Macclesfield Town fan Andrew Fraser tells how, despite the famous surname, one former player failed to live up to expectations

Making a name for yourself in football can be a struggle, but when that name has already been made for you things can be trickier still. Nineteen-year-old John Rooney, brother of Wayne, spent two weeks of August in the US having turned down a new contract with League Two Macclesfield Town. Aiming to win a place in the MLS Superdraft and secure a central contract, he trained with both the Seattle Sounders and Portland Trailblazers and his name prompted a flurry of excitement among the American media. For fans of Macclesfield, it looked very much like a last throw of the dice for a young player who has long carried the weight of expectation.

As far back as 2003, John Rooney was being tipped by the Sun to one day line up alongside his elder brother for both club and country having just entered Everton’s academy. He was 12 years old at the time and, in their words, “could be even better than 17-year‑old Wayne”. But things didn’t work out that way and four years later he was looking for a new club.

He found one in Macclesfield Town and made a promising start, graduating within a year from the academy to the professional ranks. He began to make inroads into the first team and by the start of the 2009-10 season appeared to be emerging as a genuine talent. Two stunning goals against Carlisle and Cheltenham in October alerted the press and the dormant expectation was reawakened. Within weeks it was out of control with rumours of a £500,000 bid from Southampton (something that the club has always denied).

Locally, we remained unconvinced. While Rooney was blessed with undoubted natural ability, like many young players he tended to drift in and out of games in the rough and tumble of League Two. Macclesfield’s wily manager, the late Keith Alexander, saw this too and the youngster often found himself on the bench. Given time he may have proved himself but, with his head turned and possibly inflated, his application suffered.

As his contract drifted towards expiration, it became clear that he, or perhaps his advisors, saw his career developing at a higher level. Whether he’d done enough to earn that right remains a matter of conjecture but with hype comes opportunity. In March, he was invited by Nigel Clough to train with Derby County and a similar arrangement followed with Preston before the season’s end. On the occasions he did appear for the Silkmen, he played like he’d already moved on.

When the time came the club chose to offer a new contract, more to protect their investment in his development than in any hope of a signature. With his age and a deal on the table, any domestic club taking him on would have to pay compensation – a situation that seems to have had a knock-on effect on what followed.

When Derby and Preston declined to follow up their interest, Rooney appeared in pre-season games for Huddersfield Town, but manager Lee Clark decided he offered no improvement on what they already had. A rumour circulated that he was training with Accrington Stanley. He then appeared across the Atlantic. Sadly, if he does prove successful in the US any compensation would leave with him, which perhaps explains why he ended up there in the first place. With no one willing to pay for his services, John Rooney seems to be running out of options. In the unlikely event that he did return to Macclesfield, the door now appears firmly closed. “I was under the illusion he wasn’t coming back so I looked elsewhere,” manager Gary Simpson told the BBC recently. “There’s no budget left.”

While no strangers to being used as a springboard, something about the whole story leaves a sour taste. Other former Silkmen have departed for a higher level with good wishes, notably Preston’s Jon Parkin and Southampton’s Rickie Lambert, but they left a legacy with the club. Would Rooney have attracted the interest that turned his head if his surname was Smith? We’ll never know but, at 19, there’s still time for him to make his own name in the game. We just wish he’d stuck around for us to see it.

From WSC 284 November 2010

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