He’s Wayne Rooney, and he doesn’t give a damn what you think anymore.
America loves ballplayers. We love the guy who stands up in the face of the wind, says “Fuck you” and delivers. We love the millionaires who show up in all their flash, all their pomp, and at the end of the day, entertain us by getting down and dirty. We love the guy who delivers in the clutch. In this country, results are all that matter. Black, white, red, yellow. Win, or go home. Wayne Rooney wins, and then tells us where to stick it. He dives in for a tackle and tells the other person to “fuck off” when they look for a penalty. He will step on your face with his cleats and smile as he walks away.
This past weekend, Roo scored a “goalazo” against Crystal Palace to, for the moment, justify his hefty and heavily criticized new contract. It was an impeccably timed volley that many world class players would love to have, and pushed his goal tally into double digits for the tenth consecutive season. He has never scored less then 16 in a season across all competitions. His wide range of passing and defensive work has earned him a reputation as the best English player of his generation. When on the pitch, he is 100% committed to the cause, and epitomizes Manchester United’s “never say die” attitude. He can, and has, played every position across midfield and forward. He can score from anywhere and with as much flair as you can imagine, with his 2011 bicycle kick against rivals Manchester City being deemed the greatest goal in the British Premier League’s history. He even drops into defense late in games, tackling players with the intensity of football players of another kind of league. He is the complete player.
So why all the hate?
Rooney always had a rough relationship with the Manchester United hierarchy. He didn’t like being the most talented player on the team, but not having input. He didn’t like not being paid what he considered to be “fair”. He saw the wages of players on the other side of Manchester wearing blue, players who were less accomplished on a club who have no history, but getting double his pay. At one point in 2010, he publicly asked for a transfer, with that team in blue as his ideal place to ply his trade. His mind was changed by then manager Sir Alex Ferguson, who gave him a decent pay raise, but who never forgot that he stuck a knife in the clubs back. The 2011/12 season saw him have his best year to date, scoring 27 times for United in 34 Premier League matches, but he couldn’t lift them to the league title, falling 2nd to local rivals, and former flirt partner, Manchester City.
That summer, United and Ferguson set out to bring the title back to the red side of the city and purchased Japaneese international Shinji Kagawa and Arsenal star front man (and then captain) Robin Van Persie to shore up the offense, at the potential expense of Wayne Rooney, both of those men playing positions he normally would. Van Persie was the toast of the town, scoring 26 league goals that season, and United brought the title back in grand fashion, winning the league by double digit points. Wayne Rooney had a diminishing role as the season went on, with Sir Alex more and more leaving him on the bench and/or in roles Wayne did not want to play, as a form of retribution for his attempted bolt. Sir Alex retired, and the future looked murky for Rooney and United.
Just 8 months ago, we were all wondering when, not if, United were going to unload their brash, but forlorn, star. Many suspected France, where Paris St Germain were busy buying up star strikers. When it came out Rooney didn’t want to learn French, many suspected Chelsea, and their own “I’ll tell you how good I am all day” manager Jose Mourinho would be the perfect landing spot. None of that materialized as David Moyes, the Manchester United new man and Skeletor impersonator, said “No” to any English move and kept their star man at home. Wayne Rooney, the off field smoker, drinker, philanderer and often time prat, was staying in Manchester and wearing red for the foreseeable future.
This season has been a disaster for Manchester United. New manager, old players and not enough winning. Injuries, bad form at home, bad tactics and bad luck. All of this has led to unrest around the club and fans are starting to turn. United languish in 6th place in the Premier League, 5 points from qualifying for European competition next season. The only place they haven’t stunk up the joint is actually in Europe where they won their group and face Olympiakos tomorrow in Athens. The club is looking to turn the page from 20 years of greatness, but often fail to remember how they got there in the first place.
Through all of this though, Wayne Rooney has shone bright. He has shown the goals that he celebrates with zeal. He has shown the kind of long range passing that would even turn Brett Favres head. He plays small passes like the best Spanish players, all the while maintaining his “bull in a china shop” style tenacity that has made him such a prized commodity for over a decade, and since he turned pro at the age of 16.
Last week, he finally got what he has always seen as his comeuppance: The largest contract, $500k a week, and believed to be the largest in English club sports history, at one of the largest clubs in the world, and, down the road, possibly the final piece to his personal puzzle: The captains armband.
Can he be a spoiled prat?
Can he, at any moment, show you how beautiful of a player he can be?
Over the past few years, Wayne Rooney has become something he probably never set out to become: the Antihero. I myself have fallen in and out and in and out and, finally, back in love with him. However, if you ask him, he probably doesn’t care. Just buy your ticket, buy your popcorn, and prepare to be entertained. That’s what he will try every minute of every match to give you…and you’ll probably love it.