Wayne Rooney's United Career Will Be Defined by His Captaincy Years

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Wayne Rooney's United Career Will Be Defined by His Captaincy Years
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Wayne Rooney continues to be one of the most polarising players in all of football, and the new Manchester United captain will see his legacy with the club defined by his next few seasons wearing the armband.

Fans very often find it difficult to view the forward in a neutral light. You either respect what the man has done for the club and his obvious talent, or you find the constant media attention has given him the allure of a superstar and think his performances on the pitch don't merit such a status.

Phil Neville is part of the first group, and he told the Daily Mirror's Anthony Clavane he believes Rooney is on his way to legendary status:

If you break Bobby Charlton’s record at Manchester United you’re talking statue status. Because he’s an all-time great. People like Wayne Rooney, that’s what gets his juices flowing. When I say statue material I mean becoming a great.

There have been brilliant players who have played for Man United but you’re talking about all-time United greats - Law, Best, Charlton, Ferguson (who all have statues outside Old Trafford). And Giggs is in that category also.

[...]

How do you keep challenging someone like Wayne Rooney? You can’t motivate him financially. The challenge for him at Man United is to break Bobby Charlton’s record.

Can he become the all-time leading goalscorer for England? Can he become one of the best ever captains and lead England to glory. I believe he can do that.

Those words stand in sharp contrast to the steady stream of criticism Rooney and his teammates have faced since the start of the 2013-14 Premier League season. His 2014 World Cup was a letdown, and he even felt the need to answer some of the Red Devils' critics via the club's website:

We are not out to prove people wrong. We are out to win things for ourselves, the fans and this club.

We know last season was a disaster. It wasn't good enough. And it’s always a bigger story when Manchester United struggle – you are going to get ex-players having their say. We have to accept it and be ready for it.

Such is life for Rooney, and the fact he's now wearing United's captain's armband won't help matters. People can bring up his five Premier League titles, two League Cups and his Champions League title, all obtained before the age of 28, and there will still be critics finding reasons why he's "overrated."

The collection of silverware is beyond impressive, yet you'll still find few people talking about Rooney with the same respect they reserve for other players with similar achievements.

It's why these next few seasons will be so important for the England international. In fact, the situation isn't all that different from the one he faced during the summer.

England have struggled on the international stage for years now, and the 2014 World Cup gave Rooney the perfect opportunity to change people's perspective.

Everyone assumed the success of the team would be linked with his performances, which up until that point had always fallen short when wearing the England shirt. In many ways, that's exactly what happened: Rooney failed to shine, and England went out in the first round.

Manchester United are struggling as well. The 2013-14 Premier League season was a disaster, and while there is plenty of reason for optimism under new manager Louis van Gaal, most fans and pundits seem unwilling to give the club the benefit of the doubt.

Veteran players are being called on to lead the Red Devils into the future, and as captain, no player will be watched more closely than Rooney. That kind of pressure isn't new to him—he has always been the face of the club.

Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

If Rooney can play his part in leading Manchester United back to the top of English football, the pundits simply won't be able to look past that.

Captaining a struggling side back to glory would appear a far greater accomplishment than those five (and potentially more) Premier League titles.

Does Wayne Rooney already deserve to be talked about as a club legend?

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Fans would see it that way, too. Stan Collymore wrote an excellent article for Bleacher Report on how the forward is respected but no longer loved for the way he and his agent dealt with contract negotiations in the past.

Such sentiments are difficult to change, but success would make it a whole lot easier. There's a reason Rooney has come under more fire in the past 12 months than ever before—United aren't winning.

Regardless of how the next few years play out, Rooney will retire as one of the club's most prolific scorers of all time, with more goals to his name than George Best, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes.

But what he does as captain of the Red Devils will ultimately decide how fans and pundits will see him when he decides to hang up his boots: As one of the club's most prolific scorers or a true United legend.

 

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