Collecting the EFL Cup must have been a bittersweet moment for Wayne Rooney: the Man Utd captain will have been proud of his team for beating Southampton, but disappointed not to have played a part in the win. An unused substitute, he was on the brink of coming on with the game delicately poised at 2-2, only for Zlatan Ibrahimovic to net what would turn out to be the winner with a deft header in the dying moments. Rooney sat back down on the bench and on came Marouane Fellaini to shore things up.
It was nothing like John Terry putting on a full Chelsea kit to lift the Champions League trophy when he wasn’t even in the squad, but seeing Rooney – such a titan of Man Utd over the past decade – in his kit as he went to collect the trophy was a bit of a sad sight. He used to be integral to everything Man Utd did and was the first name on the team sheet. Now he is very much on the wane and is below Ibrahimovic and probably Marcus Rashford in the pecking order.
Jose Mourinho is likely to go out and buy another striker in the summer – Antoine Griezmann has been touted in the gossip columns – and that leaves Rooney’s position at Old Trafford looking very precarious indeed. But Rooney has released a statement saying he will stay at Man Utd, despite overtures from China, where he could earn an absolute fortune.
“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,” he 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.”
If Rooney stays it will be a boost for manager Jose Mourinho. Not for what he can do on the pitch, where his talents have dwindled and his legs are gone – a fate that befalls so many players that burst onto the scene at a young age and take the sport by storm, from Michael Owen to Cesc Fabregas – but for his influence in the dressing room. Mourinho brought Didier Drogba back to Chelsea when he was well past it, and he didn’t play much, save for the odd cup or substitute appearance, but his presence in the dressing room was a great help as they went on to win the title. Rooney could play a similar role for Man Utd next season.
There could be more silverware for him to lift this season. Betonline sportsbook odds show that Man Utd are favourites to win the Europa League, and if they manage to beat Chelsea in the FA Cup – a big if, granted – they will probably be favourites for that tournament. An unlikely treble in Mourinho’s first season in charge would be a phenomenal achievement, and it could well happen. Written off mid-season as having been left behind by younger managers like Mauricio Pochettino, Jurgen Klopp and Antonio Conte, Mourinho has responded emphatically. Man Utd have closed the gap on the top four by putting together a fantastic run of results in the league – they are now favourites to make the top four at the expense of Liverpool and Arsenal – winning the EFL Cup and progressing in both the FA Cup and Europa League.
Next season Man Utd will be even better. Mourinho still needs another summer transfer window to put his stamp on the team. Ibrahimovic, David De Gea and Paul Pogba have provided a strong spine, but he still needs at least two defenders and a holding midfielder. If they enjoy another strong summer in the market, they could well challenge for the title next season and Rooney could play a vital role in it.