Master Wayne – The Man Who Fought For Mediocrity

Wayne Rooney. What is he? An average player with great marketable value? A guy never holding himself back from a fight? Or a tale of shattered hopes? Pratik Guha lets flow his emotion here at Goalden Times

“Just five days to go till his seventeenth birthday and Wayne Rooney has grown up!!”

It was an October evening. A family from south Kolkata, India was busy packing for the much awaited autumnal trip outside the city. The youngest member was  flipping through the channels, looking for Cartoon Network. Football still wasn’t his most sought after program but after coming across a match, the excitement in the commentator’s voice caught his attention. A glimpse of a goal prevented the child from changing the channel. The slow motion replay started. A young lad clad in a blue jersey received a high lob pass. He  turned and ran a few steps and then curled the ball inside the net from the edge of the penalty box. The boy changed the channel after that but those few seconds of the replay went on rewinding on a loop in his mind. The next day’s newspaper introduced the kid with the name of the goal scorer. A certain Wayne Rooney of Everton, a 16-year-old boy had brought an end to the unbeatable run of the mighty Arsenal. And with that he had become the youngest ever goal scorer in the history of English Premier League, eclipsing Michael Owen. Now, after so many years when the memory of that evening comes alive, it becomes apparant that those few seconds were the beginning of an unexplainable romantic journey.

Master Wayne
And the journey begins
Image Source – Sports Illustrated

‘Favourite’ is a term that carries so many emotions with it. Some of them can be expressed, some explained and the rest remain hidden deep within our feelings, to be felt only by ourselves. How do we pick a team or a player as our favourite? No matter how cinematic or melodramatic it may sound, picking a team or a player as one’s favourite is something very close to having a love affair. Not very often do we get to choose with whom we fall in love with. And even if we do, no two relationships of love are similar. Some are magical l and some grows with time. Some are born out of moment of greatness and some out of a relatable feeling of defeat.

But why am I saying all this? Is Wayne Rooney my favourite? The question is easy to answer now, but if I had been asked this, say, ten years back, the answer might have been different. Football became a regular occurrence in my life only after 2005-06 when cable connection found its way to myhouse. Untilthen, watching international football meant only the European Chapionships, World Cups and occasional big matches on TV at the local club or at the neighbours house. Manchester United was a team I kept track of simply because it was the most successful club in English Premier League, which used to get the maximum coverage from every media outlet.  I first became familiar with two famous names – Sir Alex Ferguson and David Beckham. And there was also a certain young trickster from Portugal who made his name at the 2004 European Championships. Watching Ronaldo and Rooney growing together, taking on opponents fearlessly — one with magical skills, a wink in and a mischievous grin;the other with destructive rage, power and an iron solid determination — was quite a sight. A love story was taking its baby steps towards growing into something monumental.

But as we all know, no love story is complete without a few clashes. It happened at the 2006 World Cup between United’s two biggest young stars. One was sent off in infamy, the other continued on to the semi-finals, fully understanding his role in his teammate’s disgrace. That clash could have made disrupted things at United had there not been a hard line disciplinarian named Sir Alex Ferguson. The 2006-07 season was a clear milestone as the gap between the growths of the two prodigies became painstakingly clear. Rooney himself in his autobiography has admitted that when Cristiano returned to Manchester after the world Cup he was a “changed man” both physically and in footballing aspects. While Cristiano had set on his path of glory that would take him to the Himalayan height that he is now at, Rooney largely played the second fiddle. As much as it was a feeling of pride to witness one of our own scaling such heights, as a supporter who had been watching both players since their earlier days , it was a sad sight to see one getting eclipsed in the shadow of another. It was clear the two were destined for different paths.

Master Wayne
Sons of Fortune
Image Source – Mirror

And when all the doubts and assumptions turned out to be true and Cristiano was on his way to fulfil his dream of playing for Real Madrid, what was I thinking? I shouldn’t lie. As much as I was sad for the void Cristiano was leaving behind, the Rooney loyalist inside me was happy. Not just me, but the whole fraternity of Manchester United supporters looked to the boy from Everton to take up the burden of their hope t. There was a Nike commercial that had been aired during that time with Rooney and it said, “Welcome to the zone. Not a kind of place you just drop in and have a cup of tea, slice of cake. Most guys won’t go near the place. Others, season after season, they call it home.” And love just grew stronger and stronger at the time of weakness.

There was a Nike commercial that had been aired during that time with Rooney and it said, “Welcome to the zone. Not a kind of place you just drop in and have a cup of tea, slice of cake. Most guys won’t go near the place. Others, season after season, they call it home.”

But did Rooney become the player he was expected to be? Did added responsibilities help him grow or did he get burdened with sky-high expectations? It’s difficult to answer. But love for him in my heart never stopped growing. There have always been many doubts and many questions over his class, his capabilities, his contributions and all the hype that his name garners. Does he really deserve all that? Has he become the legend he was expected to be. Let us not forget that apart from being a Manchester United frontman he had his share of international duties too. He was born in a country which takes pride in being the inventor of the game. And Rooney came to the fore at a time when the nation was desperately searching for a talisman to lead them from the front by doing the most important job i.e. scoring goals. But has Rooney successfully done the job over the years? Statistics and record books say he has. He has past Sir Bobby Charlton to become the highest ever goal scorer for both club and country. But remembering the fact that Sir Bobby had scaled those heights while playing as a midfielder, somewhere Rooney’s achievements lose their colours. If we set on making an all time best XI of Manchester United, will there be an automatic selection for him? Perhaps not. Rooney is a man of many qualities but if we take each of those qualities separately, we will find that there has been a person or two who has donned the red shirt and was better than him. Robin Van Persie was a more lethal finisher than him, Cristiano Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic could beat him any day in fitness or stamina, Tevez could outpace him, Berbatov was way ahead of him in respect of silky smooth first touches and finesse.

Then why is Rooney my favourite player? Whenever I have asked myself this question or have been asked the reason behind my love for Rooney, the answer that spontaneously came to my mind is that Rooney somehow symbolizes us, our fight. Who are we? Who am I? I am one of those countless nobodies that constitute the “middle-class” and more than that, the “Mediocre”. We are those people who are born with limited talent and always find ourselves outscored by more gifted individuals. Being a member of that population whenever I have watched Rooney with the ball at his feet, taking on the opposition’s defenders it was as if he was taking my fight to the big stage. Whenever he dribbled past the rival or got stuck in the jungle of feet or fell down it was some how my fight that had hit a roadblock. But he never took long to get up. Falling much behind the best players of his generation in the race to eternal greatness, he still kept on fighting. Rooney was not the best of his time even during his peak form. And for much of it he only has himself to blame . But Rooney was the man who never left the fight. Quitting was never an option for him. This fight characterised him. He was someone who could be trusted upon no matter the match — a friendly or a final., The man never went down without a fight. And that was enough for me.

The night  of the 2011 UEFA Champions League final will never stop haunting me. 2009 was more of a setback than a shock. But 2011 was an unequal fight from the start and a change of dynasty was evident. A footballing giant was rising, making their claim on the throne of the continent and announcing their dominance. At the receiving end was an old master with a broken team fading in the horizon. But one man refused to make peace with that. He kept on running, rekindling a bleak hope but only for a lost cause. At the end, the frustration started to show itself. With his runs and shots getting stopped, the futile screams of Rooney grew more and more frequent.

Master Wayne
UEFA Champions League final, 2011. Near, yet so Far
Image Source – GiveMeSport

When van Persie was brought to the squad, United supporters started calling the striking duo “Batman and Robin” out of fun and love. While it was purely an act of love, there are indeed a few similarities that I have found throughout the years between the journey of Wayne Rooney as a Manchester United frontman and the caped crusader of Gotham. Despite pledging all his life for fighting crime and keeping his city safe, as we have witnessed in many famous books and films, things were not always smooth for Batman. In many occasions he had been portrayed as a public enemy, sometimes for his own faults and in many cases he had accepted the curse just for the greater good. While it is no secret that Rooney had not always been an ideal epitome of consistency or loyalty,there were occasions where he had been made  a scapegoat. And Rooney’s somewhat complex relationship with Ferguson, and seemingly not living up to his potential gave his critics ample reasons to point their fingers at him. But just like the silent guardian of Gotham, Rooney of Manchester kept coming back, against all odds. Rooney was was always there in a time of need. Just as Batman said in ‘The Dark Knight, “I’m whatever Gotham needs me to be”. Amidst all the criticism, Rooney was the hero that Manchester United deserved.

Rooney was was always there in a time of need. Just as Batman said in ‘The Dark Knight, “I’m whatever Gotham needs me to be”. Amidst all the criticism, Rooney was the hero that Manchester United deserved.

Has Wayne Rooney always been an ideal inspiration to look up to? Let me be brutally honest. No, he hasn’t. There have been multiple occasions where he has created problems for the club. His ego has created roadblocks for the gaffer to move ahead. The relationship between the two most important people of the team went down to dogs. And it saddened me when he wanted to force a move away from the club. Rooney’s fall from grace was a difficult period for fans like me to fathom. But Rooney being Rooney came back from that setback and lapse in judgement and produced the best season of his career. And being the gutsy player he was, he was man enough to apologize for what he did. Three years later the same drama happened once again. This time around he was a more matured professional and chose to be completely silent. Did I forgive him? Perhaps. Should I? Don’t our loved ones sometimes hurt us? Disappoint us? But does it mean the end of it all? No. And Rooney, being who he is, stuck around.

Master Wayne
“Highest Paid, Highest Class”
Image Source – Who Ate all the Pies

Fifteen years have passed since that cool October evening. Wayne Rooney has covered a long distance from being that ginger haired temperamental boy. And now time has brought us to the stop which I knew was inevitable yet could not bring myself to prepare for. The journey of Rooney as a Manchester United player was not just his journey, he inspired countless others. We walked the path alongside him these past thirteen years. We grew up from being a kid and Rooney grew old to become a battle-hardened veteran. And now he has gone back to where he started it all. A circle of romance and nostalgia is completed. But the end of a journey always marks the start of a new one. I hope he finds his old touch one more time and, hopefully, many more love stories will be written.

Until then, farewell Master Wayne.

Pratik Guha

About Pratik Guha

Pratik follows Manchester United, East Bengal & Brazil; also have an avid interest in the historical and cultural side of the game.