As we embark upon a new chapter at Manchester United, Kevin Levingston examines the erratic perception of Wayne Rooney and considers the possibilities going forward.

Let me be clear about one thing. I know very little about the intricacies of life as a modern footballer. It’s about as far from my world as anything on this earth. Equally, I don’t expect that the opinions expressed here will be entirely coherent, nor can I guarantee that they won’t contradict themselves entirely. Such is the polarizing nature of one Wayne Mark Rooney. “Manchester’s favourite Evertonian” or an overpaid mercenary? Our most important player or backup to the first team? Committed to the cause or just a man who knows all too well that his marketability makes him indispensable to the powers that be? On the verge of his eleventh season with the club our very own pantomime villain faces a season that may define not only how he is remembered in the hallowed halls of Old Trafford, but how he is viewed by the footballing world as a whole. Often as committed on the pitch as he is negligent off it; the achievements of Rooney’s time at United cannot be argued with. Nor can it be ignored that on two occasions he has held the club to ransom, not so much burning as obliterating bridges all around him, isolating himself from fans and fellow players alike. There are some that may never forgive Wayne Rooney. There are others that care not about off field conduct as long as the business gets done on the pitch. Some of us sit nervously between both camps, never quite ready to embrace the lad, yet not willing to castigate a player that seems so vital to our success. My own opinion is probably best described as follows; Wayne Rooney is one of my favourite United players…and I can’t stand him.

Nevertheless, we shall blink and the new season will be upon us. Our new boss Louis Van Gaal takes over after the World Cup, and it is going to be fascinating to see how it all plays out. There are a number of factors at play here which will go a long way to deciding what sort of season Rooney will have:

Van Gaal

The Dutchman has a history of not pandering to inherited big name players and is unlikely to have mellowed in the last few years. The similarities to Sir Alex Ferguson are obvious. In the same breath, the incoming boss is taking over a squad with a dearth of top quality talent available, and though our own adopted Liverpudlian may not quite be on the level of the world’s elite he is certainly one of the most talented players in the division when on form. Rooney should view this as an opportunity to make a clean start under a new manager and become a key component in the rebuilding of our club. It will require a level of humility that doesn’t come naturally to him, but one would hope he has learned something from previous mistakes.

Competition for Places

If United are to assume Van Gaal’s usual approach, one would imagine that something resembling a 4-3-3 formation will be used. This leaves room for one natural striker. Robin Van Persie’s clear understanding with the new boss along with – to be blunt – the former Arsenal man’s superior ability would leave you to believe that Rooney will not be first choice in this role. This could see him spend more time than he is accustomed to on the bench or out wide. There is also a suggestion that this could be the year that he makes his long mooted shift to midfield, though I’ll leave that particular conversation to those with a far better tactical nous than I.

New Contract

It’s been barely a year since Sir Alex saw fit to make his parting gesture a well-aimed dig at Rooney, citing a new request to leave the club from the striker. One year on and a combination of managerial naivety, marketing strategy and the input of a certain Mr Stretford has seen the same player established as one of the highest earners in world football. Whilst the prospect of paying a 33-year-old Wayne Rooney such astronomical wages when he’s already on the decline physically is something to make the eyes water, what’s not often considered is the obligation involved for the player himself. For the past five years he has had a strong hand in contract negotiations; the thought of him leaving for one of our rivals being enough to force the clubs hand. That is no longer the case. The chances of him earning anywhere near the same wages anywhere else are slim, as are the chances that any of the top clubs would be interested him when he’s another year or two down the beaten track. He’s painted himself into a corner, albeit a rather comfortable one.

Personal Pride

That which so often ends up being the striker’s main downfall needs to be applied in a healthy way to his final few years with the club. As it stands, he is a season or two at most from being our top scorer of all time, yet rarely in our history has there been such a divisive character. For all his antics off the pitch, for his perceived lack of commitment to physical preparation, for putting himself above the club on numerous occasions and perhaps most unforgivable of all; the fact he never became the player he should have become. Wayne Rooney has placed a division between himself and the Old Trafford faithful. It may be too late to ever rebuild that relationship completely, but he is indebted to the Manchester United fans and it’s time to pay up. If he has ever valued this club or the fans it’s time to show it.

In conclusion; I have no clue what to expect from Wayne Rooney this year. Logic would suggest that surely even he wouldn’t throw the toys out of the pram this early into his new contract. He’s making all the right sounds in the media at present and it’s clear that both his and the club’s immediate commercial future are inexplicably intertwined. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that we see a new, more mature Wayne Rooney. Whether that will still be the case when Robin Van Persie has the armband and he’s been shipped out to the left wing remains to be seen. Should he ever become “angry and confused” again you would expect it to be the death knell for his time with the club, and about time too. There comes a point where one needs to wash their hands of such a character, and you feel that Rooney is one bad move away from being left behind by the new Manchester United, especially with Van Gaal in charge.

Ayn Rand once said “Every man builds his world in his own image. He has the power to choose, but no power to escape the necessity of choice”.
Rooney stands at a junction in his walk with Manchester United. Make the right choice and Wayne Rooney can at least recapture the grudging respect of the fans as he makes his mark in history as one of the clubs best ever players. Make the wrong choice and all that awaits is regret and unfulfilled promise, leaving a sour taste in the mouths of all involved. One thing is indisputable; he must choose.

Kevin Levingston is a freelance blogger who occasionally disappears. When he is around, you can find him on twitter @KevinLevingston.