The next contract Wayne Rooney signs could be the most important of his career and how he performs at the World Cup will be key to which club it is with
The final chapter of Wayne Rooney ’s career will be mapped out during a month in Brazil this summer and only he can dictate whether it will signal a blockbuster conclusion or an unsatisfactory meander to the end.
Approaching his 29th birthday, with a contract offer from Manchester United on the table and Chelsea, Real Madrid and Arsenal all preparing to hand him the opportunity to leave Old Trafford, the England forward would appear to have his destiny firmly in his hands at the World Cup .
If he lives up to his billing as England's star player and delivers the goals in Manaus, Sao Paulo and Belo Horizonte that will take Roy Hodgson’s team in the knock-out stages and beyond, Rooney will emerge from the tournament as one of the most-sought after players in the world.
But if it goes wrong, as it has done in the past on the major stage for Sven-Goran Eriksson’s ‘golden boy of English football,’ Rooney could be washed away by the new, young stars who will inevitably emerge during the tournament this summer.
Rooney’s fate at the World Cup is a double-edged sword for the United forward.
On one hand, it offers him the strength to play hardball with United and make the club sweat over his future, with genuine concerns that a successful tournament would leave the player with a raft of exciting and lucrative options.
But if Brazil 2014 goes the same way as South Africa 2010 and Euro 2012, United may find themselves only having to fight off Chelsea and Arsenal’s interest, with Real potentially chasing whichever player emerges as football’s newest superstar.
As of now, Real regard Rooney as a player who can tick every box. He is a recognised goalscorer, capable of playing equally well in advanced or deep-lying roles, will be relatively inexpensive and is regarded highly in Spain to the extent that he would viewed as another ‘galactico.’
But if he endures a miserable time in Brazil, interest will wane with the player lacking the box office credentials he has regained this season at United, following his poorest season at the club 12 months ago.
Rooney cannot afford another disappointing tournament this summer.
Having burst onto the scene at Euro 2004, when his teenage exuberance was only checked by the broken metatarsal suffered during the quarter-final defeat against Portugal, Rooney has failed to deliver at every subsequent tournament.
Germany 2006 was ruined before it began, with another metatarsal injury robbing him of fitness in the build-up to the World Cup and those frustrations boiling over with a red card for stamping on Ricardo Carvalho during another quarter-final defeat against the Portuguese.
Four years later, Rooney was abject at South Africa 2010, with the defining moment of his tournament being an angry rant at supporters down a television camera lens. Once again, through a pre-competition injury - the ankle ligament damage suffered at the end of March - compromised his fitness.
In two World Cups to date, Rooney has failed to score and, worse still, has barely looked like scoring.
Euro 2012 proved little better, with an over-hanging suspension keeping him out of England’s two opening games and blunting his sharpness before he entered the tournament.
But with Rooney approaching Brazil in new-found form, and with a growing queue of admirers ready to offer him big money to leave United, he has the chance to propel himself into another stratosphere by carrying England to success - whatever that may be.
If he delivers, he will have the world at his feet and United in the palm of his hand.
But if not, the balance of power may swing back towards his club at a time when his next contract will be the most important of Rooney’s career.