A substitute for his club and a substitute for his country… Wayne Rooney’s career has certainly taken a notable downturn in recent weeks. It is not yet five weeks since the Manchester United and England captain was first dropped by Jose Mourinho, but there already appears to be no way back for him.
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When Rooney celebrated his 31st birthday on Monday he did so as a man standing only three goals behind Sir Bobby Charlton’s all-time United record and yet rarely has he looked so unlikely to topple the club legend at the top of the charts.
Rooney’s previous stints on the United bench have generally been a reflection on his attitude or his form, but this time it is different. This is a reflection of his ability, and there is a far more permanent feel about his isolation under Mourinho.
In a spell during which cup competitions have been viewed as possibilities to give Rooney a longer run out even Wednesday night’s EFL Cup derby clash with Manchester City might well be seen as too big an occasion to risk choosing the skipper from the off.
There have been suggestions in the press this week that Mourinho has told Rooney he will have to look elsewhere if he wants regular football, and such a stance appears to be the inevitable conclusion for the current situation given the differing wants and needs of Mourinho, Rooney and most importantly Manchester United.
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There is plenty of room for empathy with all parties. Mourinho did not want to cause a scene from the outset when becoming United boss in the summer. Having already helped to spell the end for Ryan Giggs, and with plans to exile Bastian Schweinsteiger, any immediate decision on Rooney would have been one dramatic change too many for a majority of those of a red persuasion.
From United’s point of view, Mourinho gave Rooney ample time to prove his quality, but the performances of the thirty-something in the number 10 shirt for the first six weeks of the campaign were in stark contrast to the kind of displays the younger Rooney became famous for serving up. The 4-0 battering at Chelsea might not have featured Rooney due to a muscle issue, but it served as a reminder that United need the very best from their playing squad right now, and their captain is no longer considered a part of that.
Rooney will rightly have asked Mourinho what he sees for him in the short and long-term future. He will have been reassured to an extent by the manager’s insistence last week that he will “never sell Wayne Rooney,” but he continues to tell anybody who will listen that he did not technically flog Juan Mata to Old Trafford when managing Chelsea. What Mourinho meant was that he will not instigate Rooney’s departure, but everybody knows it is almost certain to happen.
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And that includes Rooney. He more than anyone must be all too aware of the fact that he is not the player he was. Every time there is a groan in the Old Trafford stands at a heavy first touch, Rooney will feel it more than anyone. For every conversation in the pub regarding Rooney’s decline, he will have had twice as many with himself in his head.
He knows he has not been good enough lately, and it is probably clearer in his mind than anybody else’s that he is no longer delivering performances worthy of Manchester United. Nor have they been worthy of Wayne Rooney.
If he sticks around at United to pick up his healthy paycheque each month until the summer of 2019 when his contract expires, there is every chance of the relationship reaching a sour end. Nobody wants to remember Rooney as a leach, sucking the club dry long after his number was up, least of all the player himself. And his football under both Louis van Gaal and Mourinho indicates that is the only way it can end if he doesn’t make an emotionally-difficult decision in the coming months.
The sooner he admits that his days with United are numbered, the more likely he is to depart with people fondly looking back at the amazing feats he achieved over the years in the famous red shirt. Rooney knows he is not the player he was, Mourinho knows it too. And every single one of the 75,000 crowd at Old Trafford on Wednesday will know it whether he is selected or not.
The time for Wayne Rooney to accept his fate and head for a new experience away from Manchester United has arrived.