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
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
people70-year-old was most famous for 'You are So Beautiful'
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballLatest score and Twitter updates
Arts and Entertainment
David Hasselhof in Peter Pan
The US stars who've taken to UK panto, from Hasselhoff to Hall
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
News
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
Life and Style
A still from a scene cut from The Interview showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's death.
tech
Environment
Sir David Attenborough
environment... as well as a plant and a spider
Voices
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
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

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'