Rooney is a United hero in all but name

Given his suc­cess at Old Traf­ford, it is bizarre that fans hold striker to higher stan­dards

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - SPORT | SOCCER / GOLF - DANIEL TAY­LOR

IT is strange in foot­ball, an in­dus­try where the su­per-rich of­ten give the im­pres­sion that money is how they keep the score, how even the most fi­nan­cially en­dowed clubs can be guilty some­times of blur­ring their pri­or­i­ties when it comes to sav­ing a few quid be­hind the scenes.

In hap­pier times at Manch­ester United, when Alex Fer­gu­son and his team were greed­ily ac­cu­mu­lat­ing all those tro­phies, did you know that Eng­land’s big­gest club wouldn’t take up the op­tion to have ex­tra medals made up for its coaches? It changed when Ken Rams­den took over from Ken Mer­rett as club sec­re­tary in 2007 but, un­til that point, the coaches would re­ceive a few hun­dred quid as a bonus rather than a piece of sil­ver­ware that would have felt price­less. Each medal would have cost around £1,000 (€1,135) — peanuts for a club of United’s stature — but that, plainly, was too much, and Fer­gu­son’s staff went with­out.

Tony Co­ton, for­merly the goal­keep­ing coach, tells the story in his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, There To Be Shot At, and re­mem­bers it be­ing the “one big re­gret” of his time at Old Traf­ford. Co­ton was there for two Cham­pi­ons League wins, the FA Cup twice, the League Cup and six Premier League ti­tles. The pho­to­graphs and mem­o­ries will last for­ever but it is not the same, he points out, as ac­tu­ally hav­ing a medal to trea­sure.

Then one evening Wayne Rooney struck up a con­ver­sa­tion with Co­ton and Mike Phelan, the first-team coach — “An­other one for the col­lec­tion, hey, lads?” — as the play­ers and staff were out cel­e­brat­ing the 2007 ti­tle.

“When we told him about Mr Mer­rett’s medal pol­icy he was out­raged,” Co­ton re­calls. “He couldn’t be­lieve that a club like Manch­ester United could be so small-time when it came to shar­ing out the spoils.”

When all the rel­e­vant peo­ple came back from the sum­mer, on the very first day of pre-sea­son train­ing, there were iden­ti­cal pack­ages wait­ing for Co­ton and Phelan on their desks at the train­ing ground. Noth­ing strange there. Every day, a sup­ply of de­liv­er­ies ar­rived at Car­ring­ton from spon­sors and sports­wear man­u­fac­tur­ers of­fer­ing free­bies and all kinds of other perks. But these boxes were par­tic­u­larly heavy. In­side, each con­tained a solid sil­ver replica of the Premier League tro­phy, to­gether with a note ad­vis­ing they were worth £5,000 (€5,700) for in­sur­ance pur­poses. All courtesy of Rooney.

It is a great story. Rooney had just won his first cham­pi­onship medal. He was 21 at the time and, what­ever you might think of him, it says a lot about him that it was a player of that age — not Fer­gu­son, a man­ager who fre­quently boasted about the way he looked af­ter his staff; not David Gill, or any of the other direc­tors — who de­cided to do some­thing about it. “We were stunned,” Co­ton writes. “They are ab­so­lutely beau­ti­ful pieces of work. But for me, their real value isn’t mea­sured in mon­e­tary terms. It is the fact they were com­mis­sioned by Wayne that makes them so pre­cious.”

This isn’t a eu­logy to Rooney, in­ci­den­tally. Not all of us be­lieve the ro­man­tic PR spin about his rea­sons for re­join­ing Ever­ton, and his pro­fes­sional life has been a com­pli­cated story at times even with­out tak­ing into ac­count the back­drop to his re­turn to Old Traf­ford to­day, with an ap­pear­ance at Stock­port mag­is­trates’ court to­mor­row morn­ing on a drink-driv­ing charge .

All the same, that story from Co­ton’s me­moirs, one of the sport­ing year’s more en­ter­tain­ing au­to­bi­ogra­phies, does strike a chord at a time when Rooney — of­ten char­ac­terised as self-cen­tred and money-ori­en­tated dur­ing his years in Manch­ester — is pre­par­ing for his first ap­pear­ance against his old club and we are wait­ing to see how he will be re­ceived.

Warmly, is the most likely an­swer. Old Traf­ford is gen­er­ally pretty good at wel­com­ing back for­mer play­ers and it would be fairly ab­surd if that should change for a man who, in terms of sheer black-and-white achieve­ment, has more on the board than any of the three men — Bobby Charl­ton, De­nis Law and Ge­orge Best — im­mor­talised in the Holy Trin­ity statue on Sir Matt Busby Way. Rooney walks into the away dress­ing room as United’s high­est all-time scorer. The room at home where he keeps all his tro­phies and medals is split over two floors to ac­com­mo­date such a vast col­lec­tion. Of course they will cheer him in and out.

At the same time, it is dif­fi­cult to imag­ine Rooney get­ting the king’s wel­come that Cris­tiano Ron­aldo, for ex­am­ple, ex­pe­ri­enced when he came back with Real Madrid in 2013 . All of which might seem strange given that Rooney was at the club for longer and won con­sid­er­ably more. Yet not ev­ery­one will be on their feet to wel­come him back and there is no doubt Old Traf­ford never warmed to Rooney the same way af­ter his pre­vi­ous at­tempts to cut him­self free.

The dal­liances with Manch­ester City and Chelsea were taken as an af­front, and United’s sup­port was far too cocky in those years — Old Traf­ford be­ing the kind of place the au­thor Gra­ham Turner might have been re­fer­ring to in The North

Coun­try when he chided Man­cu­ni­ans for “ridicu­lous self-con­grat­u­la­tion” — to put up with one of the star play­ers hav­ing a wan­der­ing eye. Es­pe­cially, if we are hon­est, when that player’s ac­cent was more Jimmy Corkhill than Les Bat­tersby.

Jose Mour­inho is right, how­ever, when he says the player de­serves the crowd’s ac­claim now he is com­ing back in Ever­ton’s colours. The good times at Old Traf­ford out­weighed the bad by some dis­tance and it does feel un­fair some­times — a legacy, per­haps, of the player’s de­cline co­in­cid­ing with the era of Twit­ter and in­ces­sant scru­tiny — that Rooney tends to be judged in a way that does not seem to ap­ply to oth­ers.

Even now, Ron­aldo’s name is still part of the song­book at United’s fix­tures, in trib­ute to those years when he trans­formed from a skinny kid with braces on his teeth into one of the world’s elite foot­ballers. Ron­aldo be­daz­zled Old Traf­ford at times. Yet once he was at that point, he also spent a year to 18 months wishing he was not there. His be­hav­iour was ap­palling at times and there are still plenty of us who re­mem­ber the numb­ing ex­pe­ri­ence of him turn­ing up, dressed head to toe in white and look­ing, frankly, like he had seen one too many episodes of Miami Vice , to in­ter­rupt a press con­fer­ence at which the sur­vivors of the Mu­nich air dis­as­ter were com­mem­o­rat­ing its 50th an­niver­sary.

One by one, those men had turned up to speak with great dig­nity and ob­vi­ous emo­tion about the tragedy that shaped their lives. Af­ter them, it was Rooney’s turn to of­fer a modern-day per­spec­tive and, though it wasn’t his spe­cial­ist sub­ject, he had spent the pre­vi­ous night read­ing up about it and han­dled the ques­tions with a lot more grace and elo­quence than some peo­ple might imag­ine. Then Ron­aldo ap­peared at the door, rap­ping his knuck­les on the win­dow and whistling im­pa­tiently, in the man­ner a farmer might beckon a sheep­dog. He wanted a lift home and, bang­ing his watch, he did not care who knew about it. It was a dread­ful lit­tle cameo.

Ul­ti­mately, though, Ron­aldo is cher­ished at Old Traf­ford be­cause of the times he made the crowds quicken their step on the walk to the ground. Best is re­mem­bered for the ex­cite­ment he brought to peo­ple’s lives rather than the lost nights, the aban­doned pro­fes­sion­al­ism and the fact he first walked out on United at the age of 26. It is Law’s goals that are revered at Old Traf­ford; no­body re­ally re­mem­bers the time he was trans­fer-listed af­ter threat­en­ing to walk out un­less he re­ceived more money.

And maybe in time Rooney will be re­mem­bered purely for his achieve­ments rather than ev­ery­thing else that tends to stick to him.

Manch­ester United v Ever­ton Sky Sports Main Event, 4.0

Rooney tends to be judged in a way that does not ap­ply to oth­ers

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