In the wake of Sir Alex Ferguson’s decision to stand down as Manchester United manager, among the flurry of tributes that poured in for Sir Alex, Paul Gascoigne admitted his regret at not signing for the club.
“He always says one of his greatest regrets was not signing me, but I think it was the other way round, me not signing for the guy,” said Gazza, “I know I would have had a lot more trophies in my cabinet if I went with him, it was a massive missed opportunity.”
WE’RE GIVING AWAY A COPY OF WAYNE ROONEY: MY DECADE IN THE PREMIER LEAGUE.
How ironic, then, that the man who has been compared to the former Spurs player throughout his career, and who’s widely considered to be England’s best talent since Gascoigne was instead handing in his second transfer request in three years, just weeks before Fergie announced his retirement.
It must have felt weird for Wayne Rooney to hear footballers across the country lavishing praise on his manager, the same figure whom he seems desperate to get away from, despite the fact that, had it not been for Sir Alex himself, Rooney could have found himself sharing Gascoigne’s regret.
Since his ill-advised attempt of leaving the club in October 2010 was curbed by a substantial pay-rise, Rooney has added two Premier League medals to his collection, scored in the Champions League final and even managed to endorse himself again to a vast majority of United fans.
Those same fans who had greeted his first transfer request with anger and disbelief have welcomed his latest strop with disdain and nothing more.
That, alone, is indicative of how much Rooney’s stock has fallen in the last couple of seasons, partly because of poor performances and partly because he’s being played out of position.
Those reasons are not exclusive to one another, but it’s hard to justify the Liverpudlian’s somewhat lacklustre performances simply on the basis of his position on the pitch.
We finish just after midday. At the end of each session, we warm down, relax. Some people jump into ice baths, others get into the swimming pool. Then there’s the gym. It looks a bit like an old-school leisure centre: mats, weights, bikes, one of those green drapes that divides the two halves of a sports hall. Ryan Giggs sometimes does yoga in here after training. I tried it once or twice but it’s not really my thing, it’s too boring. For 45 minutes an instructor got me to stretch and hold my positions. When I ask Giggsy about why he does it, especially when it’s so boring, he tells me that it’s strengthened his muscles. ‘I reckon it prolongs a player’s career by increasing their flexibility,’ he says. Maybe in a couple of years I might get into it more. Right now, I don’t feel like I need it.
Those who point at the fact that Rooney’s been marginalised to accommodate Robin Van Persie tend to forget that when he first arrived at the club almost a decade ago, Rooney wasn’t deployed as first striker either, for that spot was occupied by another Dutchman that made scoring goals his living.
Following Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s departure, Rooney’s importance in the final third of the pitch became increasingly prominent and the boy who had taken the Premier League and Euro 2004 by storm flourished alongside Louis Saha and Cristiano Ronaldo.
The 2006-07 season saw arguably Rooney at his very best. The inner fire of a footballer who had learnt the game in the street coupled with technique and skills made him and Ronaldo a joy to watch as United stormed to the title, before going one better in Moscow the following season as they lifted the Champions League.
Despite being more workmanlike than Ronaldo, Rooney had blossomed into the player many had hoped he would turn out to be and was rightly considered one of the top three in world, something he confirmed in the first season without the Portuguese when his, and United’s, quest for glory was hampered a by an ankle injury.
‘I want you to get in the box and get on the end of more chances, Wayne.’ ‘But boss, I’ve been playing out wide. Do I have to get on the end of my own crosses now?’ I’m being cheeky, but I know what he means.
That dodgy twist on the Allianz Arena’s turf seemed to deflate Rooney. The fire that had fueled his early days at United and had already begun to calm down seemed to be totally extinguished in the following months as he made his disillusionment clear.
A new contract and a return to form propelled United to another title and a Champions League final, before the realisation of being no longer the main man was rammed home this season.
Omitted in United’s biggest game of the season, deployed out of position and replaced in most of the others, Rooney no longer sees his future at Old Trafford.
The feeling is that, having probably enjoyed his best years, many fans would agree with him.
Follow @Red_Rants for details on how to win a copy of Rooney’s book soon.
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