing the damage of his transfer request. In that way, United secured themselves a legend while Rooney won the respect of the fans and place in the club's history. But it came with a heavy price: his passion on the pitch.
Professionalism arises when you ‘have to’ do your duty. Passion arises when you ‘want to’ do it. And while Rooney’s record-breaking goal showed us he still ‘wants to’ win with Untied, the ‘had to’ period had taken its toll as his performances in the last several years clearly show.
I am not criticising Rooney for his decision to stay at United, which he took a few years back, but in my humble opinion he made the wrong choice then. He chose service instead of fulfilment, and for that he lost his flame for the game along the way.
Paradoxically, it was the same decision, and not his 250th goal, that made him a worthy companion of other Manchester United titans such as George Best, Dennis Law and Bobby Charlton. No matter, congratulations, Wayne Rooney!