A new chapter for Wayne Rooney - but still no clues as to his Manchester United future

Some selfishness wouldn’t go amiss from Rooney. Is he a striker? Is he a midfielder? He seems stranded in between

Old Trafford

It was hard not to cast your mind back four years, when Sir Alex Ferguson's vision of the future he foresees for Wayne Rooney was published yesterday. In the 2009 pre-season, Rooney spoke of his desire to "develop from someone who could be great" into "someone who is a great player". He was supposed to be a superstar back then – still thinks he can be – and yet here was his manager yesterday describing how Shinji Kagawa, a player with five goals and 15 starts for Manchester United, "likes to play through the middle on his own" and that since that was the same for Rooney, the fourth highest scorer in the club's history, we "maybe have to alternate them". The notion of Robin van Persie sharing his place at the spear of the team with Rooney did not even seem to be a consideration in the manager's disclosures to the Sunday newspapers.

There were certainly worse places to be than in Rooney's boots yesterday. Rafael Benitez's dug-out for example, where 10 minutes into the game he had "fat Spanish waiter" and "you fat b*****d" raining down on him from opposite ends and opposite shades of support. Which was some stereo symphony. Ferguson's ideas for Rooney really were dismal, though, and rendered yesterday's big headline – that a new contract would be forthcoming for him this summer – one that raised more questions than answers. Such as how a salary of £150,000 a week might be conceivable for this player, let alone his current £250,000, when the day arrives to talk brass tacks. Ferguson also claimed that he had not even realised the contract of his best paid and perhaps third best player was even up for renewal in two years, which perhaps indicated the folly of attaching significance to the press conference circus at all.

It wasn't a hugely encouraging start for Rooney when, having been given the chance to start up front – something that was denied him when Real Madrid stood across this pitch – he sprinted out towards the hoarding advertising the chance to "watch the first team train". His first touch was heavy – a piece of chest control which sent the ball rolling out of play, to the collective glee of the visiting audience. It was not an exhilarating United even then, when they eased ahead of a Chelsea whose rag-tag return for the beginning of the second half, strung out in ones and twos, said everything about the lack of collective spirit at that stage.

The United manager's strategy – balls lifted high into the area to destroy David Luiz – was rather better suited to Javier Hernandez, the striker with the greater spring. So Rooney had to make his moments as best he could, and there seemed to be symbolism about the way he struck from an obscure position, out on the left – driving a 20-yard free-kick from there with heavy slice which looped over Luiz and Jonny Evans and bounced inside the post. It was Rooney's 196th goal for this club and though not his most exquisite by many a mile there are few which have come with a sweeter timing, in the context of the past week. It took the players a time to reach him out there, so he just stood, hands aloft, taking the applause which thundered through the stadium, the faintest hint of a smile playing across his face.

And beyond that it was another of those Rooney blue-collar shifts; chasing, harrying, bursting into a sprint to close a player down. That is all well and good, but it is not leaving his name seared across British football this season as it did last, when he was a striker, pure and simple, and his 34-goal tally was more than double that of any of his team-mates.

Fabio Capello, who adored Rooney, always told him to do less of this foraging around. "I have been shouted at a few times for doing that too much!" the striker admitted towards the end of his time working with that manager, grinning at the memory of Capello's reaction to him appearing during a game where an England centre-back should have been. Ferguson demands a different kind of contribution and some who worry about where Rooney's career is going here believe some selfishness wouldn't go amiss. Is he a striker? Is he a midfielder? Yesterday he just seemed stranded somewhere in between the two, when he is in fact a penalty-box player; a striker even more likely than Van Persie to find the net when the ball drops in there. Ferguson said his team vanished because they tired, in the second half. But it was their attacking threat which evaporated, too.

In the margins of the afternoon, there was evidence of how, for all the recent pronouncements about him, the game of football can offer redemption for those who seem not to be fulfilling earlier promise. The Michael Carrick who lifted a gorgeous fifth-minute pass for Hernandez to lever the ball into the net is the same Carrick whose career seemed to be failing three seasons back. There is always the chance for Rooney to become the player Capello saw him becoming on the greatest stage.

In the first volume of his autobiography My Story so Far, written from the perspective that his early United glory was only a preface to greater things, Rooney told of how he had discovered the value of ice baths after games – something old-stagers Paul Scholes and Gary Neville swore by, to help ease the aches and pains which were beginning to afflict him.

"At the age of 21 it's clear what's happening," the book concludes. "I've become a veteran – so excuse me while I go and lie down." A man of routine, he took to the ice as always last night, with the world no closer to knowing whether the best may yet be ahead of him.

News
people
Sport
FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Sport
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
athletics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
music
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam