After 13 years at Old Trafford, Wayne Rooney's time as Manchester United's talisman is finally up, sealing an emotional return to boyhood club Everton. A record 253 goals for the Red Devils, and a record 50 goals for England later, Rooney's legacy still divides opinion among football fans. His performances may have declined in recent times, but Rooney should be remembered as the best of his generation.
The first memory I have of football is Manchester United vs Fenerbahce in 2004; Wayne Rooney's United debut. Growing up without a local team to support I had a choice; follow my Mum and support Liverpool, or follow my Dad and support United. Rooney became the youngest player to score a Champions League hat-trick as he tore apart the Turkish giants, and from that moment on, I've loved football, I've loved Manchester United and I've loved Wayne Rooney.
The raw energy and passion the young Englishman contained was unrivalled. You could tell just by looking at him that he cared for nothing more than playing football and enjoying himself while he did so. Rooney has never looked like your typical athlete, a freckled face and a sometimes less than flattering physique means he can often be underestimated, but the athletic ability he possesses was freakish. Blistering speed, deceiving agility and a clinical eye for goal made Rooney one of the most potent forces in Premier League history.
The later stages of Rooney's career have been damaged by how quickly he was an absolute superstar. At the age of 18, the hopes of the nation weighed heavily on his shoulders as he spearheaded England's charge at Euro 2004, only to be cut short by injury. Similarly in 2006, he rushed back from a broken metatarsal to play at the World Cup, where he was quite clearly not fully fit.
Despite scoring a record 50 goals for the Three Lions, Rooney's best work came with a Manchester United badge on his chest. He's been the most consistent striker of the last decade, never being outshone by the superstars around him. Even with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Carlos Tevez and Ruud van Nistelrooy for company up front, Rooney was never carried, and always an integral part of United's success.
One of his best moments in a United shirt came at Old Trafford against Newcastle. The fiery striker was busy arguing with the referee over a decision, only to see the ball dropping perfectly for him. Rooney caught it flush, on the volley, into the top corner for one of the most iconic goals you'll ever see. Wonder goals have been a trademark for him, just look at how he announced himself as a 16-year-old against Arsenal.
The passion Rooney played the game with connected him with the fans, and made him a favourite at Old Trafford. There are calls to add a statue of him next to the iconic United trinity, consisting of Denis Law, George Best and the man he overtook to break both goal-scoring records Sir Bobby Charlton.
Rooney was a big-game player, too. He has scored more goals against Arsenal than any 'big 6' side and is the leading scorer in Manchester derbies. Rooney also notched up a fair few goals against fierce rivals Liverpool, and notched one in a Champions League final. Added to this the crucial goals he got in big knockout games in the Champions League, FA Cup and League Cup and you get a man who stands up when his team needs him most.
There is no better example of this than the Manchester Derby at Old Trafford in 2011. The game was level, and United's title charge was on the ropes against the 'noisy neighbours.' Nani swung in a cross from the right-hand side, and Rooney leaps into the air to score the most incredible bicycle kick in Premier League history, with the goal only improved through Martin Tyler's epic description on commentary.
Rooney was also an incredible team player. His goal records become even more extraordinary when you consider that for both club and country, he was shifted into midfield and asked to play on the wings. He never refused, but simply got on with the job for his team, showing a remarkable character and temperament.
After the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson and so many stables of another United golden era, Rooney was the main man. He was made captain after the departure of Nemanja Vidic in 2015, which corresponded with being made England captain after the international retirement of Steven Gerrard.
Rooney's position in the team became less stable and less important. His drop-off in performance was evident, but his desire was always there. A true leader on and off the pitch, he helped guide United to four trophies in two years, despite the team being of a far lesser quality to the United teams of only four years ago.
If you were to listen to the highly cynical mainstream media, you'd believe that Wayne Rooney was a typical footballer: overpaid, overrated and never far away from controversy. But just look at the man's career, he's an iconic figure of a dying generation of footballers who are dying to enjoy playing the beautiful game. He is a true footballing legend.
Do you share these thoughts or is Rooney overrated? Let us know in the comments below!