Rooney Faces His Defining Six Months
By Daily Telegraph | Published: 01st January 2014 06:20 AM |
Reborn striker goes into 2014 aiming to dominate at the World Cup and become Man United's record goalscorer, writes Mark Ogden
When Wayne Rooney took his place on the substitutes' bench for Manchester United's Champions League decider against Real Madrid nine months ago, he could barely have expected to begin 2014 with the world at his feet and his future -resolutely in his own hands.
Even as this season began, the man once described by Sven-Goran Eriksson as the "golden boy of English football" was embarking on an uncertain road ahead, with his fitness and commitment to United under scrutiny as new manager David Moyes attempted to defuse the ticking time bomb that had been left in his in-tray by Sir Alex Ferguson.
Yet with United and Rooney set to begin the new year against Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford this evening, the 28-year-old is arguably facing six months which will ultimately define his career, on both the club and international stage.
The last six months have signalled the rebirth of Rooney, but the next will tell us whether he really can dominate the biggest stage at a World Cup and whether he will remain at Old Trafford long enough to surpass iconic figures such as Denis Law and Sir Bobby Charlton in United's record books.
One certainty, however, is that Rooney now holds the whip hand in his negotiations with United over the new contract which is due to be offered to him in the coming months. January will pass quietly, but talks are expected to begin shortly afterwards and Rooney will hold all the aces.
He is in form, has been United's outstanding player of the season and is thriving under the Moyes regime having been placed at the heart of the manager's plans.
Yet with United uncertain of a top-four finish and with Chelsea, Arsenal and Real Madrid all watching with interest, Rooney is in a position to make his employers sweat having turned the tables on the club since the end of last season.
When Ferguson departed the scene last May, having gone public with Rooney's dissatisfaction at becoming a bit-part player and his determination to move elsewhere, there appeared no way back for the forward at Old Trafford.
Within these pages, it was reported that Rooney was facing the end of his United career due to the breakdown of his relationship with Ferguson, whose revelation was regarded by the player as an act of betrayal. It opened up a fault line which reverberated throughout the summer.
Publicly, United held firm, insisting that Rooney would not be leaving and that he would have to wait for discussions over a new deal to replace his pounds 250,000-a-week agreement which expires in June 2015. But inside Old Trafford, while United remained steadfast over their refusal to sell to a domestic rival, there was a readiness to do business with a foreign club, yet none picked up the phone.
Even those close to Rooney at United were speaking of an acceptance that he needed a fresh start and that the rift with Ferguson would remain a festering sore.
Misinterpreted claims by Moyes that Rooney would have to accept playing second fiddle to Robin van Persie, in conjunction with comments by chief executive Ed Woodward that United "would not be afraid to run a contract down", resulted in the player being described as "angry and confused" and even more determined to leave.
But since returning to action for United as a substitute against Swansea on the opening day of the season, after injuries had sidelined him during pre-season, his resurgence has gathered pace.
Those close to Rooney talk of how he is thriving again under a manager who is prepared to treat him with respect rather than disdain and how his performances this season - he has scored 11 goals in 23 appearances and is credited with nine assists - reflect the trust displayed in him by Moyes.
Rooney is now four goals short of climbing to third in United's all-time scoring charts, with only Law and Charlton ahead of him. If he commits to a new deal at United, the 42 goals he requires to eclipse Charlton's tally of 249 goals would be within reach.
And with England, another Charlton record is looming into view with Rooney beginning a World Cup year with the 1966 hero's tally of 49 goals now just 11 goals away.
Once again, Rooney is preparing for a World Cup as England's most important player, but his biggest achievement has been reclaiming that position at United. It has restored his power at the club and, from being close to exit six months ago, he can now name his terms.
And therein lies the irony of Ferguson's mantra that "control" is the one commodity that no manager can do without. The only person now in -control of Wayne Rooney's destiny is the man himself.
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