In years gone by, Wayne Rooney’s announcement that he was staying at Old Trafford would have come as music to the ears of most Manchester United fans. Such was his status as the club’s great young hope, then talismanic frontman and eventually stalwart forward, he held a position of great importance in the hearts of United supporters everywhere.
But his statement on Thursday in which he insisted that he will not leave for the cash-rich Chinese Super League will come as a sidenote by comparison to previous sagas regarding his future.
"Despite the interest which has been shown from other clubs, for which I’m grateful, I want to end recent speculation and say that I am staying at Manchester United," Rooney said.
"I hope I will play a full part in helping the team in its fight for success on four fronts. It’s an exciting time at the club and I want to remain a part of it."
His commitment beyond this season was noticeable by its absence. Rooney knows as well as anyone that there is no space for him at United anymore, and other than a chance to make an amicable clean break once the campaign is over there is almost nothing stopping the Red Devils from ushering him away from Old Trafford in the dead of night.
While he did surpass Sir Bobby Charlton’s club-record goals mark with a 250th strike in all competitions against Stoke City in January, the only other thing Rooney has achieved this term has been to show how far he has fallen down the pecking order. Having been dropped in September, the former Everton man has started just three of the last 20 league games and his prospects only look likely to deteriorate when the summer transfer window opens and Antoine Griezmann comes closer into United’s view.
Rooney could well have racked up a serious amount of cash by expediting his departure in order to join the CSL, but he is massively aware of the culture shock such a move would be for him and his young family. Instead, Major League Soccer looks likely to be his next port of call, with the man himself having previously talked up the draw of the North American top flight.
"When that time comes, that will be something I would think about," he said on United’s summer tour of America in 2015. "I'll sit down with my wife and children and decide if it would be right for me."
The time has come and, as Portland Timbers owner Merritt Paulson recently admitted, there would be significant interest in Rooney from MLS clubs.
The newly formed Los Angeles FC, who will join the league next season, have a clean slate and huge potential in one of the USA’s biggest markets and would be frontrunners, while their neighbours the LA Galaxy plan to negotiate Jelle van Damme's contract out of their three-man designated-player quota, opening up a slot to sign Rooney. The DP rule allows MLS clubs to sign three players who earn more than the league's maximum salary of $457,500, giving them a chance to attract star names.
Two of the league's most expensive current DPs, meanwhile, are Andrea Pirlo, at New York City FC, and Kaka, at Orlando City. Both former Serie A greats could call it a day at the end of the 2017 season, potentially opening another two avenues for Rooney to explore.
America would also offer a host of possibilities for the Rooneys away from the football pitch that they would not have enjoyed in China, with the similarities between UK and US culture helping to make the transition a far smoother one. And while Wayne might have turned down the unparalleled riches on offer in the Far East, his huge United contract will see him right for years to come and the benefits available in MLS are far from meagre, too.
It is the right move for Rooney to turn down China, but not in favour of trying to outstay his welcome at United. He knows Jose Mourinho does not necessarily want him, and he understands that it is almost time to find employment elsewhere. But a move to the USA after a fond farewell in May is preferable to a hurried departure to the highest bidder.
He’s staying for now, but the end is still nigh for Rooney.