How Jose Mourinho turned Wayne Rooney into yesterday's man
Whether or not Wayne Rooney signs for a Chinese club this week, it seems inevitable that his Manchester United career is over. Within a month of breaking Sir Bobby Charlton's goal-scoring record to achieve legendary status at Old Trafford, the striker is yesterday's man.
The "most remarkable" thing about his impending departure is that no-one has batted an eyelid, says Luke Edwards of the Daily Telegraph. What could have been a "volatile and emotionally complex breakup" has been expertly handled by Jose Mourinho.
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"How do you ease out the club’s most iconic player, the figurehead, captain, and leading goalscorer without managing to turn him into a twisted and disruptive presence in the dressing room?
"The Portuguese was tossed a hand grenade, but somehow managed to put the pin back in," adds Edwards.
Even before the start of the season, Mourinho closed off an avenue of conflict by insisting Rooney would only ever play as a forward, pitching him against the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
"He has been straight with him, he has been supportive and always praised him in public. He has talked about a legend rather than just a player. Then he dropped him from the team and let him make his own decision on his future," says Edwards. "If you were being cruel, you would say Mourinho gave Rooney enough rope to hang himself."
Jonathan Wilson of The Guardian agrees, saying: "There is always a tendency to portray Mourinho as a great Machiavellian spider, forever spinning his webs of intrigue, never doing anything without some ulterior motive, but if his aim this season was to prove that Rooney is not good enough for a place in the first team and to shuffle him without fuss out of the door, then he has succeeded magnificently."
So where next for the 31-year-old? There is a reason China seems to be favourite, says Wilson. Rooney's decreasing dynamism and his wage demands mean he is unlikely to attract interest from the Premier League.
The same problem exists on the continent. "An Italian club, perhaps, may see some boost in status in having him but realistically that diminished pace is going to be an issue wherever he goes in Europe. Which leaves the United States, the Middle East or China," adds the journalist.
Whatever happens now "in terms of legacy and how we will remember him, Rooney is essentially done".
A move to China appears to be the most likely outcome, but how would Rooney, who has spent his entire life in north-west England, adapt?
Jack Sealy, the only English-born player in the Chinese Super League, tells The Times "you can find a lot of restaurants and western food, and other foreigners" in places such as Beijing, Shanghai or Guangzhou.
Beyond those cities, however, it "starts to get difficult", he warns. "If I had to give Rooney one piece of advice I’d say: you have to be completely and utterly open-minded. Be ready to be shocked by a few things, and take it on the chin. The less familiarity you try to find with Manchester or London to China the happier you’ll be."
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