Rooney's final four months at Man Utd – but who could he join in the summer?
The club’s record scorer looks likely to depart after this season, with China and the USA his main choices for a next step
The January transfer window has been and gone, and Manchester United’s record goalscorer remains under the employ of the club. But Wayne Rooney appears destined to leave Old Trafford in the summer of 2017, with Jose Mourinho having passed up multiple chances to rubber-stamp his skipper’s future beyond the current season in the last few days alone.
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Rooney netted his 250th goal for United in January’s 1-1 draw at Stoke to take him past Sir Bobby Charlton in the club’s all-time standings, yet his position within the first-team squad remains peripheral at best. The England captain has started just three of United’s last 17 league games, and with plenty of other options available to him in the forward department, Mourinho has had little reason to recall Rooney on a regular basis.
With a push for the signature of Antoine Griezmann expected in the coming months ahead of the summer market, Rooney’s relevance at United is only likely to deteriorate further. And Mourinho’s refusal to speak directly about the 31-year-old when quizzed on Rooney’s future speaks volumes about the task facing the attacker.
Pushed on links between Rooney and Chinese club Beijing Sinobo Guoan on Sunday, Mourinho was evasive: “The only player that I am aware of a possibility to leave is Ashley Young.” On Tuesday he again refused to elaborate when confirming Rooney would see out the January window. “Yes. We don’t have players in and we don’t have players out,” he answered. “We have lost two players from the squad. You could say Memphis Depay and Morgan Schneiderlin didn’t play a lot but the reality is that they played some matches and other people didn’t.”
The interest coming from China is understandable, with the greatest goalscorer in the history of both United and England undoubtedly outdoing every other transfer involving the emerging force in the Far East put together. As one of the most famous faces in the world, game clubs would be attracted to Rooney for obvious financial reasons, and the player could command phenomenal amounts of money as a result.
Rooney has, though, spoken in the past of his interest in playing football in the USA at some point. “When that time comes [MLS] will be something that I will think about,” said Rooney during United’s 2015 tour of the States. “I will sit down with my wife and children and decide if it would be right.”
MLS commissioner Don Garber has also stated he would be delighted to welcome somebody of Rooney’s stature to the league. “We would love players like Wayne Rooney, and those who have been able to be really successful at the highest level, to be thinking about Major League Soccer,” he told the Manchester Evening News.
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A move to America would have the obvious benefit of avoiding massive culture and language issues for Rooney and his family compared to a switch to the Far East, while the path to MLS has been well worn by previous big-name England stars David Beckham, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard with some success.
Executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward has talked up the hopes of United’s money men to potentially use China as an outlet to sell players for lucrative transfer fees, but there will also be a thirst to do the right deal politically when the time comes to say goodbye to a club legend.
When United release Rooney, they have to do it in a manner in keeping with the club’s image. Don’t expect a similar hasty exit to the one which saw Roy Keane leave in 2005, nor a very public bust-up between manager and player like that which marred David Beckham’s goodbye in 2003 under the reign of Sir Alex Ferguson.
United will want to roll out the red carpet for their top scorer on his way out, and that will have been in their minds when the possibility of bundling Rooney out before the end of January was raised to them.
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Once one of the most exciting talents the Premier League had to offer, Rooney is no longer of much relevance. Even the fascination of watching him close in on Charlton’s record is a thing of the past. After starting against Wigan in the FA Cup on Sunday, he is likely to be back among the substitutes for Wednesday’s Premier League clash with Hull City. It is the natural way of things now.
The striker will not look to outstay his welcome. At 31, he believes he has something still to offer, even if it is not at Manchester United, and it will do him no good at all to waste away his final years on the Old Trafford sidelines.
But with China’s transfer deadline approaching at the end of February, MLS chiefs will be keeping a very close eye on developments as the possibility of Rooney being on the market in 2017 gets more than one of the world’s cash-rich leagues dreaming of their biggest coup yet.