“It’s Rooney. It’s inevitable!”

To love Manchester United is to love Wayne Rooney.

Or at least that’s the way it was for me. That’s the way it began.

My best friends were Man United fans, and I started watching matches with them. I watched Wayne Rooney score goal after goal, and together we cheered louder and louder.  I wanted Man United to win, without understanding why. And because Wayne Rooney was pivotal in doing that, I loved him. That’s all it was initially.

But love is fleeting when not understood, and everlasting when you do.

When I started paying more attention, the first thing I learnt about football is how much I love comebacks. And Manchester United have always specialized in comebacks: from losing positions, from tragedies, from everything.

From a player perspective, Wayne Rooney symbolized this mentality. In all my life, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a sports player more criticized than him: on newspapers, social media, and even from the club’s fans. The amount of stick he has taken is massive. Perhaps I felt so because I watched him more closely than anyone else.

It hurt me to read those headlines, because I saw him play every game. I saw him work harder than anyone else. I saw him chase the ball as if his life depended on it. As if his teammates’ lives depended on it. I saw him trying to walk off injuries. I saw him play a ridiculous number of positions. It was never about numbers, facts or records. It was always about who he was, no matter what.

But regardless of what he did, the headlines never stopped. And neither did he. And this is why I could look up to him, because I needed to.

Back then, I suffered from a lack of confidence often. I was incredibly sensitive to what people said, and have always had a burning desire to prove myself to everyone. Wayne Rooney was my hero, because he went and did just that, repeatedly.

Most fans who’ve been following the club a lot longer than I have, will probably remember Rooney in his hey-day. When he used to score for fun, play aggressively and give defenders nightmares.But I have only grown to love him more and more as he aged.

His speed and touch aged with him, but his desire stood resolute in the sea of criticism, change and time. And so many times, when fans like me had given up the match mentally, he produced magic out of nowhere, turning our lack of belief to disbelief. I was overwhelmed enough to fall off my couch when he scored goal number 250.

All this didn’t mean I wasn’t objective. Many fans including me knew his time at the club was coming to an end. I watched every game as if it were his last, groaning every time he misplaced a pass or an attempt at goal. I desperately wanted him to play well and win, fully understanding why.

So today is an incredibly hard day to swallow, knowing he will not play in a red shirt again. How can it be easy to let go? I still haven’t found confidence, and I still have everything to prove, and I still need a hero. The commentator’s words when he scored a hat-trick in his Old Trafford debut in 2004 were “It’s inevitable!”

I guess the same could be said about today.

To love Wayne Rooney, is to love hard work, desire, determination, and resilience.

To love Wayne Rooney, is to love Manchester United.

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