Professional sports can be a very fickle form of entertainment. It’s something we watch to relax, to take our mind off other stressors, to get swept up emotionally into something that ultimately we have no control over. The definition of a fanatic is a “person filled with excessive and single-minded zeal, especially for an extreme religious or political cause” and well sports are both religious and political. And that’s what makes the news out of Goodison Park this morning a bittersweet and monumental moment.
Wayne Rooney, Manchester United’s and the England National Team’s captain and all team leading goal scorer is going home. Back to his hometown of Liverpool and back to wearing the familiar blues of Everton that he started wearing at just age 9 for their youth academy. This one hurts me personally, because while I not only allege that Rooney is my bastard cousin (my immediate family denies it but the resemblance is uncanny as you can see at the end of this post), he is also the reason that my love for Manchester United and for the sport of soccer continued to grow after the departure of the previous United captain Roy Keane. Both of these gentlemen and their passion for the game is why I picked back up the sport in high school and for that I’m forever grateful.
13 years ago, in August 2004, while still at the age of 18 years Rooney signed on with Manchester United after a £25.6 million transfer was agreed to by Everton. This was a then record for any player under the age of 20 and was a move that manager Sir Alex Ferguson really stuck his neck out to make. All these years later he’s won every honor available in English, Continental, and European Football with the exception of the European Super Cup. 559 matches, 253 goals scored and 16 trophies later it’s safe to say that the move paid off.
The goals, assists and awards speak for themselves. Rooney is a tremendous talent and he was an instrumental figure in the golden age of Manchester United football. In the years that he played alongside Cristiano Ronaldo the team was virtually unstoppable. What really separated Rooney from other players in his position is that while such a prolific finisher, the man cared about winning and team accolades above all else. The best example of this is how willing he was to move back on the pitch, many times taking on a supporting forward role instead of his preferred striker and eventually even taking claim as a winger and attacking midfielder. Many other scorers in his position typically are too stubborn to allow others the spotlight, but for Rooney in his prime his playmaking ability and creative vision on the field really opened the field for his teammates and attributed to the club’s success.
Unfortunately, like everything else all good things eventually come to an end. While still a very serviceable player over the past few years its undeniable that both his fitness and agility have been slowly declining. This is to be expected of players such as Rooney, who will turn 32 this upcoming season, but in his case it may have been hastened by his penchant for partying and for the odd smoke. Pair that with a £300,000 a week contract for an aging superstar and while difficult emotionally, it’s not very hard to see professionally while Manchester United has decided to part ways and continue their youth movement in a different direction.
Rooney will be taking about a 50% pay cut to return to his boyhood club and to continue his career over the next two seasons with Everton. He also hopes to return to form and continue his International career for one last go in Russia 2018. For many on my favorite Manchester United forum www.redcafe.net this move is a couple years too late, but in my personal opinion this was an inevitable business decision that was made at the proper time for both the club and player. It is a sad reality of professional sport where fans can either root for the laundry or for their favorite characters, and with today’s decision any true Red fan will continue to support their club while wishing Wazza the best of luck in the future.
Thank you, Wayne, for the memories. Good, bad, hat trick, red card, scandalous or frivolous there was never a dull moment over the past 13 years. And really, that’s all we can ask for from sports entertainment.