FALL­ING OFF A CLIFF?

New Straits Times - - Sport -

The Sun amount to frit­ter away in such a short time, though the Rooney camp claim the sum was around half that.

Rooney was gam­bling alone, af­ter mid­night on a Thursday. That in it­self is a sober­ing image for a team sports player, a leader, a young man who likes to so­cialise.

So the pic­ture of Rooney’s life and ca­reer was not a good one as we watched him at White Hart Lane on Sun­day.

As Tot­ten­ham said farewell to their sta­dium and Mourinho rested key play­ers ahead of next Wed­nes­day’s Europa League fi­nal, Rooney was handed a rare start­ing spot.

And what did we see? The grad­ual ex­tin­guish­ing of a flame. There was a con­so­la­tion goal and there were the two best passes of the game, one in each half. We saw com­mit­ment and energy and a book­ing as some ir­ri­ta­tion grew.

But as United laboured against a su­pe­rior team, it was hard not to judge Rooney by the stan­dards of mod­ern ex­cel­lence. These days that comes in the shape of Tot­ten­ham play­ers like Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Eric Dier.

In terms of his foot­ball in­tel­li­gence and feel for the rhythm of a game, Rooney re­mains un­changed, com­pet­i­tive.

These were al­ways his great gifts. But phys­i­cally mod­ern Premier League foot­ball started to look a big ask for Rooney a while ago.

In sport, com­par­isons are ev­ery­where and it can be tough. For Rooney the ghost of glo­ries past is Cris­tiano Ron­aldo.

The two men are of sim­i­lar age — Ron­aldo is eight months older — and won do­mes­tic and Euro­pean tro­phies to­gether at United.

But while Ron­aldo pushes on at Real Madrid, Rooney treads wa­ter. Ron­aldo is a phys­i­cal phe­nom­e­non, of course, and most fall short by com­par­i­son. But he has also looked af­ter him­self im­pec­ca­bly dur­ing a club ca­reer that com­prises in ex­cess of 50 more club starts than his old team­mate.

In the days of Paul Gas­coigne, the late Sir Bobby Rob­son used to talk of his ‘re­fu­elling’ habits, and Rooney would have been at home in that era.

In this one, he has walked a fine line at times. A good trainer, Rooney’s fond­ness for a drink has nev­er­the­less led him into con­flict with his man­agers over the years.

Sir Alex Fer­gu­son saw the de­cline coming be­fore any­one else. Didn’t he al­ways? Fergie was ready to sell Rooney in the summer of 2013 only for his own re­tire­ment to get in the way.

That summer, with David Moyes in charge, United fought des­per­ately to keep their striker out of the hands of Chelsea.

The man­ager so keen on sign­ing him was Mourinho but he knew even then what he would be get­ting, jok­ingly re­fer­ring to Rooney as ‘fat boy’.

Rooney does not so­cialise with the reck­less en­thu­si­asm of some of his United pre­de­ces­sors. The likes of Bryan Rob­son and Paul McGrath do not have to worry for their rep­u­ta­tions.

Equally, he has never lived as fru­gally as many con­tem­po­raries and it is im­pos­si­ble not to won­der if it has con­trib­uted to the dy­ing of a light that has made him the record scorer for his club and coun­try.

Rooney’s Eng­land ca­reer is likely to be over be­fore the World Cup rolls round in 2018.

Gareth South­gate does not see him as a com­peti­tor for a start­ing po­si­tion and Rooney’s poor club form has com­bined with front page newspaper sto­ries to pro­vide the Eng­land man­ager with an ex­cuse to jet­ti­son him when­ever he wants.

Rooney be­lieves he can still con­trib­ute but if he wants to in­flu­ence the Eng­land boss he will have to do so from an­other club.

Just last week, Rooney was asked about his fu­ture. Rather un­com­fort­ably, he said that ‘of course’ he wanted to stay at United but added that he also needed to ‘play foot­ball’.

United will seek to move him on this summer but may need to take a fi­nan­cial hit to do so.

Ever­ton man­ager Ron­ald Koe­man has spo­ken glibly of an in­ter­est but one won­ders how on earth Rooney’s old club could af­ford to pay him and in­deed whether he would find a way into the Dutch­man’s im­prov­ing team.

A move to China is pos­si­ble but if Rooney did make that step he knows it would be a tacit ac­cep­tance that his days as a se­ri­ous foot­baller are over.

Do not for­get that most foot­ballers have their pride and Rooney cer­tainly does.

Those who ob­serve him daily at Car­ring­ton tell of a player as hun­gry to suc­ceed as ever and one who has not caused Mourinho a mo­ment of bother since it be­came clear he was no longer a first team shoo-in.

Rooney has been a great Manch­ester United foot­baller. This au­tumn will mark 15 years since his de­but for Ever­ton. It has been a fine ca­reer al­ready but here we re­turn to Keane again.

“I was do­ing OK (to­wards the end), wasn’t em­bar­rass­ing my­self,” he wrote in his book The Sec­ond Half. “But I wasn’t dom­i­nat­ing games like I used to.”

That wasn’t enough for the great Ir­ish­man and, seven months af­ter leav­ing United in Novem­ber 2006, he de­clared him­self re­tired.

There was no grad­ual de­scent from the cliff face. We can only hope Rooney man­ages the fall rather better. Daily Mail

Manch­ester United striker Wayne Rooney has been heav­ily linked with a move away from Old Traf­ford this summer.

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