United’s all-time lead­ing goalscorer to play his first match at Old Traf­ford since move to Ever­ton

The National - News - - SPORT | FOOTBALL - ANDY MITTEN

The ex­pected re­turn of Wayne Rooney to Old Traf­ford is low down on the list of pri­or­i­ties for Manch­ester United fans when the team host Ever­ton to­day.

Rooney has not been gone long enough to be missed by fans, the mem­o­ries of his sus­tained bril­liance still clouded by his de­cline among di­vided United fans.

The lat­est tabloid al­le­ga­tions about Rooney have left plenty think­ing that it was the right time for the club’s record goalscorer to leave for more than foot­balling rea­sons, too.

Rooney’s con­tri­bu­tion will be re­mem­bered more favourably by his­tory than it cur­rently is.

He was one of the best play­ers in one of the best United sides, the team which won the Premier League, League Cup, Uefa Cham­pi­ons League and World Club Cham­pi­onship in 2008.

Rooney was self­less, the team player who did the run­ning for Cris­tiano Ron­aldo.

He was asked to play out of po­si­tion by sev­eral man­agers and did what each man­ager de­manded be­cause he wanted to do what was right for the team.

He was hugely pop­u­lar in the dress­ing room – and not just be­cause he was one of the few to chal­lenge Alex Fer­gu­son’s au­thor­ity in a hu­mor­ous man­ner which both shocked and amused the Scot.

“Who am I play­ing with to­mor­row, Alex,” he would asked Fer­gu­son, who wasn’t used to be­ing called Alex by his play­ers, nor his play­ers pre­sum­ing that they would be au­to­mat­i­cally start­ing.

But Rooney was an au­to­matic starter be­cause he was a bril­liant foot­baller, a boy from a work­ing class estate who had learned his craft on the streets, backed up by a tight, loyal, fam­ily who kept every sin­gle cut­ting of their son’s ca­reer.

Rooney ma­tured vastly, on and off the pitch. The first time I in­ter­viewed him was a write-off, a sched­uled half hour re­duced to 11 min­utes by over-pro­tec­tive pub­lic re­la­tions ad­vis­ers brought in from a Lon­don agency. Yet, un­leashed from the cot­ton wool, Rooney was fine and com­mu­nica­tive, but it was his drive to win foot­ball matches, his abil­ity to score, which mat­tered.

De­spite be­ing English, this writer has al­most no en­thu­si­asm for the al­ways un­der­whelm­ing Eng­land na­tional team, yet Rooney’s per­for­mances in Por­tu­gal at the European Cham­pi­onships in 2004 were gen­uine ‘Wow, this kid is ab­so­lutely bril­liant’ mo­ments.

He joined Manch­ester United soon af­ter the tour­na­ment. Did he take time to set­tle at Bri­tain’s big­gest club? Did he need to be eased in gen­tly be­cause of his age and in­ex­pe­ri­ence?

No, he scored a hat-trick on his de­but in a Cham­pi­ons League match.

They were the first of his 253 goals for United, a num­ber which, by Jan­uary 2017, had been enough to sur­pass the club record of Bobby Charl­ton.

That alone means Rooney should be re­mem­bered as a club le­gend. His­tory is kind to foot­ballers.

Charl­ton never had a bad game a decade af­ter he re­tired, but like Rooney, he had plenty of ar­gu­ments and drops in form.

He also played in a United side which was slip­ping to­wards rel­e­ga­tion.

Rooney played in a team which fin­ished in the top three sea­son af­ter sea­son.

He won five Premier League ti­tles, three League cups, the FA Cup, the Cham­pi­ons League, Europa League and Club World Cup.

His in­di­vid­ual hon­ours are too numer­ous to list in this ar­ti­cle. He is also the all-time lead­ing scorer for the Eng­land na­tional team.

As United slipped un­der David Moyes, Rooney was ini­tially the stand out player in a cast of slid­ing stars.

He was the right man to be made United cap­tain, and while he did lit­tle to en­dear him­self to United fans by twice be­ing amenable to leav­ing to join Manch­ester City and Chelsea, his con­cerns at the state of the team were only what many fans were say­ing.

When he stopped be­ing a starter for United last sea­son, his form nose­dived.

Rooney has al­ways been a player who needed three or four con­sec­u­tive games to get go­ing.

He could have stayed at United, seen out a vast con­tract and be­come un­pop­u­lar with fans, many of whom were very sup­port­ive, but he took a huge pay cut to join Ever­ton, the club he and his fam­ily sup­port.

United fans are fo­cused on their team beat­ing Ever­ton at Old Traf­ford.

It will be no Rooney love-in. If he is sub­sti­tuted then he will be ap­plauded off the pitch, as he would be at the end of the game, but don’t ex­pect any cel­e­bra­tions should he score.

Getty Im­ages

Not enough time has passed from his last game at Old Traf­ford to his re­turn as a mem­ber of Ever­ton for Rooney to ex­pect more than a luke­warm re­cep­tion

Getty Im­ages

The sight of their club’s all-time lead­ing scorer wear­ing Ever­ton colours may prove un­set­tling to Manch­ester United fans

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