Tuesdays are for Europe here at the 24th Minute and over at SoccerToday
This will not be a love letter.
I will do my best to be objective, but my sky blue blood is thicker than my journalist water. I make no apologies for it, if you’ve read me, or listened to me, for more than a minute, you know what side of Manchester I emotionally reside on. And it sure as hell isn’t the red one.
So, when Wayne Rooney announced last week that he was hanging them up for good I was torn. On one hand, I try really hard to be professional (really, I do), but on the other hand…
HE SHINNED IT FOR **** SAKE.
But, to be serious, the fact you likely understand the above reference to Rooney (it’s the famous overhead goal he scored to win a Manchester Derby that was voted the goal of the decade, if you don’t) says a lot about Rooney’s career.
When he scored it, he was considered one of the world’s best players. That opinion was likely inflated in the way that all English players’ abilities are inflated, but he was a player that was performing for one of the world’s biggest clubs and scoring overhead goals in derbies.
Here’s the thing though: That goal was TEN years ago. And, it’s the last truly World Class highlight (in the Premier League) that comes to mind when talking about Rooney. He did have some moments in MLS, but that’s MLS. We love the league, but let’s be real here. Not quite the same.
Rooney was just 25 then. But, it was the high point of his career. He is possibly the oldest looking 35-year old retired athlete in the world right now. Even then he seemed older than 25.
When thinking of Rooney’s career you almost have to split it in half — Pre-overhead goal and post.
Even my City heart can acknowledge that he was a very good and powerful player in the years before that. His greatest asset was that power that allowed him to athletically muscle his way to goals. When he burst onto the scene for Everton he was hard to ignore and he truly was The Great English Hope in the aughts.
He was seen as being a vital player on Manchester United’s 2008 Champions League winning side and in the 2009 runner-up performance. In hindsight, a baby Cristiano Ronaldo might have been inflating everyone else’s performance (Aside: say what you want about United’s downfall as a powerhouse starting with Alex Ferguson’s retirement, but the downturn really started when Ronaldo went to Madrid), but Rooney wasn’t a simple bystander on those teams.
Famously, Rooney was not a gym rat. Nor, was his nutrition considered to be top class. He was just an instinctive footballer. That instinct allowed him to try an audacious overhead kick in a derby game that was held during a period of time when United was desperately trying to hold off a charging City to maintain local dominance. On that day, they did. City would need to wait one more year.
The ball did, in fact, go in off Rooney’s shin, but the power and athleticism that he still had then allowed that slight mishit to not matter. As stated, it was a last gasp though. The fitness issues were starting to show and the slow decline was beginning.
The next ten years were not without highlights, of course, but the idea that Rooney was among the world’s best was laughable. He peaked young and never quite reached the heights of his promise.
By the time he retired last week he was undeniably a shell of the player who scored that overhead kick, let alone the kid that burst onto the scene at Everton.
So, what will Rooney’s legacy be?
I suspect his international play might help us predict that. He, along with the rest of that’s era of England players just never quite could be what people wanted them to be. They were good players, but they just weren’t great players.
Rooney falls into that category, I think. He was a key part of a period of United’s history that was as good as any in its long and (annoyingly) great history, but his decline corresponded with United’s fall towards something approaching ordinary.
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