There comes a point, as John Terry and Arsene Wenger are harshly learning, that the bond between man and club must be broken – and for Wayne Rooney, that time is fast approaching.
Speculation has grown louder in recent days that Rooney could be set to swap the Premier League for the brazenly-affluent Chinese Super League – a rumour that had been doing the rounds for the past year but has finally seemed to gain some traction.
Fabio Cannavaro, manager of Tianjin Quanjian, recently confirmed that talks had taken place with Rooney and while his club have decided against pursuing a move, there will almost certainly be more clubs in for the England captain before next Tuesday’s Chinese transfer deadline.
The general consensus since is that Rooney will instead plod on until the end of the season and choose that time to end his time at Old Trafford – but really, what is left for him at Man United? In fact, what is left for him in England?
Although he has never been a man short on self-confidence, the bluster in his interviews from earlier in the season has dried up. He is no longer openly challenging his critics and outlining his determination to prove them wrong, possibly because he has finally come to the conclusion that they are right.
He hasn’t started a league game since December, and his goal return thus far suggests that he is on course for his worst season ever as a professional – worse, in fact, than his first professional season at Everton fifteen years ago.
José Mourinho has been adamant that, despite the alarming downturn, he will not force Rooney out the door now or in the summer. While on the surface that would fly in the face of his reputation of a ruthless manager, it makes a lot of sense under further scrutiny.
Rooney, as a top level player, is finished. You know it, I know it, Rooney and Mourinho know it. But simply rocking up and booting the club’s highest ever goalscorer, regardless of his previous indiscretions and transfer requests, out the door is a dangerous move politically. He had to play the long game with this and give the forward enough leeway to lay bare Rooney’s decline in full view of the public, and it has worked to a tee.
It may sound a bit insensitive on Mourinho’s part but Rooney still had enough fans at the club – or at least enough that though that the magic would return – that it was necessary to expose them to the reality of the situation.
A report in the Telegraph on Wednesday suggested that any potential move to China would depend on whether or not he plays in the EFL Cup against Southampton on Sunday – but at this stage, he surely can’t expect to play in that considering Mourinho is likely to field his strongest side.
He may get some minutes from the bench but Man United winning at Wembley will not be decided by him and on some level, he must know that. This team has been taken over by Zlatan, Pogba, Mata, Martial, Mkhitaryan, Rashford, Herrera – this the new age at Old Trafford and the captain simply doesn’t fit into that anymore.
If, like Terry, he was set to win a league medal at the end of the campaign at the end of the season it would make some sense to stay as a squad player, but is a third league cup or another FA Cup medal as a substitute really worth three months of sitting on the bench?
Rooney’s form dropping like a stone at a much faster rate than his ego could handle meant that a dignified exit was never going to be on the cards, but having stumbled past Bobby Charlton’s 249 goal record and won everything that there is to win at the club, what is left for him now? What worlds are left to conquer?
Nobody would begrudge Rooney this move now, at this point in his career. This isn’t like players such as Oscar or Axel Witsel heading to China arguably before they’ve even peaked – it’s only going to get worse for the 31-year-old from here on out so heading to the CSL for one last big payday wouldn’t be held against him.
Not just for the money either, but to get that feeling back of being treated like a superstar once again. The time for that in the Premier League has come and gone – and his reputation has dipped to the point that he could even drop to the lower echelons of the league and it would still not come back – but moving abroad, where his name has not been buried under a mountain of fan anger and tabloid headlines, could be the perfect way to end his career.
To use an old quote from Macbeth: “Stand not upon the order of your going, But go at once.” Be it this month or in the summer, Rooney will not be a Man United player in six months. So why not just quickly rip off the plaster now and get it over with?