Ever since the January window slammed shut, the tabloids have been filled with regular reports of Manchester United‘s Wayne Rooney signing a new £300k-per week mega-contract, that could also pave the way for him to be anointed club captain and the end of the season when Nemanja Vidic brings his Red Devils career to a close.
Wazza Roo is yet to sign on the dotted line, but reports on a daily basis have suggested that moment is only drawing nearer. Today, Mirror Football have even felt compelled to include the word ‘imminent’ in the title of their latest article covering the lengthy contract saga.
A mega-contract indeed; the deal, worth £70million over its reported four-and-a-half-term duration, would make the England international the highest-paid player in the history of the Premier League, and the direct recipient of 3% of Manchester United’s overall revenue, according to Nick Harris of Sporting Intelligence. He’d also engulf 8.5% of the club’s payroll.
To the Premier League champions, Rooney is undoubtedly worth that much. The 28 year-old, a decade-long servant to the club, has become the physical embodiment of Manchester United’s footballing identity; robust, English, hard-working, determined, yet exceptionally gifted in creativity and guile.
Amid their current malaise under David Moyes, he has at times been their savour, finding nine goals and nine assists in 21 Premier League appearances this season, and in the absence of a head-turning, trend-setting poster boy of the David Beckham or Cristiano Ronaldo ilk, Rooney has become by far United’s most recognised player, and their most potent marketing tool.
And I guess in this capitalist-centric version of the beautiful game we now all reside in, you’re worth whatever someone is willing to pay you.
But not everybody outside of the Old Trafford camp, and even some parties within, necessarily subscribe to that point of view. For much of his career, the categorisation of Rooney’s ultimate quality has been open to debate, and upon news of his record-breaking wage hike, these doubts have once again emerged
As a natural footballer, few can argue with the England star’s abilities; as a striker, he scores goals, as a No.10, he creates chances, and in his short berth in central midfield last season, he pinged the ball around the pitch as if he’d been doing it his whole life. But fix Rooney to any particular position, and there’s at least one element to his game that’s always come up slightly short – a piece of the jigsaw missing to make him the perfect forward, the perfect playmaker, or the perfect centre-mid.
Yes, to many, the Premier League’s fifth all-time top scorer still has a lot to prove, and there are few who would actively campaign for Rooney to be described as undisputedly world-class, despite his world-class pay increase.
But there is an opportunity glimmering on the horizon that would allow the United forward to put the age-old criticisms to rest once and for all, and prove he deserves not only every penny of his £70million deal, but also poster-boy status of the new era at Old Trafford – the 2014 World Cup.
The competition is the greatest footballing spectacle in the world, at one end a celebration of the great diversity and global reach of the beautiful game, and at the other, the most ultimate of tests that separates the great from the greatest, and the elite from the legendary.
Following those who have solidified their place in the annals of football history through the World Cup, such as Pele, Johan Cruyff, Gerd Mueller or George Weah, no one will be able to question Rooney’s abilities, let alone his £300k per-week deal, if he can produce his form on the biggest stage of them all. Part of football’s magic is that everybody can have an opinion, but a series of breath-taking performances at a World Cup always brings debates of quality to a close.
Admittedly, for a tournament held partly in the Amazon rain forest; for a tournament in which Greg Dyke summed up our chances of escaping the group stages with an ill-tasting cut-throat gesture; the chances of Rooney replicating the astonishing talismanic feats of Zinedine Zidane in 1998 and 2006, or Brazil’s Ronaldo in 2002 are incredibly unlikely.
But England need a hero and the time is upon Rooney to answer that calling, not only to advance his reputation at club level but also on the international scene; the Red Devils star is undoubtedly the finest home-grown talent of his generation, but a return of 38 goals in 88 international appearances hasn’t quite brought Rooney or the Three Lions to the dizzying heights many anticipated during days as a teenage Evertonian.
He’s also been an almost permanent fixture in an England side that haven’t lived up to expectations in their last four major tournaments, and failed to qualify for Euro 2008.
More than anything else however, more than goals, good football, or moments for the history books, the coming World Cup gives Rooney the chance to prove he’s a leader – not only a player capable of producing his best form on the ultimate stage and when his team need it most, but a player who can inspire that same quality in those around him. If Wazza Roo is to become the figurehead of the post-Ferguson era at Manchester United – the definitive motivation behind the club’s proposed £300k per-week contract – these are the qualities he must demonstrate.
Roy Hodgson has called on the Old Trafford star to ‘explode’ at Brazil 2014, and although that may be a rather inelegant term, it does summarise the expectancy in a nutshell. At 28 years of age, this is Rooney’s final opportunity to dictate how he is perceived by a world-wide audience, and whether the issue of his quality will be left eternally open to interpretation.
But most importantly in regards to United, it will illustrate whether they’ve spent £70million on an effective world-class entity, a talismanic leader, capable of producing at the highest possible level, or foolishly backed a player, tipped to become the flagship star of a new era at Old Trafford, who will never bear the full fruits of his endless potential.