“I was in the office on August 14 and David phoned me to say he wasn’t signing a new contract.” These few words from an anguished looking Sir Alex Ferguson changed the complexion Manchester United fans had of Wayne Rooney in an instant. When news broke that Rooney didn’t want to sign a new contract, that he wanted out of the club claiming that United can’t “attract big players anymore” and later the vicious rumours that if he was to move, Manchester City would be his destination of choice feelings of anger, disgust and disappointment washed over United fans all over the world.
He had claimed that he wanted to see out the rest of his career at the club and after him publicly announcing that he played for the best team it truly was a sickening blow when he announced he wanted to part from Old Trafford and worse again leave for the City of Manchester stadium.
It would be fair to say that Rooney was one of, if not the, most popular player among Manchester United fans with chants directed at him hailing him the “White Pele” and other such accolades. People genuinely thought that Rooney was different, one of the few players still in it for the love of the game, that the thought of lifting trophies made him tick and gave him the determination he showed on the pitch and not the pay cheque at the end of the week. Should we expect any more of a modern footballer today? Is there a such thing as a professional footballer where money is not their main motivation?
A month after the saga Wayne came out and scored away from home against Rangers, albeit from the penalty spot cue huge celebrations from Wayne and Manchester United fans (proving the fickleness of football fans). After this game Wayne, for the first time, publicly apologised to United fans for his part in the will he-won’t he contract fiasco, a huge step towards redeeming himself with the United faithful.
After the 87th minute penalty many expected now for Rooney to kick on, now that his confidence had been regained. Sadly, this was not the case and by February, Rooney only had scored a rather measly 4 goals. As a striker, this was frustrating for both Rooney himself, and the fans. While perhaps forgiven by some United fans at this stage, he was still yet to prove himself to the majority.
On perhaps Manchester United’s biggest game of the season against rivals Manchester City Rooney was given the nod ahead of fellow striker Dimitar Berbatov despite the latter scoring 16 more goals than him all season. It seemed the perfect occasion for Rooney to take a step in the right direction and towards redemption with the fans. So what could Rooney do to prove himself? A last minute winner? A hat trick? No one, bar no one could have predicted what Rooney did. An astonishing goal which would prove the decisive goal at the end. “Roonaay Roonaay” hadn’t been chanted around Old Trafford with such passion and jubilation since the contract saga. As Rooney stood arms stretched out in a Cantona-esque fashion many would say the Rooney of old had returned.
It certainly was a huge leap towards redemption and being forgiven by myself and many fellow red’s. But is he forgiven? Can I chant his name again with a feeling of guilt? If we are in a similar position come May and he’s scoring goals of that magnitude then yes, I can chant his name, wear his shirt and respect him in the same way as I did in seasons gone by.