All eyes were once again on Wayne Rooney in the build up to the Champions League clash against Rangers. Manchester United fans are far from ‘united’ on their opinions over Rooney and that was made clear when he came on as a substitute against Wigan Athletic at Old Trafford. So in his first start for the club since his eventual contract agreement, Rooney took to the field with a heavy weight of expectation on his shoulders.
Before the game, Rooney said he wasn’t expecting all the fans to be chanting his name. He told MUTV “Not all the fans are going to want to be singing my name all the time or going to want to be cheering me all the time and I fully accept that and understand that. But I have to go out and prove to the fans that I am here to stay and I want to work and I want to win things at this club. Only I can say how I feel and I know one hundred per cent it was nothing to do with money.”
It’s been well publicized – Rooney is earning a lot of money (even by today’s standards), and for that he’s expected to perform. So after a goalless 87 minutes in which Rooney had come close with a couple of chances, there was only one man stepping up to take the penalty. The word “courageous” used by Alex Ferguson was absolutely spot-on. Imagine if he had missed. Blazing his shot over the bar to be met with a chorus of boos from every section of the stadium.
This time Rooney kept his cool, sending Manchester United into the knock out stages of the competition. But will that be enough to win over the Manchester United fans? Will Rooney jerseys being flying off the shelf this Christmas? Football fans are renowned for having a very short memory but for most fans Rooney has a long way to go. It will be a long a slow process but after securing a long term contract Rooney has time on his side anyway. What will really count is goals and wins. Now Rooney is already showing signs he’s emerging from the slump in form that cost him his reputation as one of the world’s best players.
Rooney offered no apology to the Manchester United fans until after the Rangers game and perhaps that was a smart move on his part. After all, he’ll let his actions on the field do the talking. No matter what he says in interviews to the press, United fans will always be more concerned with how he plays on the pitch. A mere apology won’t be enough for most fans anyway. For the fans still booing even as he was stepping up to take his penalty, it could take more than a season or two before they take the player back into their hearts.
Apologizing to his team mates however, was a more of an immediate concern. The ever-loyal Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs would have been far from impressed with his attitude to a new United contract and the example he set to the clubs younger players was not helpful. Some say that Rooney overlooked what a privilege it is to be playing for a club with such a rich history. Without his team mates fully behind him Rooney could never be as effective in a United shirt. Several united players have already publically stated that they’re delighted he chose to stay at the club. After all, they surely realize the team is a stronger force if he is a part of it.
The long term consequences of the Rooney contract saga remain to be seen but hopefully the whole club will be able to move forward together as they fight for yet more silverware this season. The premier league is wide open and the title race could be one of the most thrilling in Premier League history. No matter what their personal opinion, every true united fan would love to see him use those Nike Lasers to fire them back to the top of the League.
Written by: Olly Dyson, EPL correspondent, soccerpro.com