We take a look at Wayne Rooney’s development and growth over his magnanimous Manchester United career as the player returns to Everton.

Of all the trends that plague modern football today, revisionism is one of the most painful. The desire to tweak and turn a narrative to suit to an alternate sense of belief fills the modern football fan with a sense of moral superiority.

What comes with this is a belief that they can hold the final word on a career, simply because of what they’ve been most recently exposed to.

My equation with football however, is far more simple.

It’s a raw, organic phenomenon that takes over every cell in my being, till there’s nothing left for me to feel. Nothing quite makes me feel that way, but Manchester United does. Wayne Rooney does.

The angry boy that took the ball away from Ryan Giggs to score a hattrick on debut, was a boy that many thought had it all. They put him on a pedestal, sung his praises, and slowly, but surely proceeded to claw away at the tall wooden pillar of their lofty expectations, to bring him down at every misstep.

Rooney’s journey however, has been one of his own, one of archetypal innocence to sobering experience.

The Angry Boy Without a Point to Prove

Since Rooney burst on to the stage at the tender age of 16, he went at it harder than many strikers far more senior than the Evertonian.

There had been not one manifestation of Sir Matt Busby’s famous line ‘If you’re good enough, you’re old enough’, than Wayne Rooney. Imperiously unpolished, the rough diamond of Merseyside raised himself to be a giant slayer, and called the giants of English football with his performances.

Sir Alex Ferguson doubled down and shelled up a then-ludicrous £28 million pounds for his services — a bet that that even the Scotsman couldn’t have foreseen returning as much as it did. Wayne went from strength to strength, building up his ability, credibility and sheer sense of classic English audacity.

While young stars today are given a ‘grace period’ after a £50 Million transfer, Rooney cared little about the price tag attached to him. He knew that he just had to keep his mind focussed on putting himself forward, and he did so with ease.

After displacing the likes of Solksjaer, Saha, Rooney took over Van Nistelrooy’s number 10 and became the man United needed him to be, at just the tender age of 19.

The Rain of Wayne

The boy kicked and screamed every step of his way to becoming a man, but despite reaching that mark, all Wayne lost was a bit of hair, and none of the drive that propelled him to the top of the mountain. Be it on the wing, in the hole as a nine-and-a-half or even a pure forward, Rooney was a presence you couldn’t avoid.

Reminiscing the days where he played with young Wayne, Rio Ferdinand said:

“I have just seen this kid make a couple of seasoned England defenders look very basic, then nonchalantly dink the ball over/around the keeper….then jog back like it was some sort of regular playground mess about.”

A persona quickly followed that unavoidable skill, as little Wayne began growing up too fast. From hiring prostitutes, to social media gaffes, Rooney gave every media outlet their most prized possession — a never end target of criticism.

Wayne Rooney however, was unperturbed.

Between 2003-2009 Rooney racked up accolade after accolade, steered United to title after title, broke record upon record and got people believing that his best was yet to come. Scoring, assisting, screaming and shouting, that was the Wayne Rooney young kids grew up idolising.

He wasn’t a gifted magician in the mould of Ronaldinho, he wasn’t a clinical finisher in the shape of Luis Ronaldo, he wasn’t even an expert poacher akin to Inzaghi— He was Wayne Rooney, a player bereft of being locked down within a given playstyle.

A man who confounded strategical philosophy, was loved by millions because his own philosophy was so simple — chase down the ball, wherever it is, and put it in the back of the net.

The Inevitable Flood

The highs of being ‘The Man’ came with a heavy weight of responsibility. For Wayne Rooney however, the burden was heavier. His own country saw him as their equivalent to Ronaldo and Messi, and the club exalted him to legendary status.

All that ability and admiration enabled Wayne to drag out match winner after next, till eventually there’d reach an impasse.

Then, Wayne had his Judas moment.

Citing a ‘lack of ambition’ shown by the club, Rooney handed in his transfer request, sending the media, his teammates, and yours truly into a right tizzy.

In his book Leading, as noted in The Guardian, Sir Alex remarked “I told them I did not think it fair that Rooney should earn twice what I made and [the joint-chairman] Joel Glazer immediately said: ‘I totally agree with you but what should we do?’:

For many, there seemed to be no way out of this, but miraculously, the owners weren’t ready to let there big money face leave the club, and offered him a £250,000 salary, ensuring that Wayne would not only stay, but be the clubs highest ever paid player.

Notwithstanding his financial windfall, Rooney and Ferguson were starting to to tear apart, just when United needed them stronger than ever. All this hit a crescendo in 2013, when Sir Alex benched Rooney, in favour of Danny Welbeck, in a crunch tie versus Real Madrid.

United were defeated, and the writing was seemingly on the wall — once again — prompting a second transfer request after United won their 2oth league title.

Sir Alex had announced his retirement, and Rooney was all but set to leave the club.

The Aftermath of the Storm

The journey of the hero seemed to be winding down, but after being given an helping hand by an unlikely David Moyes, Rooney was back on the path to lead the charge of United’s new post-Ferguson light brigade.

It was not to be however, as despite his 17 goals and 12 assists, Wayne was commandeering a chariot with broken wheels and broken dreams.

Despite being made captain by new boss Louis van Gaal, something had fundamentally changed in Rooney. Within him, the desire to grab every opportunity by the scruff of it’s neck slowly dissipated. A new role in midfield tamed the once Ballon D’Or hopeful, like a bear tied to a tree, desperately clawing to reach it’s former glory.

The writing was on the wall, and the swansong had begun in earnest—Wayne Rooney was never going to be that guy ever again, and at the time the reality was easy to digest.

Though he finally broke the fabled 250 goal record and became United’s greatest attacker, the moment felt like a paltry consolation prize by a man neutered by the rigours of time, and the fate that awaits the unprepared.

A blood and thunder tackle during the Europa League final gave us one last glimpse at the boy we came to love, and the man we wished that had transcended human expectation. The reality was acceptable then.

CONCLUSION

Now however, that reality has become the bitterest of pills that not even I want to swallow. The man who my generation associated first with Manchester United was no longer going to don red. The man who my generation saw, smash Bobby Charlton’s 250 goal record would no longer their number 10.

The man who made millions fall in love with the game was no longer going to grace the pristine blades of grass at Old Trafford, week in and week out.

It’s doesn’t take much to understand why the talented ranks of youth in both the English and Manchester United setups look to Wayne Rooney as a guiding light. Not because he had the midas touch, not because his exploits defied logic, but simply because he cared for the game.

Even as club captain in his last season, he motivated the team from the bench, treated youngsters like equals in training, or even took to Twitter to embarrass himself on countless occasions.

He was goofy, he was bratty, he was unpolished, but he was a joy – A gift that kept giving for the young people for whom the club and the sport meant more than anything. There was something emotionally attainable about the figure whom Wayne Rooney was.

For all his highs and lows, his legacy is unlikely to be mounted on concrete and cast in bronze, but more in the memories of those for whom Manchester United was everything — For the man who gave Manchester United everything.