Waning Wayne in no position to cherry pick

Wayne Rooney had it all mapped out. He would be the main man at Manchester United into his early 30s and then, as time starts to catch up with him, he would drop back into midfield and enjoy a new lease of life. Eventually, when the time comes, he would look boldly to new horizons, whether in the Premier League, in Europe, in the United States or even in China.

What the England captain did not imagine was that, four months after his 31st birthday, one month after breaking Bobby Charlton's record to become the club's all-time leading scorer, his time at United would be drawing to an end - nor that the world beyond Old Trafford might appear a less alluring, more uncertain place than he previously had in mind.

Whatever his next move, Rooney knows that the end is nigh for him at United. He has 16 months remaining on his contract, which is worth up to £300,000 (S$528,000) a week, but at best he is peripheral to Jose Mourinho's plans, having started only three of their past 20 Premier League matches, falling down the pecking order both up front and in midfield.

Next season, with Antoine Griezmann, the Atletico Madrid striker, among Mourinho's summer transfer targets, the likelihood is that Rooney will fall even further out of contention.

The main question for him is about whether to go now, accepting whatever crazy contract offer might come from the Chinese Super League (CSL) before their transfer window closes next Tuesday, or whether to hold off until the summer.

By far the most sensible move, surely, would be to sit tight, try to contribute where possible to United's quest on four fronts and to see what options present themselves in the summer, by which time the European transfer window will be open again.

What has become clear, though, is that Rooney and his representatives are considering the next move - and that, when the time comes, he might not be spoilt for choice.

There is the League Cup final against Southampton on Sunday -although the best Rooney can hope for, if he gets over a recent hamstring problem in time, is a place on the bench at Wembley - and United are also well advanced in both the FA Cup, where they face Chelsea in the quarter-finals, and the Europa League.

For him to leave for China now, with United's squad strength due to be tested to the limit by their commitments in four competitions, would make little sense for player or manager.

It would also, almost certainly, be tantamount to giving up on his England career, for which he already faces a fight to remain part of Gareth Southgate's plans.

What has become clear, though, is that Rooney and his representatives are considering the next move - and that, when the time comes, he might not be spoilt for choice.

Paul Ince, the former United captain, said on Wednesday that Rooney "is world-class" and that "plenty of Premier League clubs... would jump to sign him - and I mean the top eight".

The reality is different - and not, these days, because of any unwillingness from United to do business with a rival.

Rooney has attracted interest from Manchester City and Chelsea in the past, but that was when he was younger and more dynamic - and when there was still the feeling that, under the right management, he might have a few more years left at the top level.

There might, somewhere out there, be a 31-year-old for whom Arsenal, Liverpool or Tottenham would consider breaking a wage structure that is geared towards youth and resale value, but Rooney is not that player.

As for the long-heralded prospect of a "homecoming" to Everton, the club he left as an 18-year-old, that is understood to be extremely unlikely, as indeed is that of him dropping any further down the Premier League.

The giants of Spain and Germany, linked with Rooney in the past, would not give him a second glance now. Some of the bigger Italian clubs can be less picky, more inclined to buy a thirty-something icon as a status symbol, but would he really have the appetite for that kind of challenge?

Major League Soccer (MLS), in the United States, has long held an appeal, but, as Steven Gerrard, Jermain Defoe and others would testify, it is more of a slog than the brochure suggests.

China? The financial allure is obvious, but the sporting challenge less so. To put it mildly, not every Chinese city is as amenable to the unseasoned traveller as Shanghai is.

Planet football is a much smaller place these days, but there is not an abundance of options out there for a player recognised as one of the most influential performers of the past 15 years.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 24, 2017, with the headline 'Waning Wayne in no position to cherry pick'. Print Edition | Subscribe