"The big man is back in town."
This is the declaration Wayne Rooney reportedly made (via The Guardian) on his arrival at England's World Cup base in 2006 after recovering from a metatarsal injury that had, at one point, threatened to keep him out of the finals.
He was just 20 years old at the time and playing in his first World Cup. But even at that young age and on such a big stage, the inference was that he was the main man. The star attraction.
Robin van Persie's arrival at Manchester United and the goals he scored saw Rooney reduced to a supporting role last season.
He was even left on the bench for the biggest game of the season against Real Madrid at Old Trafford in the second leg of the Champions League second round.
But if you believe the stories circulating on Monday morning, like the one in the Manchester Evening News, then Rooney is set to be elevated back to "big man" status.
The timing is significant. On a day when United unveiled their record signing Juan Mata, the stories were all about Rooney. Mata's arrival from Chelsea, Rooney's summer suitors and his signing could conceivably affect the England striker's place in the team.
Mata is fond of playing centrally, but that's unlikely to happen when both Rooney and van Persie are fit. But the stories on Monday morning weren't about his impending exit but the possibility of a lucrative new contract. There is even talk he will be the next captain.
The United board were firm in their desire to keep Rooney in the summer. But as his contract continued to wind down, coupled with United's poor start to the season, his position grew stronger and stronger.
In 18 months, he can leave Old Trafford for nothing and take a huge signing-on fee from a rival club. It would leave United receiving very little for a player in whom they have invested heavily for the past 10 years.
But instead of arriving as a replacement for Rooney, Mata is being billed as his sidekick—a much-needed helping hand to lift United out of the gloom that has surrounded the club since Sir Alex Ferguson's retirement.
It also keep Rooney in his role as the "big man." An acknowledgement that, even on a team that includes van Persie and Mata, he is still the talisman.
He has earned that kind of recognition with his performances in difficult circumstances this season. But after such a show of support from the club, his job now is to show he deserves it.
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