Man United: Rewarding Rooney's Petulance Means Fans Will Never Love Him
Wayne Rooney is nothing if not divisive. Labelled a 'street-footballer' when he first burst onto the scene as an irrepressible sixteen year old force, thanks to his bullish style of play, brutish build and the obvious joy he felt in the simple act of playing the game he loved, how he would be described now is open to interpretation.
In the beginning, we could all relate to the boy from Croxteth.
Yet, having revealed that infamous 'Once a Blue, Always a Blue' t-shirt, after scoring for the team of his boyhood dreams, as more prestigious clubs circled like vultures over Goodison, drooling at the scent of greatness, Rooney was inevitably labelled a traitor by his own kith and kin before the ink on his Manchester United contract had dried.
Few, however, outside the walls of Goodison, could have begrudged this exciting young footballer his decision; a decision that must have torn at his heart every bit as much as it made his pulse race. The lure of silverware and the opportunity to display his prodigious talent on the European stage was, understandably, too much to turn down.
Hence, Wayne Rooney, from a very early stage in his career, had to grow accustomed to that most grim of sensations: alienation. After all, those who had adored him from the start, and shared his infatuation for his beloved Everton, felt that he had not just let them down, but betrayed them, led them on, and broken their hearts.
His was a steep learning curve in the art of looking out for number one, aided by the inevitable clingers on, who attached themselves to the rising star like leeches latching on to an unsuspecting host. Few could argue, given the medal haul he has amassed in the intervening years, with the decision he made.
Manchester United fans took to Rooney immediately, despite many harbouring initial doubts as to his mentality and suitability to the club. Indeed, it was difficult, if not impossible not to, given his explosive debut, following on from a distinguished introduction on the international stage of Euro 2004.
Now, though, all these years on, with so much troubled water under the bridge, things have changed; for many, irrevocably. The blistering, seemingly telepathic relationship between the trio of Rooney, Ronaldo and Tevez is now but a distant memory.
Since those heady days, Rooney has flirted with Manchester City and enjoyed a very public fumble behind the bike-sheds with Jose Mourinho, and it is abundantly clear that, had he had his way he would be plying his trade with another club as we speak.
Rooney has split the Old Trafford crowd, and it is hard to imagine that the same cannot be said for the dressing room, particularly given the way David Moyes has fawned over the Liverpudlian since becoming Manchester United manager.
Now he has signed a lucrative new contract that, if it runs its course, will see him spend the remainder of his productive career with the champions.
Many see this as a coup, pointing to his improved form and his appeal on the world stage, to fans and, possibly, other big-name players. These people take comfort in the news that one of United's biggest stars of recent years is committing his future to the club, while others appear to be deserting, or set to desert, like rats on a sinking ship.
Nevertheless, Rooney's undoubted improvement on the pitch is relative. Few can argue that last season was his worst in a Manchester United shirt. His stats during that term are deceptive, and flatter him greatly. By the time United had wrested the title back from their city rivals, Rooney had been marginalised by Sir Alex Ferguson, and with good reason. His attitude off the pitch was as poor as his form on it.
Now we are being asked to dismiss the opinion of Ferguson, builder of one of history's great footballing empires, that the time had come for a parting of the ways, and trust instead the judgement of David Moyes, a man who is seemingly singlehandedly lighting the torches that will raze that empire to the ground.
Many will point out that it was also Ferguson who adjudged Moyes to be the man to continue his dynasty. Still, while Ferguson's signing of Moyes could legitimately be seen as one of his blunders in the transfer market, during his time at the helm he rarely misjudged when a big-name player was doing more harm than good. One could be forgiven for wondering whether Moyes' handling of the Rooney conundrum is as much about him being his own man as anything else.
Who is to say that Wayne Rooney won't find another reason to hurl his toys about the place like a child? Who can predict what effect his behaviour will have on his teammates, particularly the younger ones? It would be hypocritical of the club to punish such behaviour in the future, now that the watching world has seen Wayne Rooney rewarded for his petulance, arrogance and shameless ransom demands.
United fans will always support their club, and will therefore support Wayne Rooney for as long as he remains a Manchester United player. Few, however, will love him again, and many will remain suspicious of his every move until the day he finally walks out of the door.
David Moyes once took a gamble on a street-footballer. Now, many years down the line, he is taking another gamble on the same player, though one who has long out-grown the streets of his youth, and plays instead in the ornate grounds of his very own opulent palace.