Wayne Rooney’s legacy

Is the former striker really a Manchester United legend?

 

Wayne Rooney put pen to paper on a two-year deal with boyhood club Everton, bringing to an end a 13-year trophy-laden career at Manchester United.

Despite the 31-year-old holding the scoring records for both United and England, opinion is still divided on his legacy at the club — be it because of his two transfer requests or the swift fall from grace during the latter part of his Old Trafford career. Many United fans see him as a club legend, while many others view him as a mercenary who tried to force his way out of the club, once to bitter rivals Manchester City and then to Chelsea.

Sir Alex Ferguson signed him as an explosive 18-year-old after his exploits for England at Euro 2004 for ₤27m, a then record fee for a teenager. His start for the Red Devils was equally explosive as he netted a stunning hat-trick in a 6-2 win against Fenerbahçe on debut. His first couple of seasons at the club were uneventful as United struggled to keep pace with Arsenal and a nouveau riche Chelsea, going trophyless.

Then came the infamous incident with team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo during the World Cup in 2006, culminating in the Englishman’s sending off.

But it was playing alongside the Portuguese winger that Rooney made the biggest impact. Ronaldo, Rooney and the indomitable Carlos Tevez formed the most dangerous Manchester United triumvirate since the Holy Trinity of Bobby Charlton, Denis Law and George Best. Rooney prospered in that role as an attacking focal point. But he never had to bear the goal scoring burden alone as the other two chipped in with regular strikes.

Unfortunately for Rooney, however, he will always be judged alongside Ronaldo. Towards the beginning of his career, Rooney was head and shoulders above the Portuguese. But Ronaldo spent hours in the gym perfecting his physique, and even more in the training ground honing his skills. Rooney never bothered about all that.

He was a street fighter, a one-man riot squad who depended more on the fire in his belly than technical nous honed with hours on the field. That’s not to say that he was not technically gifted — Micah Richards and Joe Hart stand testament to that. Rooney was capable of moments of sheer brilliance, but he could also frustrate with his lack of application and fitness.

His best season in United colours was in 2009-10, as the club, reeling from the departures of Ronaldo to Real Madrid and Tevez to City, relied heavily on Rooney for goals. He delivered too, scoring 34 goals in 44 matches as United won the Football League Cup. That was one of only two times that he scored over 30 goals in a single season during his 13 years at the club.

That was more down to his lack of fitness than application. Over the years, injuries played a significant part in his reduced role at the club. Robin van Persie’s arrival also curtailed his role as the club’s figurehead.

Despite Louis van Gaal naming him club captain, Rooney was never the leader like Roy Keane that United fans expected him to be. The Dutchman saw him as a midfield general but Rooney was a passive influence from deep, never being able to exert himself as he wanted to. He flitted in and out of the side and despite leading the club to silverware in van Gaal’s last season and Jose Mourinho’s first seasons at the club, he was never the first name on the team sheet. The desire was there, he still wanted to play, and be an automatic starter, but he was no longer the player that he was to warrant such a treatment. Mourinho slowly eased him out of the side last season and the writing was on the wall from that moment on.

Andy Mitten, editor of United fanzine United We Stand, said: “The move is best for all parties. Rooney will be remembered well by United fans when the dust settles, a club legend who scored more goals than anyone and was a leading light in one of United’s greatest sides.”

Both Rooney and United reaped the benefits from their 13-year association, winning the Premier League five times, UEFA Champions League once, FIFA Club World Cup once, FA Community Shield four times, Football League Cup thrice, FA Cup once and the UEFA Europa League once.

But he should not expect a statue outside Old Trafford.

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Romelu Lukaku: A £75m gamble

Is the Belgian striker the right man to fire Manchester United to glory?

 

Manchester United splashed £75m on Everton forward Romelu Lukaku after growing frustrated in their chase to sign Alvaro Morata from Real Madrid.

That is a significant outlay on a player who has not yet played for a big club and, at 24, will most certainly be expected to fire on all cylinders as United look to mount a challenge for the Premier League.

Chelsea signed him from Anderlecht for £18m as an 18-year-old in 2011, but except a handful of appearances, he has spent much of his senior career at mid-table also-rans West Bromwich Albion and Everton. These are big clubs, but Manchester United is bigger, perhaps the biggest in the world, and that comes with its own unique pressures.

It’s also interesting that Jose Mourinho, who sanctioned Lukaku’s sale to Everton in 2014 after a successful loan spell the previous year, questioned his attitude.

“He wanted to play for Chelsea, but clearly only as first-choice striker — and at a club of our dimension it’s very difficult to promise a player that status. We want to be inside financial fair play rules, you have to analyse these situations,” the United boss said at that time.

The Belgian has since gone on to score 71 goals in 133 matches for the Merseyside club. At Everton, he played with a lot of freedom than what Mourinho will afford him at Old Trafford. He was the big star there; at United, he is one among a plethora.

While United snapping him up from under Chelsea’ noses was a coup, a report in The Liverpool Echo will make the situation uncomfortable for the player, manager, and the fans. The report says Mourinho insisted on Chelsea not inserting a buy-back clause during Lukaku’s sale, suggesting that he did not believe the Belgian would develop sufficiently, and that such an option would be worthless in the long run. As a result, Chelsea took the £28m that Everton offered instead of selling him for a lower value with a buyout clause.

Lukaku, as a player, lacks the finesse and the class that traditional strikers who have played in the famous red had. He is a flat-track bully and a target man who can be used a battering ram. At Everton and West Brom, he played with freedom. At United, he’ll be expected to break down teams that camp outside their own penalty box. In this respect, Morata would have been a better player, having played for two of Europe’s biggest clubs in Juventus and Real Madrid. Real wanted £79m for him, but United chose to pay £75m for Lukaku.

Reports, however, suggest that the fee could rise even further with £15m in add-ons and a £10m waiver of Wayne Rooney’s transfer fee ahead of his return to his boyhood club. A potential world record fee is a huge show of faith to a player who has no UEFA Champions League experience. As United return to the competition after a year’s absence, Lukaku will need to quickly delivering. Here, too, Morata, who has led the line for Juventus and Real Madrid, would have been the better option.

Even for the national team, bristling with the talents of Eden Hazard, Dries Martens and Yannick Ferreira Carrasco, Lukaku is not seen as the real goal threat despite scoring his fair share of goals (20 goals in 57 caps). That speaks volumes about a player who wants to return United to their days of dominance.

His record against last season’s top six makes grim reading for anyone who thinks £75m plus add-ons represent a transfer coup for Manchester United. Lukaku has scored only 16 times in 57 matches against the sextet. Although he scored in both the matches against Manchester City last season, his impact against the other teams does not offer too much hope, at least for the time being.

The Belgian’s prowess in the air is a positive, especially with United losing the physicality of Zlatan Ibrahimovic that got them a lot of goals last season.

His arrival will also add to Mourinho’s problems of finding an attacking focal point. Lukaku is not someone who will track back and start off moves if things are not going his way. He is more traditional that way and relies on his physicality to bully his way through. That may work sporadically against teams in the Premier League’s bottom half. Time will tell whether he is able to unlock Chelsea, Liverpool or Tottenham with that kind of play.

Lukaku will need to adapt and the test will begin from the first time he pulls on the red shirt, even if it’s in a pre-season tournament in the United States.