The question for Wayne Rooney now is how many more can be added to the joint-record 249th goal he scored for Manchester United against Reading on Saturday.
Rooney’s contract includes a one-way clause that allows the club to extend it by a year if desired. The current terms end in summer 2019, so if United decide to exercise the option the Liverpudlian would be at Old Trafford as he approaches his 35th birthday.
Rooney wants to stay on but will United do it? Will the forward be given an extra season to add to his goals for the club? This is what fascinates about the late-career Rooney: how long can he go on performing for United?
The 31-year-old lit up the 4-0 victory against Jaap Stam’s team that put the FA Cup holders into the fourth round. His was an all-round display of finishing and creativity in the classic No10 mould as he tormented Reading all afternoon.
However, this is a player whose form has been poor all term – his seventh-minute opener was only a fourth goal this season – and who is no longer a regular in José Mourinho’s strongest XI. At 31 any remnants of the youthful zip that tore through defences is gone. And he is a calmer footballer than the once quick-to-anger force of nature who constantly performed on the edge.
So, how many more goals for him for United? After the strike off the top of his knee which put Rooney alongside Sir Bobby Charlton, he is almost certain to move on to 250 goals and stand alone at the head of the charts. He is also, of course, already England’s record marksman with 53 goals in 119 appearances.
To be leading scorer for club and country is an inarguable statement of quality. So longevity is the next challenge. Afterwards Rooney offered a tacit acknowledgment of this, his most illuminating reaction to reaching the 249 being when he said: “I’m enjoying my football.”
This pointed reference to having no thoughts of his career being near its end echoed the statement he issued following the pictures of him being out late when on England duty. Then, Rooney felt moved to call his treatment “disgraceful” as he said: “It feels as if the media are trying to write my obituary and I won’t let that happen. It’s not finished yet.”
Rooney-battering has become an unpalatable national quasi-pastime. He constantly hears how he is not the footballer he once was. The eagerness to play on at United beyond his current contract will hardly please his detractors yet his enthusiasm is admirable considering the 15 years at the very top amid the constant stream of negativity.
Rooney may be more appreciated by his critics when he does finally retire. Yet as Marcus Rashford, who scored twice on Saturday, said: “It’s an unbelievable achievement. If you look back at all the games he’s played and all the goals he’s scored for the club, it’s amazing and, for young players coming up and any striker growing up, then it’s amazing for them to be able to watch him. We all have to [enjoy] the [record-breaking] moment once it goes in.”
Rooney’s dressing-room influence is viewed as a key asset by Mourinho and it is also acknowledged by senior squad members. As Daley Blind, a seasoned and, in his own way, similarly versatile operator for United and Holland, said: “It’s great for Wayne with how many goals he’s scored. He’s a great personality and a great legend at the club. I’m happy for him.”
At the moment it appears unlikely United will trigger the 12-month extension. But this is football and Rooney is a special player, so who knows? For him to force his way back and become integral to United again would surely thrill anyone who is invigorated by sport’s romance.
For the time being witnessing Rooney reach 250 strikes, whenever he reaches the milestone, should suffice. Mourinho has said a changed side will face Hull in Tuesday’s EFL Cup semi-final first leg so it may not be then.
However, the next visitors to Old Trafford are Liverpool in the Premier League on Sunday. As a confirmed Evertonian, how Rooney would love to break the record against the fiercest rivals of both his boyhood club and United.
The Guardian Sport