When ex-United players return to Old Trafford, they usually fit into two camps. The red carpet comes out for the first. The fans are eager to see their former hero back at the Theatre of Dreams, even if it’s for the opposition. Let’s call this the Ronaldo camp.
The return of the second kind is also met with anticipation, but of a different kind. The fans look forward to letting them know exactly how they feel about their treachery. We’ll call this the Tevez camp.
With Rooney, it’s a weird one. I’m not sure anyone is really that bothered. I know I’m not alone in feeling apathy towards seeing our greatest ever goalscorer attacking the Stretford End in the blue of Everton. And it’s been this way for a few years with Wayne.
His stats don’t lie. Not only did he surpass Charlton’s record, he did it in around 200 fewer games. He was also a hugely influential player in one of the club’s most successful teams ever. United won three Premier League titles in a row and the Champions League from 2007 – 2009, wrestling back dominance from the Roman Abramovich threat in west London. Rooney played a massive part in this.
He’s often criticised for not having an iconic moment. A game that was his, that we all remember. Think Eric finishing off the scousers at Wembley in the 1996 Cup Final to secure the double. Think Keano pulling the side through against Juve in 1999. Think Ole in 99.
But surely that’s where we should be celebrating Wayne. His performances on the pitch were never about him. It was always about the team. Ronaldo thrived in his glory years in part due to Rooney’s selfless work. This should be heralded. A true hero putting the team before himself, his body and, in all honesty, the latter years of his career.
That was Rooney on the pitch. Rooney off the pitch never really mirrored those qualities. Making eyes at City was the first transgression. Following suit with Chelsea definitely didn’t help with getting the love from the stands. I honestly don’t think the city of his birth helps too much either.
But it’s the decline that’s really brought on the apathy at Old Trafford. His later years of slowing pace, creaking body and form issues make him difficult to remember fondly for now. This is also the reason they’ll be no animosity from the crowd.
When Tevez came back we wanted to let him know how we felt about a traitor, but we were also scared he’d take us apart. It’s not like that with Rooney. To be honest he’ll be lucky to start following Everton’s recent sluggish and ponderous form in attack.
Surely one day he’ll be remembered rightly as a true United great. But it won’t be this Sunday and it won’t be for a while. There’ll be no statue anytime soon and definitely no Wayne Rooney Stand.
But in the short term, United fans should give him a cheer, applaud his first touch and get on with winning the game.