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This summer Wayne Rooney will probably have a few BBQs, he’ll probably go on holiday and he might even do a bit of boxing. But this might also end up being the most important summer of his footballing career.
To date that career has unfurled in a fairly straightforward manner. Sure, there have been transfer rumours and transfer requests and there has been disappointment with the national team, but there has never been any doubt about what Rooney would be doing come August.
We knew he’d be playing football at the highest level and if it wasn’t for Manchester United then it would be for another super club *cough* Chelsea.
However, over the past few seasons the signs have been there that Rooney’s tyres are starting to spin a little slower. Last season, the debate about whether Rooney was in decline or not stopped being a debate, it became a fact.
Under Mourinho he was not the first choice striker, but Rooney has actually rarely been first choice striker at United, playing on the left under Ferguson to accommodate Tevez and Berbatov and more recently he has played second fiddle to Robin Van Persie.
However, this year he wasn’t even second choice striker, that job was given to Rashford. Last season United’s next big thing made 53 appearances. Comparatively Rooney, United’s last big thing, made 39 with many of them coming in midfield.
The switch to midfield has, for a while now, been touted as a way for Rooney to extend his career and keep playing at the highest level. It was Ferguson who initially moved Rooney into the centre of the park and at first, Rooney didn’t like it.
More recently though, he has embraced the role both for club and country, probably because he has realised it’s his best chance of staying in the starting 11. However, for all the talk about him being able to use his footballing genius to pick apart defences, Rooney has failed to make much of an impact from deep.
In fact, his first touch often looks like it divorced him and kept the house. Furthermore, with United looking to sign a central midfielder this summer to feature alongside Pogba and Herrera and with Carrick and Fellaini recently signing contract extensions, it is clear that Rooney does not have a future in Manchester United’s midfield.
Wayne Rooney has reached a crossroads unlike anything he has experienced before. But with a career like his, he will have plenty of options. Let’s take a look at what some of those might be.
Option 1: Move to another club in England
When Everton got a hefty chunk of investment following their recent takeover it seemed almost logical that they would sign Rooney. People assumed they would want a marquee signing and Rooney seemed like the perfect candidate.
Falling out of favour at United, both he and his club would benefit from the move. Rooney is of course an Evertonian and recently stated that if he were to move to another English club it would only be Everton.
What people didn’t seem to bank on though is that Ronald Koeman is a pragmatist.
His approach to Ross Barkley, Everton’s most exciting prospect since Rooney, has shown that he is a man who doesn’t let sentimentality cloud his judgement. Barkley has been repeatedly criticised by his manager and appears a dead cert to leave the club, based on Koeman’s own comments.
Signing Rooney just because it would be a nice thing to do doesn’t therefore look like a likely occurrence.
On top of that Everton have already strengthened in the areas Rooney would likely be looking to fill. There is little chance he would displace Gueye or Schneiderlin in midfield and with Klaassen joining from Ajax, the attacking midfield position also looks to be filled.
It could be that if Everton sell Lukaku they will look to Rooney as a replacement. But with Sandro Ramirez apparently joining from Malaga Everton may already have their replacement.
Ramirez’s arrival also points to a policy of signing young players with potential. That isn’t a transfer strategy that would include Rooney.
Beyond his hometown club, Stoke and Newcastle have been linked with Wazza. Neither look like coming to fruition though. Stoke have ruled themselves out of a move, while Rooney has distanced himself from a move to the Toon.
However, if Rooney does want to keep playing in the Premier League he may have to rethink his statement about only playing for Everton. He would also have to ask himself whether he would be happy playing for a mid-table side because by the looks of it, that would be his only option.
There is of course no shame in that, but would Rooney’s pride stop him making the move?
Option 2: Head to China
Another logical destination for Rooney is China.
When the spate of clubs buying European players for incredible sums was at its highest early on this season it seemed like a perfect way out for both Rooney and Manchester United.
Rooney would likely increase his already incredible pay packet, while Manchester United would likely get a fee far higher than they would from any other transfer.
Moreover, Rooney would be a true star of the league earning him the kind of adulation and respect that, sadly, he has often lacked in England. He would be out of the media spotlight, there would be little pressure on him in a footballing sense and the constant questions about him would be put to bed.
Of course, a move would be an acceptance that his time at the top was finished. It would also undoubtedly signal an end to his international career. Perhaps Rooney isn’t ready to throw the towel in just yet?
Beyond football, the biggest drawback of a move to China would be the upheaval it would cause to his family. Looking at it from a purely footballing perspective the move makes great deal of sense.
But in reality, moving his wife and three young children to the Far East might be too much to ask and he may himself be very comfortable in England. A move to America might be more attractive, but for whatever reason there has been less talk about such a move.
So perhaps Rooney is destined to stay in England.
Option 3: Stay at United
With a move to Everton unlikely and with Rooney seemingly reluctant to drop down the league too much, it could very well be that he remains at United.
The deal he signed in 2014 runs until 2019 with a post-retirement ambassadorial role written into contract.
On top of that it’s just worth bearing in mind that the contract is worth £300k per week.
Imagine being in a position where you have won everything you can win at club level, you are the all-time top scorer for your club and your country and you are going to be paid £300k a week to play a smattering of games over two years, with a cushy job already secured for after that.
Now that is living the dream.
Rooney’s decision will ultimately hinge on what his ambitions are. At United he would likely remain club captain, but his role would be diplomatic.
Don’t expect him to play every minute and score in the final, expect him to be subbed on in the last few minutes with the game done and dusted, as happened in the Europa League final last season.
If Rooney wants to be the main man, then he will have to move. But the move that he would need to make might be considered a step too far — too far East or too far down the Premier League.
Of course, this is all speculation since Rooney has made no clear statement on his future.
However, it looks as though unless Everton have a change of heart and come in for him, he will remain at United and see out his contract accepting a reduced role in the team, but perhaps contributing more behind the scenes.
Having achieved so much in his career and at a club that wants him to be a part of their future Rooney is in a privileged position.
However, he still finds himself at the biggest crossroads of his career and the decision he makes this summer might be the most important he has made in football.
Written by Scott Pope
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