Wayne Rooney’s new contract isn’t about image rights. It’s about about recreating the right image.
Since 2004, Manchester United and Wayne Rooney have been synonymous with soccer, star power and success, but the last 12 months have threatened to cast that long-held perception into the dustbin of history.
On Friday, Manchester United and Rooney officially agreed that £86 million ($143 million) isn’t too high a price to pay in order to save that legacy. The announcement ended a year-long transfer saga, during which it looked like Rooney’s Manchester United career would end before his old contract expired in the summer of 2015.
Rooney’s new contract will pay him around £300,000-a-week ($500,000) or £15.5 million ($25.8 million) for the next five-and-a-half years, making him the highest earner in Premier League history. Manchester United will also help Rooney land personal endorsement deals around the world.
The mammoth pact indicates Rooney’s past, present and future importance to Manchester United. As the focal point of Manchester United’s modern attack, especially between 2006-2011 which arguably is the Red Devils’ greatest ever, the narrative says that Rooney is and will be known as Manchester United’s greatest player in the new millennium.
But all that is in the past.
Currently languishing in seventh place, Manchester United is in danger of failing to qualify for the UEFA Champions League for the first time since 1991. Rooney’s contract announcement is supposed to mark a turning point in this historic failure of a season and herald the start of a bright new era under first-year manager David Moyes.
“I am made up to be staying at United,” Rooney said in a statement on Manchester United’s website. “In August I will have been at the club for 10 years and during that time I have played with some fantastic players and won everything that I hoped I would when I first signed. I now have the chance as one of the club’s senior players to help the younger players coming through and to be a part of another great United team.”
That’s how the story goes, but Manchester United’s and Rooney’s future reality may differ.
Rooney should continue to justify his eye-popping salary for the next few years and he’s the odds-on favorite to succeed Nemanja Vidic as club captain next season. But time (he’ll be 31 in October 2016) will almost certainly keep 2016 Rooney from playing as well as 2009 Rooney. Rooney’s new deal runs until 2019. Think about that.
While Rooney and Manchester United must know that his contract could become an albatross (at least in sporting terms), this extension is statement of encouragement and intent for Manchester United’s supporters, fans and sponsors included. It tasks the clubs new leaders — (CEO) Ed Woodward, Moyes and Rooney — with restoring what Manchester United considers the natural order and shows prospective players the financial possibilities the club can offer.
However, Rooney’s extension is a risky one. The word “rebuilding” has replaced “transition” in the lore of Manchester United’s 2013-14 season. While he has shone for much of the season, Rooney must lead the reversal of that slide.
Rooney’s final payday reflects the biggest challenge of his career. If Rooney fails to meet his own expectations, his legacy won’t be that of Manchester United’s greatest player in the new millennium. He’ll be the face of Manchester United’s descent into its wilderness years. As the men who convinced Rooney to stay at Old Trafford, Moyes and Woodward will be complicit, too.
Image rights were reportedly the issue which temporarily delayed Rooney from re-signing. Rooney should break Sir Bobby Charlton’s record for most goals in a Manchester United jersey within the next two or three seasons, but another campaign like this one will create the wrong image for Rooney, as he nears the back end of his career.
Photo via Facebook/Wayne Rooney