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Rooney – Arrived A Boy, Leaves A Man United Legend

Romelu Lukaku was an 11-year-old, who towered over his team-mates at Belgian side Lierse, when an 18-year-old Wayne Rooney signed for Manchester United in August 2004.

A lot has happened in the intervening years – not least the latter becoming United and England’s all-time leading goalscorer. A romantic return to Goodison Park for a now 31-year-old Rooney was confirmed on Sunday morning, with Lukaku looking set to make the opposite journey.

It seems an anticlimatic end to Rooney’s Old Trafford career which, to be fair, has been petering out for a number of years, like a movie that would have been much better if the last half hour had been left on the cutting room floor.

The former England captain has become something of a punchline to a joke in recent years but his impact at United must be taken seriously. He announced his arrival with a stunning debut hat-trick against Fenerbahce, the first three of 253 goals plundered for the club. He may not have lived up to the potential showcased by that man-boy who Ronaldinho-ed David Seaman on his Everton debut, but he’s hardly a Danny Cadamarteri, a Michael Branch or a Francis Jeffers.

He may not have shown up at international tournaments, at least not since Euro 2004 when his impact was stymied by an injury, but who has for England in recent years? That’s right, nobody.

What he has done is win five Premier League titles, a Champions League, an FA Cup and three league cups.

Oh, and if Jose Mourinho is counting, four Community Shields. Hardly the bounty of a player who’s flopped, who’s not lived up to the hype, who’s phoned it in.

Part of Rooney’s downfall is the constant comparisons to Cristiano Ronaldo throughout their divergent careers. The former outscored his Portuguese team-mate for their first few seasons together at Old Trafford but it wasn’t to last. The likes of Rio Ferdinand have suggested this is due, in part, to Ronaldo’s selfishness, while others have pointed to their contrasting lifestyles off the pitch. While Ronaldo has spoken of playing past 40, Rooney’s Evertonian return seems more of a nostalgic two-year testimonial.

He’s made mistakes, of course he has. Asking for a move away from United – on two occasions – has dampened his legendary status amongst Red Devils fans. However on the first occasion, in 2010, that he hankered after a move, he suggested the club were no longer able to attract the talent that they should. This came a few months after two of their major summer signings were Bebe and Chris Smalling. Furthermore, perhaps David Moyes’ first major error as United boss was handing Rooney a new contract when Sir Alex Ferguson had set in motion Rooney’s departure from the club.

One of Ferguson’s best skills was knowing when it was the right time to sell a player – with arguably Jaap Stam’s departure to Lazio an outlier – and it’s hard to disagree that 2013 was probably the right time to jettison the striker. He’s scored 42 league goals in the four seasons since Ferguson retired, compared to 76 in the four preceeding his departure.

He may not force his way into an all-time United XI, he may not have a stand named after him, but he’ll take some beating as United’s top goalscorer. Only one man – Alan Shearer – has scored more Premier League goals than him. To paraphrase the commentator when he scored that Premier League debut goal against Arsenal…

you’ll remember the name. Wayne Rooney.

Lukaku may well prove to be a fitting replacement for Zlatan Ibrahimovic but Rooney, well, he’ll take some replacing.