Ask any Manchester United fan about the post-Fergie era and chances are they’ll either attack you or start crying on your shoulder.
Wayne Rooney. The name itself has become interchangeable with the Manchester United of the new millennium.
It’s almost as if United fans who once had a plethora of home-grown, British heroes to choose from – think Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, the Nevilles, Roy Keane, and David Beckham – have for the last four or fives years channelled all their hopes and dreams into one man.
A man from Liverpool, no less.
It is a similar story with England. Rooney has become what was once a spread of names in the national side. They were perennial underachievers, sure, but littered with hope of international glory and world-class talent.
Although the 2016 European Championships represent the new generation of English heroes (they are after all the youngest squad at the tournament), it also represents the passing of the baton, in some respects.
This is likely to be the last time we see Wayne Rooney anywhere near the peak of his powers.
Sure, he’ll probably still be in the side for the World Cup in Russia two years down the track, but by then, he will be 32, and a bit-part player who will have handed on the captaincy.
His game style lends him no favours either. Rooney relies on his endless energy and physicality to allow to him to be the player he is. For footballers nearing the twilight of their career, these are often the traits that disappear first.
Playing in the Premier League, a fast, tough tackling league, doesn’t help either. The slower pace and lower energy of the Serie A is the reason many veterans, like Andrea Pirlo, flourish in Italy in the twilight of their careers.
There is an overarching question that none in the inner workings of football punditry seem to want to answer yet.
What do we make of Wayne Rooney’s career?
For starters, there is no doubting he is a very, very good player. 313 goals in exactly 700 appearances for Everton, England and Manchester United support that.
So do 150 assists, 109 international caps, five Premier League titles, an FA Cup, two League Cups, three Community Shield trophies and of course, a Champions League win.
Rooney, of course, is also the second highest scorer in Premier League history, hitting 192 goals in the competition, behind only Allan Shearer. He has scored 177 for Manchester United, a record for one club.
Seemingly, the boy from Croxteth, Liverpool is already etched as a true legend of the game.
However, although outstanding, Rooney’s club record must be taken with a grain of salt.
While team honours are the ones that every player wants to win, it is the individual awards that are a more true indication of greatness.
Rooney has failed to ever win a golden boot for United. Nor did he ever win a PFA Player of the Year award (although he did win their Young Player of the Year award, two seasons in a row).
As captain, he has lifted a single trophy for his club, a 2-1 victory over Crystal Palace in extra time earlier this year.
Further, Rooney, when at the peak of his powers, played in the Sir Alex Ferguson Manchester United side of 2004-13. A side which included among others, Roy Keane, Ruud Van Nistlerooy, Cristiano Ronaldo, Giggs, Scholes, Carlos Tevez, and Robin Van Persie.
In other words, Rooney’s best years for his club came when he found himself consistently surrounded by world class talent, and, as a striker, received some of the best service in the world.
When Ferguson left at the end of the 2012-13 campaign, it coincided with a dip in Rooney’s output. 19 goals in 40 appearances in 2013-14 was followed by just 14 in 37 the following season, and 15 in 41 games last season.
This lack of output, combined with a failure to be recognised individually on the domestic or world stage, paints a picture of a man who falls agonisingly short of greatness.
Further to this argument is an analysis of Rooney’s record in major finals. Other than the League Cup, the fourth trophy in England and for a club like Manchester United, relatively insignificant, Rooney often fails to fire on the big stage.
The Champions League finals of 2007-08 and 08-09 saw Rooney cut a forlon figure up front or on the left for United. While he scored in the 2010-11 showpiece, it was almost his only contribution for the game. In a side whose play revolved around his work rate and energy, United lost the game 3-1.
This stage fright also translates into the international arena. With 51 goals, Rooney is England’s highest scorer of all time, however, a mere five of those goals have come in major tournaments.
More damningly, other than the 2004 European Championships, in which he burst onto the scene as a teenager, Rooney has scored just one goal at a major international tournament. That was an equaliser against Uruguay in the 2014 World Cup.
Ten years between international goals at tournaments is too much for a true great forward of the game.
Rooney has one last chance at the European Championships in France. He was England’s best player in the first game, although they look a more balanced team without him. He is the captain, and, once again, finds himself centre stage.
Leading his country to European glory might be the step that elevates him into the top echelon of players around the world.
Undoubtedly, Wayne Rooney is a very good player. But is he a true great? The question remains.
A poor record in major finals and tournaments, a lack of individual honours and a drop off in performance since the departure of great players and managers paints a negative answer to that question.
Although his career remains active, the jury is ultimately still out on Wayne Rooney’s legacy in the game.