Column | Time has come for Rooney to leave Manchester United

In this Jan. 21, 2017 file photo, Manchester United's Wayne Rooney waves to fans after the English Premier League soccer match between Stoke City and Manchester United at the Britannia Stadium, Stoke on Trent, England. There was wide speculation that Rooney was being enticed with big-money offers from China but ended up staying at Old Trafford. (AP Photo/Rui Vieira, File)
AP Photo/Rui Vieira, File

He is a decorated captain and the top scorer in club history, but it is time for Wayne Rooney to leave Manchester United if he wants to continue to play regular top-flight soccer.

Rooney, 31, is one of United’s most prolific players of all time, and he is already a club legend, his legacy secure. However, his rapid decline in recent years means his future should be removed from Old Trafford if he wants to play a big part on a team. He has lost his starting place for United, and this past season he had a mere eight goals in 39 appearances in all competitions.

It’s clear that Rooney’s best years are behind him — there are a lot of miles on his body after breaking through at Everton at a very young age. His former club is one of the teams the Liverpool native have been linked to, along with a move to China or the United States.

Although he might not be good enough to start game after game at United, he should still be able to play at a fairly high level in the Premier League, which makes a move back to Everton logical in many aspects. One of the problems for Rooney the past few seasons has been nailing down a position. He has played in central midfield, attacking midfield behind the striker, and leading the line as the striker. If he wants to extend his career in England, a permanent move down the pitch to central midfield would be his best option. Rooney is good on the ball and has good passing abilities, and although he has lost a step or two in pace, he should be able to get enough time on the ball to be effective.

United legend Ryan Giggs, who spent over a decade as Rooney’s teammate, suggested in a recent interview that Rooney might stay at the club if he accepts a smaller role.

“It is whether he can put up with not being first choice or whether he can develop his game, which I had to around the same age, not being certain to play every game, but playing 25-30 games and contributing,” Giggs told Sky Sports.

“If Wayne can do that then I don’t see why he can’t still be at the club.”

This could very well be the case, but for United there’s still the problem of manager Jose Mourinho viewing Rooney as a forward and not a midfielder. As a striker coming off the bench, Rooney might be able to score a few goals, but with the team being linked to several big names in the transfer window, and with Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial already on the books, it would have to be a much lesser role. For the amount of money he makes, it doesn’t make much sense for the club to have Rooney as a fourth-option striker.  

A move to China or the United States still feels premature, because I do believe he could still do a good job for another Premier League side for another few seasons before leaving the British Isles for a big-money move to the Chinese Super League or MLS.

Nevertheless, Rooney must imagine — and embrace — a redefined role in order to maximize a shimmering career which still has some magic left… but only under the right circumstances.

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