Jose Mourinho decided to give up the charade less than a minute after Gylfi Sigurdsson’s deserved equaliser had curled home for Swansea City on Sunday. With just 10 minutes left to try and fathom up a winner, the ineffective Wayne Rooney was hauled off for Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and soon after the internet was up in arms over just how inept a display the club’s record goal-scorer had put in.
It was hard to argue with them, too. Constantly a yard, probably two, maybe even three, off the pace, Rooney might have looked like he was coasting through the game but that was only because he just couldn’t keep up. Unable to link with the deeper midfield pairing of Michael Carrick and Ander Herrera, and always flagging behind the blistering forward trio of Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, and Jesse Lingard, Rooney was dead weight in a side that was struggling to keep afloat anyway, and thus the ire immediately headed his way.
Of course, by this point, Wayne Rooney is more than used to absorbing such scorn and disdain. It’s something that he has had to do so throughout his career, even when he was the focal point of title winning Manchester United teams. He was so far off the pace against Swansea, as he has been in so many games this season and it was his clumsy foul on Jordan Ayew that resulted in Gylfi Sigurdsson’s equaliser. Manchester United fans couldn’t help but feel as though they were watching one of the last lines of his Old Trafford obituary being written.
But things were almost so different. While there’s no denying that his performance was abject, let’s not forget that Wayne Rooney was the one who tucked away the penalty with aplomb to score his second goal in a week, while he also would have scored a second if Anthony Martial hadn’t blocked his goal bound shot in the early throes of the second half, too. That would almost certainly have killed off Swansea, who looked dejected as a result of Marcus Rashford’s obvious dive for the opening goal. If it had gone in the headlines would have surely been kinder to Rooney. Suddenly he’d have come across as the wise, experienced head of an injury-ravaged United side, and while that would have been papering over the cracks, it also might have given him a sudden burst of confidence, too.
Alas, things didn’t transpire that way as the footballing Gods conspired to make sure that Anthony Martial was in the direct line of Wayne Rooney’s shot towards the back of the net, while his mixed reaction of frustration and laughter as soon as it had struck his team-mate suggested he knew he wasn’t going to be on the end of a similar chance in the game again.
Since Manchester United still have six games to contend with before the season is out, and Jose Mourinho and his squad look entirely exhausted because of their 57-game haul so far, Rooney is likely to get some more minutes to try and show inklings of his former magic. But the Swansea game not only proved that he can no longer be trusted to start, but also that he’s now just a passenger in a body that once possessed one of the greatest players in Manchester United history.