x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Premier League: Wayne Rooney at a crossroads with Manchester United

Wayne Rooney could take aim at Manchester United's all-time scoring record if he stays with the club or if he goes, the unknown awaits, writes Richard Jolly.

Wayne Rooney has played for Manchester United exactly 400 times but whether he builds on that tally remains to be seen. Patrik Stollarz / AFP
Wayne Rooney has played for Manchester United exactly 400 times but whether he builds on that tally remains to be seen. Patrik Stollarz / AFP

It is a multimillion-pound decision, a choice between some of the world's elite clubs that could cause a chain reaction of major transfers or bring damning judgements on David Moyes's reign before a game is played.

But fundamentally, it is a case of which of two divergent paths Wayne Rooney wants to follow.

Does he want to be Ryan Giggs or David Beckham? Does he want to commit the rest of his career to Manchester United or indulge in lucrative globe-trotting, assembling a CV comprises the world's most glamorous clubs? Which holds greater appeal?

When Beckham retired in May, it was as a man who had broken new ground.

He had become the first Englishman to win league titles in four countries, following his six successes with United, by recording triumphs in Spain with Real Madrid, in the United States with LA Galaxy (twice) and, in a bit-part role, in France with Paris Saint-Germain.

He had taken brand Beckham to new markets and played with world-class footballers from Real's galacticos to AC Milan's decorated veterans. He has had experiences that would have been denied him had he remained at Old Trafford.

And yet there has long been a school of thought that the only way is down after leaving United. By joining Real Madrid, Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo may seem to have disproved that.

Yet both would have won more silverware had they stayed at Old Trafford: Beckham's only Uefa Champions League final came in 1999 but Giggs has appeared in three since then, winning one. With 13 Premier League titles, he stands alone in the roll of honour.

With 941 United appearances, he is their runaway record-holder. Yet while it is unlikely anyone will represent the club more often, every goal-scoring title could belong to Rooney, should he opt for continuity.

He has played for United exactly 400 times and could end up second only to Giggs. His current total of 197 goals, however, puts him just 52 behind Sir Bobby Charlton, the most prolific scorer in the club's history.

If he overhauls the World Cup winner, as he could do in two or three years' time, that would put him in distinguished company, alongside Gerd Muller, Alessandro del Piero, Lionel Messi and Raul, the highest ever scorers for the world's marquee clubs. It is a priceless distinction.

As Beckham and Ronaldo can testify, returning players are usually afforded an excellent reception at Old Trafford. But as Charlton is aware and Giggs will eventually discover, a particular place in the collective affections is reserved for those who have allied quality with constancy and loyalty.

United are not short of past greats but while Eric Cantona and Roy Keane were iconoclastic figures, Charlton and Giggs's length of service means they stand apart.

Having started at Everton, Rooney can never be the one-club man the Welshman is. Yet both made their mark at Old Trafford as teenagers and both have the opportunity to play on there well into their thirties. Such long journeys, however, are not always as smooth as they appear.

Viewed from the perspective of today, there seems an inevitability about Giggs spending all of his playing days at Old Trafford. That was not always the case. A decade ago, Sir Alex Ferguson was searching for a left winger. Damien Duff and Arjen Robben were two to attract his attention while Giggs, seemingly about to be pensioned off, interested both Juventus and Inter Milan.

Instead, after all the rumours in the early months of 2003, it was Beckham who left that summer, not Giggs. Teammates were set on very different paths. And now Rooney, a colleague of one with England and the other at United, must decide which he prefers.

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