A few hours after he became Manchester United’s record goalscorer, the club’s marketing department were, true to form, announcing their range of Wayne Rooney memorabilia – mugs and shirts all bearing the number 250.
However, now he has broken Sir Bobby Charlton’s record how much longer will Rooney remain at Old Trafford? He will always be a part of the fabric of Manchester United’s history but when asked if Rooney might move to China or the United States, his manager, Jose Mourinho, said he would not stand in his way. By this, Mourinho meant not that he wanted to push Rooney out of the exit doors but that the striker had earned the right to decide his own future.
The Manchester United manager said he was not one of those who condemned footballers who went to China. They were no more mercenaries than those who come to the Premier League for very large cheques.
“It is up to him,” Mourinho said, when asked if Rooney could end up in the Chinese Super League. “I don’t like to be critical of those who go to China. It is their life. The money is huge; the experience can also be interesting. I know some of my colleagues think they are more important than they are and that they can interfere in the lives of other people but I am not that sort of guy. Everybody is responsible for their own career. In Wayne’s case I have no idea because he has never mentioned it to me.
“I think he has more to give us but, I repeat, you reach a certain level in your career when it is up to him. Could anyone have been critical of Zlatan Ibrahimovic if last season he decided to go to China or the USA – one guy who has had this amazing career? It is the same with Wayne.”
Ibrahimovic’s career has never allowed him to stay long enough at one club to threaten their goalscoring record. However, as he left Stoke after a 1-1 draw that would have been a defeat but for Rooney’s 94th-minute free-kick, Zlatan remarked to the waiting press that they should honour the kind of street footballer they might not see again.
“Everybody knows what Wayne is,” Ibrahimovic said. “But this country has to appreciate him. I don’t see any strikers like him today – give me some names, tell me? And still you are not happy.”
Bobby Charlton left Manchester United a month after he scored his 249th goal for the club, in a 2-0 win at Southampton in March 1973. There was a disastrous stint as manager of Preston followed by a not very satisfactory spell as a commentator, a job in which according to one contemporary he specialised in telling the audience exactly what they could see on the screen.
It was when he became a director of Manchester United, acting as the conscience of the club, a link to the days of the ‘Old Man’, Sir Matt Busby, that Charlton came into his own. It was in that capacity that he entered the away dressing room at Stoke to congratulate Rooney.
“I know, deep down, he is happy for me,” said Rooney. “It is obviously not nice when your record goes but I think he is genuinely pleased for me and I really respect the man. It is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, football clubs in the world and to be its leading scorer is a very proud moment.”
At the end of a week that saw his former team-mate Carlos Tevez arrive in Shanghai accompanied by 19 members of his extended family, it would be genuinely hard to see Rooney in the Chinese Super League. The man himself recognises this has been a poor season. However gorgeous the record-breaking free-kick was, it was still only his fifth of the season and his first in the league since August. Rooney, nevertheless, said he wanted to stay at Old Trafford. “I’ve been in and out of the team and I need to keep trying to perform,” he said. “I want to win my place back.”
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