As Man United continue to win without him, what's next for Wayne Rooney?

Manchester United are becoming accustomed to winning without Wayne Rooney, so much so that his absence from Sunday's FA Cup fifth round victory against Blackburn Rovers passed without the merest hint of angst over the their captain's injury-enforced absence at Ewood Park. Marcus Rashford's first-half goal, which cancelled out Danny Graham's opener for the home team, preceded Zlatan Ibrahimovic's second-half winner, a goal that spared Jose Mourinho and his players an unwanted Old Trafford replay on March 1 and earned a quarterfinal trip to Chelsea.

While Rooney may be United's all-time record goalscorer, the fact this game was won with a goal from a star of the future, Rashford, and Ibrahimovic, undoubtedly the club's man of the moment, emphasised that Rooney's heroics over the past 12 years are now in danger of being consigned to history by the evolution of Mourinho's team.
Even if Rooney had been fit to make the short trip from Manchester to Blackburn, there is no guarantee the 31-year-old would have found himself in the starting XI. The England captain hasn't played for United since making a substitute appearance against Hull City on Feb. 1. His last start came three days earlier in the FA Cup fourth round win at home to Wigan, while you have to go back another eight days for his last goal, the record-breaking, point-saving free-kick against Stoke City.
With reports over the weekend of a possible move to the Chinese Super League (CSL) before China's transfer window closes on Feb. 28, could Rooney have already kicked a ball for United for the last time?
It is a complex picture with no clear indication as yet as to whether Rooney will indeed head to China this month or remain at Old Trafford. But while it is difficult to see the player leaving United over the coming days, it now seems inevitable that a parting of the ways will happen in the summer.
Rooney will not want to spend another 12 months at Old Trafford as a bit-part player, recalling five Premier League titles and a Champions League glory night in Moscow from the substitutes' bench. And equally, it makes no sense for United to retain the services of a player, with an annual salary of up to £16 million, who is doing nothing but making up the numbers as Mourinho forges on with his rebuilding job at the club.
But China is by no means a certainty for Rooney if (or, more likely, when) he calls time on his United career. Sources close to Rooney have told ESPN FC that no decision has been made by the player about what happens next and, crucially, that nothing has happened in recent days and weeks to suggest that he will be sold by United before Feb. 28.
United's involvement in four competitions, with Rooney being one of only four strikers on the club's books, is another factor that points towards the player being retained until the end of the season at least. But the ongoing development of Rashford and Anthony Martial, the goals from Ibrahimovic (his Blackburn winner was number 24 for the season) and the determination to sign Antoine Griezmann and another forward this summer points to there being little room for Rooney beyond the end of this campaign.
With a young family, one with close ties to the Merseyside roots of himself and wife Coleen, Rooney will think carefully over his next destination. China may appeal if it involves a move to modernised cities such as Beijing, Shanghai or Shenzhen, but those close to the player insist that lifestyle, rather than money, would be the primary factor in any move to the CSL.
A move to the MLS would offer an easier acclimatisation within a different culture due to the lack of a language barrier and, on the east coast at least, a more straight-forward route to and from the UK for family visits. But with the American league shying away from investing in over-30 talent, it would require United to allow Rooney to leave on a free transfer for any move to the MLS to become feasible.
With his contract due to expire in June 2018, such a gesture would deny United a fee but allow them to save on Rooney's wages and give a player of almost 13 years' service the opportunity to consider a variety of options if he leaves at the end of this season. The wages on offer in the United States would not be in the same inflated league as those Rooney could earn in China but again, lifestyle rather than money will the driver of any decision.
Having said that, is there a way back for him at United? Mourinho has always rated Rooney as a player, but he would have to end the season in good goalscoring form for the Portuguese to believe he can make a genuine contribution next season. With Rooney insisting that he wants to bow out on a high on the international scene with England at the World Cup in 2018, a move away from the Premier League could also risk his place in Gareth Southgate's squad.
Rooney's future is cloudy at best, with no outcome that appears to offer satisfaction in every aspect in terms of lifestyle, salary and a competitive challenge. It would be a surprise if he was to head to China this month but as for the summer, nothing can be ruled out.

Source: All Football

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