Wayne Rooney’s glory-laden yet turbulent 12 years at Manchester United will be recognized on Wednesday when Old Trafford plays host to his testimonial match. Fittingly, Everton, the club Rooney left to move to Old Trafford when still a teenager, will be the opponent for a contest that also provides Jose Mourinho with a last 90 minutes of preparation ahead of Sunday’s Community Shield against Leicester City.
Rooney’s precise part in the upcoming season remains a subject of much debate. Despite being played as an orthodox midfielder late last season under Louis van Gaal and at Euro 2016 for England, Mourinho has made it clear that he will be a forward or nothing while he is in charge. At the age of 30, and with the newly arrived Zlatan Ibrahimovic having already made an impact as well as the exciting teenager Marcus Rashford waiting in the wings, Rooney must now show that he still has what it takes to be a decisive player in the final third of the pitch.
That lack of clarity about his place on the pitch rather mirrors Rooney’s place in the club’s history and in the hearts of the fans. While Old Trafford is set to be full on a night where all proceeds will be donated to charity, he has been far from universally loved in a way that would normally be expected of a player who is just four goals short of becoming Manchester United’s all-time leading scorer.
Perhaps that can partly be put down to the fact that, unlike undoubted United legends like Sir Bobby Charlton, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, Rooney was not homegrown at Old Trafford and, indeed, hails from the city of Manchester’s greatest rival, Liverpool. More of a factor, though, is that twice Rooney has made it clear he would welcome a move away from Old Trafford. Most damaging was his open letter criticizing the club in 2010 and strong flirtation with Manchester City. Three years later he fell out with legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson, who amid his retirement claimed that Rooney had asked to leave.
Perhaps Rooney will never fully heal the rift those incidents caused with certain supporters. But a return to goal-scoring form, and proving that a body that has been playing first-team football since the age of 16 is not in steep decline, would certainly help his cause. He got off to a good start to preseason, when scoring twice against Galatasaray in a 5-2 win that also saw a debut goal for Ibrahimovic.
Had things gone another way, Rooney could have been a legend for his boyhood club Everton. Instead, when just 18, he opted to join Manchester United in pursuit of honors, a move that led to years of intense ill-feeling toward him from Goodison Park before the wounds began to heal to a degree in recent years.
Everton now approaches Rooney’s testimonial at Old Trafford with severe doubts over the future of its current star forward. Reports suggest that Romelu Lukaku is wanted by former club Chelsea, with a massive 70 million pounds ($93.5 million) deal seemingly being lined up. Meanwhile, defender John Stones appears even closer to a transfer to Manchester City.
It is not the start Everton fans will have hoped for as the club embarks on a new era under fresh ownership and with a new manager in charge, in Ronald Koeman. The anticipated splashing of cash has yet to arrive, either, with Idrissa Gueye becoming the club’s biggest signing of the season on Tuesday when arriving from Aston Villa for 7.1 million pounds ($9.5 million). The midfielder is unlikely to be thrown straight into the mix at Old Trafford and could instead make his bow in Everton’s final friendly before the start of the Premier League season, against Espanyol on Saturday.
Manchester United should have a near fully fit squad to choose from, although defenders Chris Smalling and Tim Fosu-Mensah remain injury doubts after missing the match with Galatasaray.
Kickoff Time: 3 p.m. EDT