Manchester United star Wayne Rooney seems to be on his way out
A few hours after dropping a big hint he will quit Manchester United after 13 illustrious years this summer, Rooney faced up to what looks like the beginning of the end of his England career.
Gareth Southgate tried to soften the blow of leaving him out of his squad for the games against Scotland and France by suggesting he could fight his way back next season.
But with younger men like Golden Boot winner Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Adam Lallana, Jamie Vardy and Red Devils team-mate Marcus Rashford all now ahead of him and his 32nd birthday approaching in October, that scenario looks unlikely.
By the start of next season Rooney will almost certainly be with a new club.
A four-minute appearance as a substitute in the Europa League final triumph against Ajax in Stockholm on Wednesday was further confirmation that manager Jose Mourinho no longer regards him as a first-choice starter in the games that matter.
As club captain, Rooney was afforded the honour of lifting the trophy in the Friends Arena. But, just like at Wembley in February when he climbed the steps to raise the EFL Cup without even getting on the pitch, he must have been left with a hollow feeling.
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I just have to make a football decision, and that’s what I’ll do
Manchester United legend Wayne Rooney
He says he has offers from home and abroad and has “more or less” made up his mind about his club future but will discuss his options with his family over the next few weeks before making his decision public.
Rooney confirmed he wants to finish his career having played for only two Premier League clubs – boyhood heroes Everton and Manchester United – which leaves the door open for a return to Goodison Park but would appear to drastically cut down his domestic options.
While Everton manager Ronald Koeman has expressed interest taking Rooney back to his spiritual home there are also offers from China and the USA.
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Rooney has a year left on his £300,000-a-week contract and Mourinho wants him to stay. But the problem is a simple one: Rooney wants more game-time, particularly on the big occasions where he has become a peripheral figure.
And he knows he could fall even further down the pecking order if Mourinho lands top summer transfer targets like Antoine Griezmann and Romelu Lukaku.
“As the manager has said before, he wants me to stay,” he said, “but I just have to make a football decision, and that’s what I’ll do.
“First of all I’ve always been a team player. This year, I’ve never once sulked, let my head drop, I’ve understood what was best for the team, I’ve tried to help when the manager’s played me.
“Of course you want to play, you want to be on the pitch. I think a younger me would have been a lot more frustrated.
“I understand what’s right and what’s needed for the club, and I respect that. Obviously I’ve been happy to be part of that and in some way help the club win trophies, and that’s the way it’s been over the last 18 months. And that’s a decision I have to make now – whether I want to continue doing that or go on and play more regular football.”
Rooney started only 25 of United’s 64 matches this season, coming on as a substitute in 14 more, but feels he is fit enough to have played a lot more.
“I still believe I could have played all 64,” he said after a campaign when he scored only eight goals, his lowest tally since joining United from Everton in a £28m deal in 2004.
Manchester United star Wayne Rooney is the team's all-time top scorer
“You know, if you’re asking me if I’m a better player now than I was 10 years ago, then obviously I’m not but I still feel I’ve got other qualities that can help the team and as I said, it’s a decision now I’ll make in the next couple of weeks.”
Rooney will also re-consider his declaration after England’s Euro 2016 shambles last summer that his ambition was to carry on and bring down the curtain on his international career at next year’s World Cup in Russia.
Southgate made it clear yesterday that scenario will depend on if he is playing regularly and well enough next season while leaving him in no doubt about the size of the challenge.
Having cited a lack of playing time as the reason for omitting him from the games against Germany and Lithuania in March, Southgate said that although Rooney has been given more regular starts in recent weeks when Mourinho had given up on United’s challenge for a top four place, he simply has better options to choose from in both the number 10 and centre-forward berths.
“We have a lot of players playing exceptionally well in the area of the pitch that Wayne plays,” he said.
Southgate was careful to stress he was not bundling Rooney into the international wilderness and pointed to his recall of 34-year-old Jermaine Defoe as encouragement for Rooney that it’s not over.
But the feeling remains he is now England’s yesterday man and is going to have to somehow turn back time to make the seven appearances he needs to overtake Peter Shilton’s 125 cap record.