What do you mean, ''will the real Rooney please stand up?''
Salford City asked the titular question on their Twitter account. Understandably, they're overjoyed their marquee signing, Adam Rooney, scored his second and third goals for the Ammies in superb fashion last week. His brace powered his new club to victory against Halifax Town.
The thing is, it's not like Wayne Rooney is sitting on his hands since leaving Everton. The England and Manchester United all-time scorer is running riot for DC United in MLS.
Considering both players stepped down several levels to sign with their new sides, their success shouldn't be a surprise. Even so, it makes for a fun argument. Which is the real Rooney? Is it Wayne in MLS or Adam in the National League? I'm here to argue for the former.
Look, I get it. Salford City were just having a bit of banter with DC United. The Major League Soccer franchise were desperate enough to offer Wayne Rooney a sweet retirement package. Last place in the Eastern Conference while opening a brand new stadium aptly defines ‘under the cosh’. They were ripe for a little stick and who better than Salford to provide it?
Four of Salford’s five minority shareholders, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Gary and Phil Neville, played with the Scouser at Manchester United. Nicky Butt might have shaken hands on the way out. He left for Newcastle during the 2004 summer when United bought Rooney from Everton. The point is they’re mates. Mates give you stick.
Given Rooney's mates just signed his famous namesake, Adam, away from Scottish Old Firm interlopers, Aberdeen, and the Irishman's settling in nicely, why not send a cheeky tweet to his new club challenging Wayne’s status as the “real Rooney”? Nothing wrong with having a laugh.
But if anyone out there in the Twitterverse is thinking there might be a truthful element in the joke, well, stop. Just stop. This is Wayne Rooney we’re talking about. Wayne effing Rooney. Wazza. If you think Adam is fit to polish the tires on Wazza’s Bentley while the man himself is tooling down the M in some bird’s VW, all I can say is thinking isn’t your fortitude.
I understand where you’re coming from. I’ve seen those nature documentaries. When the lion king's old and slow, younger males run him off. They take their choice of the females while he wanders the Serengeti alone, fighting off jackals to keep whatever meagre prey he can bring down, until he dies far from his home and former friends.
Wayne held on at United far longer than many supporters preferred, four or five years past his welcome. He led Everton in scoring last season, but ten goals is less than half what the lion king who succeeded him at Old Trafford delivers. Romelu Lukaku produced 26 in his final year at Goodison Park, 27 in his debut campaign before the Stretford End denizens. It took nearly as long for Rooney to lose his England place, as well. Finally, he's in the US with DC United, far from his home, family and friends fighting alone to keep his career alive.
If Adam Rooney was wearing the no.9 jersey for the Red Devils, scoring 20 or 30 goals per season before nigh on 75,000 supporters at Old Trafford, I’d say Wayne Rooney had ceded his crown. I’d say, among other things, Adam deserved his choice of consensual VW-driving females.
But he isn’t, is he? He’s at Moore Lane, which seats a paltry 5,000. It's a quarter the size of Wazza’s current digs, Audi Field. Adam’s never played in the Premier League. At 30, two years younger than Wayne, he’s thrown in the towel to play for a non-league club.
Please don’t tell me the National League's on a par with Major League Soccer. It isn’t. I wouldn’t dare suggest any MLS team could win promotion to the Premier League but I fancy the best could finish mid-table in the Championship. Several would drop to the third-tier. I’m basing my opinion on the only thing I can: the many League One and Scottish Premier League players in their prime who needed time to adjust to MLS. Some managed it well, Bradley Wright-Phillips and Johnny Russell, for example. Others, like Shaun Maloney, Luke Rodgers and another Rooney, Wayne’s little brother John, struggled before crossing back over the Atlantic after a season or two fighting for a place. Given that seems to be the line where making it in MLS is roughly a 50/50 proposition for British footballers, I think that's where MLS would fit in the English pyramid.
Looking at the Halifax Town highlight reel, I’m not sure Adam Rooney would stick with an MLS side. He flicks on a glancing header he'd have missed had he been Wazza before the Hair Club treatment, then does his best can-can to knock down a high cross for another finish. A strong finisher is a difference-maker for any squad. Nevertheless, it’s Adam's teammates doing all the work while he stands in the box.
Meanwhile, here’s Rooney in the 96th minute in an MLS match.
Wazza did all the heavy lifting while his teammates, including keeper David Ousted, waited patiently in the final third. He busted a lung to rescue a botched set piece that was about to give Orlando City all three points, picked himself up after a perfect old-school tackle, then busted the other lung to bring the ball back up the pitch and send a cross to the far post from 45 yards that fellow England captain and MLS alumnus David Beckham would admire. It found Luciano Acosta, who headed in to give the Black and Red the victory.
While the kiddies celebrated with Acosta in the stands, Papa Wazza reclined at midfield alone, unacknowledged, gulping down water and reintroducing oxygen to his chest cavity. That was two weekends ago. Midweek, he scored a brace against Portland Timbers.
In his first three starts for DC United, Rooney needed to find his match fitness. He played a half-hour twice, an hour in the other match. He’s gone the distance or close to it in the five games since, his side claiming 13 of the 15 points on offer.
DC United aren't anchoring the table anymore. They’re six points from a playoff spot with four games in hand on Montreal Impact, two on Philadelphia Union and New England Revolution after defeating the Revs 2-0 yesterday. Once Ben Olsen's side reaches the post-season, anything can happen. If Rooney's a lion wandering the plain, fighting off jackals, he’s making it look easy. His old Manchester United mates can take the piss with him in social media but there’s no argument. Wayne Rooney will be the one standing when anyone calls for the genuine article, now and always.