At 31 years of age, Wayne Rooney is certainly nearing the end of what has been a glistening Premier League career. The Manchester United and England captain had offers from China in January, and has been told by Ronald Koeman he would be welcomed back at boyhood club Everton in the summer, but will moving to another club dent his legacy as a Premier League great?
Surpassing Sir Bobby Charlton’s tally with his 250th United goal in the late, late draw with Stoke last month, seemed a fitting accolade to seal his final season in Manchester. Jose Mourinho has said he “100 per cent” wants Rooney to remain at the club next season, but with limited involvement and a danger of tainting his illustrious 13-year stay with the criticism he received earlier in the season, it looks entirely possible that Rooney may bow out from Old Trafford in May.
Whatever the decision may be, there can be no doubt over his achievements in the English game. It was back in August 2004 that the boy from Merseyside moved to Manchester after setting the Premier League alight as a teenager. A Champions League hat trick on his Manchester United debut was enough to make the world of football sit up and take notice.
Since that day, Rooney has gone on to break a number of records, including record goalscorer for club and country. It’s not been without its controversy on and off the pitch, but perhaps the criticism he’s received since turning 30 has been unjustified. If anything, the criticism only goes to emphasise how reliable he has been throughout his career, and fittingly his golden years paralleled some of United’s most successful as a club. The club owe a lot to him and what he has achieved in his career.
In a way, a move to Everton would be a suitable way to end his career; a return to his boyhood club, looking to move to the next level under Ronald Koeman. It’s difficult to suggest it would taint what he has achieved as a Manchester United player; Frank Lampard had a spell at title rivals Manchester City after departing Chelsea, and was applauded by the away fans even after netting an equaliser when the Blues travelled to the Etihad in 2014.
Rooney may not be at the same level he once was, but he’s a fantastic footballer technically. Technicality is something that tends to develop with age, as opposed to a deterioration of pace and physicality – perhaps one of the reasons he has been played in deeper roles for both club and country in the last year or two. He could add a new dimension to Everton, and also act as a fantastic role model for the plethora of talent coming through the ranks there, as I’m sure he has done with the likes of Marcus Rashford at Manchester United.
Wayne Rooney should be regarded as a Premier League great regardless of how the rest of his career pans out; his profile would certainly boost the recognition of football in China, his involvement at Everton would benefit a team who will have greater aspirations for next season, but equally his presence in the Manchester United dressing room – as club captain – would be welcomed by Mourinho and his team next season. He still has a lot more to give as a player, but even if his performances aren’t the Wayne Rooney of old, he does not deserve the criticism or ‘tarnished career’ claims some would like to ridicule him with.