China or bust: Wayne Rooney's career dilemma

Story highlights

  • Wayne Rooney to stay at Man Utd
  • England captain linked with move to China
  • Issues statement committing future to United

(CNN)Money and success -- a potent combination which lures and seduces. No matter how much is in the bank or how many medals are in the trophy cabinet, the more you have, the more you want.

It is the high achiever's addiction for never-ending glory which can help explain the dilemma Wayne Rooney faced as he grappled over his footballing future last week.
On Thursday, the England captain ended increasingly frenetic speculation that he was on the verge of leaving one of Europe's most successful clubs for the fledgling Chinese Super League by committing his future to Manchester United.
    Despite no longer being an automatic starter in the team, the 31-year-old said he was going to help the club "fight for success."
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    On Sunday, he was not given an opportunity to fulfill those aims. As club captain, Rooney was the first player to hoist the League Cup aloft after United beat Southampton in the Wembley final, but he did not contribute on the pitch -- remaining on the substitutes' bench throughout the match.
    With just 18 months remaining on his contract, question marks over Rooney's long-term future at Old Trafford remain and, in the summer, the China conundrum could dominate once again if he continues to play a peripheral role under manager Jose Mourinho.
    Rooney needs to play regularly if he is to captain his country at next year's World Cup. If he is no longer first choice at United -- where could he go and who could afford him?
    Reports in some British newspapers said Rooney was on the verge of a big-money move to China

    'You want more and more'

    Over the last few weeks many a brow was furrowed as reports emerged that Rooney, already a wealthy man on a weekly wage understood to be $376,500, was tempted by the reported mind-boggling sums available in the Far East.
    "Madness," was how former United captain Roy Keane described reports that the most prolific scorer in England's history was considering leaving Europe for China in a move which would reportedly double his earnings.
    But former England defender Danny Mills, an international teammate of Rooney's between 2003 and 2004, says the ex-Everton player's decision was, and will be, complicated -- there is light and there is shade.
     Wayne Rooney is Manchester United and England's all-time leading scorer.
    "You can never have enough," Mills told CNN in explaining why a man who already earns an estimated $2,233 an hour was listening to more lucrative offers to play in a league widely considered to be of a lower standard than that of the high-octane EPL.
    Rooney's agent Paul Stretford was in China this week, apparently trying to negotiate a deal for his client -- although there were always doubts a move could have been finalized before the end of the Chinese transfer window on February 28.
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    "Look at Richard Branson, Bill Gates, the guys at Apple. Have they got enough? It's almost their drug," Mills said, referring to some of the world's most recognizable billionaire entrepreneurs.
    "If you have that in your nature, to be hugely successful, you want more and more until you realize you can no longer do what you do and you have to retire.
    "That's why you have guys in business carrying on until their 80s. It's their drug. Wayne Rooney won't be any different.
    "There is a very small percentage of people who would not have their head turned by the prospect of doubling, trebling their wages."

    The England question

    Rooney is no longer the player he was. His body has begun to fail him.
    His longevity, his pugilistic style, and willingness to play through pain and injury have come at a cost.
    In September 2015, Rooney broke a record that had stood for 45 years as he become England's leading scorer.
    While Rooney broke Bobby Charlton's United goalscoring record this season, he has only netted twice in the league and five times in 30 appearances in all competitions.
    He has yet to convince Mourinho that he is better than United's other attacking options.
    The free-scoring Zlatan Ibrahminovic is the team's totem, scoring twice in United's 3-2 win over Southampton, while Anthony Martial, Juan Mata, Marcus Rashford and Henrik Mkhitaryan all stand in Rooney's way.
    United were listless in Sunday's final, but on the bench their captain remained.
    He may have committed his future to United, but there is a sense that he is still shuffling out of the door.
    The Liverpudlian, who honed his skills playing on the streets, loves nothing more than being on the pitch. Playing football is his life.
    For all the talk of money and legacy, Rooney has a "unique" love for the game, says Mills.
    "Is he going to play enough at Manchester United to stay England captain, to stay in the England side? Probably not," Mills adds.
    "Genetics aren't on his side. Wayne needs to play week in, week out to remain top of his game, to remain sharp and be completely fit. When that doesn't happen, that's when he starts to struggle.
    "To continue with England, to have one last chance at a World Cup, he needs to find a new home.
    "Does Wayne want to leave Manchester United and go to another Premier League side? Probably not. And who can afford to buy him out of his contract?
    "If China is the only place that can afford him, then maybe that's where he has to go in the summer. It's the only viable option for him, but is the standard high enough?
    "He will have to score goal after goal, but if he returns to the England training camps looking fit and strong, (England boss) Gareth Southgate will give him that opportunity and chance."
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    Where now for Brand Rooney?

    The most prolific striker in United's history has won almost everything there is to win with his club since joining from Everton as an 18-year-old in 2004: five Premier League titles, the European Champions League, the FA Cup, two League Cups.
    He is his club and country's all-time leading scorer. His legacy is already secured.
    "Where do you go from there?" asks former Manchester City and Leeds defender Mills.
    Ten years ago another England captain, David Beckham, left the rigors of European football for Major League Soccer and LA Galaxy when he too was 31.
    David Beckham left Real Madrid in 2007 to join Major League Soccer side LA Galaxy.
    Beckham, then his sport's most recognizable star, arrived in California promising to "make a difference" in the US.
    But while the former United and Real Madrid midfielder did raise the league's profile, his own star also projected further than ever before and, together with his wife Victoria, Brand Beckham conquered the US.
    "As much as he says he wanted to recreate and re-energize American soccer, Beckham was going there for promotional deals, for commercial reasons, sponsorship and money, and why not? You can't blame anyone for doing that," Mills says.
    "Wayne will have been having those same thoughts."
    With his pace diminished, he is unlikely to flourish further in the dynamic Premier League but by moving to China, Mills says, his legend could grow.
    "Wayne will be an even bigger star if he moves to China," the 39-year-old TV pundit adds.
    Rooney (left) with his wife Coleen.
    "The commercial opportunities will be immense and, also, does it open avenues for his wife Coleen and her business interests?
    "He's got at least another 50 years left to live. What does he want to do after retiring? Whether it's charities, or foundations, whatever it might be, China might help facilitate that.
    "One of the advantage of going to China is you can hole yourself away. You can become a hermit. You can live in that football community and that's all you need to do.
    "He doesn't have to immerse himself in the community, whereas if he went to Spain or Italy he would be expected to try and learn the language. He would be expected to live the way the Spanish or Italian live, and that's maybe not his lifestyle.
    "There are issues about leaving a legacy. But, ultimately, we all work to retire, to have that opportunity to choose what we want to do."