Is the world ready for a effusively positive, gung-ho Wayne Rooney?
In the span of just a few days the once-fiesty Rooney – who clashed with Sir Alex Ferguson on occasion as well as his first successor, David Moyes, as well as referees, opponents, and the odd teammate here and there -- has positively gushed about his two new managers: Jose Mourinho (Chelsea) and Sam Allardyce (England).
After the first day of training under Mourinho this week, Rooney couldn’t contain his enthusiasm. “I’m excited for it. It’s a big season for us,” he said to the Guardian. “The appointment of José Mourinho is a big appointment for us and we’re all excited by it. We’ve made some fantastic signings too. Hopefully we can have a good start to the season and be successful by the end of it.”
Among the fantastic signings are two forwards expected to push Rooney for playing time this season: Henrikh Mhiktaryan and everyone’s favorite egomaniac, Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Rooney can’t possible compete with Ibrahimovic for the role as team diva, and thus his apparent attempt to get along with everyone signals just how crucial this season might be for Rooney, 30, who struggled at times last season for United and while serving as team captain didn’t fare well at the European Championship.
“I think you always feel pressure when you play for Manchester United,” he said. “It’s one of the biggest – if not the biggest - clubs in the world and it’s been a pleasure and a privilege to play for them for so long. You always feel you have to prove yourself every season, because it’s a dream to play for them.”
Rooney may seem ill-suited to the role of unofficial team ambassador, but there’s a desperate need for unity at United. The results since Ferguson departed in May, 2013 haven’t been good enough and after the Moyes experiment went bad after just 10 months, two fitful seasons under Louis Van Gaal produced one FA Cup title and another vacancy.
Mourinho’s shameless lobbying for the job started months before Van Gaal departed but as repulsive as the process was, as time dragged on the inevitability began to sink in. Concerns about Mourniho’s crass brazenness and pragmatic preachings dissipated rather rapidly.
“If you’re going to hire Jose Mourinho, whether you’re Manchester United or anybody else, it’s because you want to win trophies,” said former Liverpool defender and Revs’ ex-head coach Steve Nicol on ESPNFC a few months ago. “That’s it.”
The situation with England is different and more complex but no less desperate. A perfect 10-0 record during Euro 2016 qualifying didn’t dissuade those critics skeptical of the squad’s intrinsic ability and manager’s Roy Hodgson’s quirky penchant for experimentation and revision as the tournament drew nearer.
Alarm bells went off during a group game against Wales when only by a stoppage-time goal did England win, 2-1. Drawn against the other darling upstart of the competition, Iceland, in the round of 16, England succumbed to team a flush with courage and belief it sorely lacked.
The timing was just too perfect. Fifty years ago, England won its first and only World Cup title. In the Euros it lost to a nation with a population close to that of Leicester City, which astounded the world – much as did Iceland – by knocking off much bigger rivals. England, like United, had lost its way.
Just hours after the match, Hodgson resigned, and after a search that reportedly included U.S. boss Jurgen Klinsmann, the Football Association (FA) turned to a man with no national-team experience and a renowned reputation for avoiding relegation using the same brusque, gritty methods he utilized as a defender during a playing career that spanned two decades (including 11 games for the old Tampa Bay Rowdies in 1983).
The Allardyce appointment, predictably, prompted Rooney to say only positive things. “Yeah, I think it's a good appointment for England,” he said to reporters as United prepared for a friendly with rival Manchester City in Beijing. “He will probably bring a different way of playing to England, and hopefully it's a good way and we can be successful under him.
“I only know him through teams he has managed. I have seen him a few times off the pitch, but it's like everyone, I know him through the teams in the Premier League.”
The Premier League is first order of business for Rooney and United, and the arrival of Mourinho has ended the midfield role he controversially filled under Van Gaal. He’s destined to play as a No. 10.
“I like to be involved in the game and I am now playing for Jose who, straight away, has no fears about players coming deep if they want to," said Rooney. "It’s a different way of playing, a different manager, different ideas and if I can bring my game and qualities to this team, then I know I can create chances and score goals.”
Rooney is within four goals of Bobby Charlton’s all-time United record of 249 and he’s already atop England’s list with 53. He scored just eight league goals last season and ironically, his only netter at the Euros came in the Iceland loss. For club and country he’s eager to set out on the new paths in front of him.
“As the striker in the last couple of seasons, it has been difficult with not creating many chances,” he said. “It will be the same as the England record. It will be a huge honor to become record scorer at this club. I have no doubt that it will happen this season. It will be a huge moment for me.”