But despite being one of the most decorated player, there is a sense of ‘could-have-been-more’. I have never seen a footballer dividing fans’ opinions like he does. After his 13 year career at the club, he is not revered as Giggs and Scholes. For many he didn’t really fulfill his potential.
The problem is he raised the bar too high too early. One of my earliest footballing memory is his outstanding cameo in Everton’s blue shirt at Old Trafford. He scored his first goal when he was 16 (and what a goal it was!). He was ripping teams apart at Euros when he was 18. Signed for United later that August and scored a hattrick on his United debut in a Champions League game. He could take game by scruff of the neck and make any stage his own. He was ‘force of nature’ and only other footballers I can use that phrase for are Roy Keane and Leo Messi.
But more than that he was a street footballer who wore his heart on sleeve. Pure unadulterated passion. That meant something. A Kid who loved his game as much as we do. And how much he hated Liverpool!
And yet, many Old Trafford loyalist aren’t exactly warm to him. He tried to force his move twice. When he did it the first time in 2010, contract was already agreed with City. It took Fergie’s greatest performance in the press conference to put ball back in Wayne’s court. He eventually signed a new contract but after that it was never the same.
So when he put transfer request again 3 years later, nobody was surprised. He could even be forgiven since Fergie’s decision to play him in the midfield triggered it.
But that reflects on Fergie’s genius. He might have sensed drop in Rooney’s levels and decided to throw him under the bus. He was bloody right as after Fergie retired, it went downhill for both, United and the player himself. He regressed sharply and too quickly. Lost his explosive pace and dynamism. Ironically it’s Mourinho who wanted him the 2nd time has decided to call Wayne’s time.
Now he’s back where it all began. Everton backed up with good transfer window so far are building a good team. They could use a champion player who is just 31 to boost the morale of the team. Most of those players grew up admiring him. It could cheer up Evertonians (who spent most of last 13 years cursing and abusing him) to create even better atmosphere at Goodison Park. Maybe it’s a blessing in disguise.
But what if he had taken care of his body like Giggs did? He could have extended his career. What if he was not so unselfish on the field? What if he had not broke his toe vs Portugal in QF of Euro 2004? What if he never got injured at Stamford Bridge in 2006 which put his World Cup in jeopardy? What if he never got injured vs Bayern in 2010? What if Saha wasn’t made of pack of biscuits and Fergie had built team around Wayne instead of Ronaldo? And most importantly – What if Paul Stretford was not his fucking agent?
So many what-ifs create a feeling of unfulfillment. I don’t have answer of any questions myself. But one thing is sure. At his peak, he was an outstanding footballer and I would never swap him with anyone else. His career is to be proud of and cherished which people rarely do.
What sticks in my craw are his two transfer requests. One of which was for going to City with every possibility of player being tapped up. He held the club to ransom for money. He was earning 250K per week and he did not deserve it at all. There were dressing room leaks. He had too much power. He disrespected fans who sung and will sing his name. Maybe you have forgotten all about it but I haven’t!
That doesn’t mean it was all bad. Maybe he was being greedy. Maybe he was just badly advised by Stretford. But behind all the drama, there lives that 16 year old who after scoring his first league goal, came home and played on the street with his mates. Who still celebrates goals of other players just like his own. He is regarded as one of the most approachable and down to earth superstars in football. There is a reason he is so popular amongst young players or in dressing room. Whether you like it or not, there is something endearing about his personality.
Still the timing of his departure seems apt. When Becks left, I was very disappointed. Keano’s departure was bloody difficult to digest. And I am not even going into Fergie’s retirement!
But this feels right. The move is good for both parties. Much dignified exit with respect he deserves.
So instead of debating about his ‘legend’ status, let’s celebrate career of a supremely gifted footballer who gave us so many great moments. But as Oliver Kay described Ronaldo’s time – “It was a rocky marriage, but the sex was great.”
Farewell Wazza. Thanks for all the memories.
Written by Mangesh Puranik. Follow him on Twitter.
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