Wayne Rooney’s Man Utd exit highlighted key issue after “small club mentality” claim

Saturday marks five years since Wayne Rooney left Manchester United on a free transfer to Everton, bringing an end to a glittering Red Devils career.

Rooney joined United in 2004 and earned club legend status by becoming their all-time top scorer. He won five Premier League titles, the FA Cup and the Champions League during his 13 years in Manchester, spending his final three years there as club captain.

But his influence waned in his final two years at the club and he was eventually allowed to return to Everton for free in 2017. His departure was something of a whimper given his iconic status at Old Trafford and gave rise to a key detail that led Zlatan Ibrahimovic to blast United for having a “small club mentality”.

The legendary Swede had played alongside Rooney for a year before his exit and was left shocked by their response to his exit. In his autobiography, Ibrahimovic claimed that Rooney’s nameplate in the locker room went down the same day of his exit, “as if he never existed”.

It was actions like that that led to Ibrahimovic slamming the Premier League giants in his book. The striker was a fan-favourite in his two years at Old Trafford but did not hold back in his criticism.

“One thing surprised me: everyone thinks of United as a top club, one of the richest and most powerful in the world and seen from the outside it looked that way to me. But once I was there I found a small, closed mentality,” he wrote.

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic blasted United for the way they handled the aftermath of Rooney's exit


Zlatan Ibrahimovic blasted United for the way they handled the aftermath of Rooney’s exit
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PA Wire)

Rooney himself later admitted his regret at having to leave the Red Devils in 2017. But he insisted that he was left with little choice after Jose Mourinho made it clear he would not be given the amount of game-time he was looking for.

“Of course you miss it. It was the highlight of my career, playing for Man United and I was there for so long. But it was the right time. I wasn’t playing, first of all. I have always been a player who wants to play,” he told MUTV in 2018.

“Obviously I spoke to the manager and it didn’t look like I was going to play, so it was the right decision and the right time for me to go. Obviously, you wish, the ideal situation was staying there and finishing your career there, but football changes. Different things happen and things happen for a reason.”

United would replace Rooney with a £75million move for Romelu Lukaku the very next day. Then-manager Mourinho had hailed the signing, insisting that he was the perfect player for the Red Devils.

“Romelu is a natural fit for Manchester United. He is a big personality and a big player. It is only natural that he wants to develop his career at the biggest club. He will be a great addition to the group. I am really looking forward to working with him again,” he said.

Of course, the move soon proved to be a mistake, with Lukaku being sold to Inter Milan two years later. Rooney meanwhile would be forgiven for having something of a bitter taste around the actions Ibrahimovic claimed United took in the hours following his departure.

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