Mark Lawrenson feels Wayne Rooney's early breakthrough is catching up with him
Ex-Liverpool defender Mark Lawrenson believes Manchester United captain Wayne Rooney is already in decline because he broke on to the professional scene so early.
Rooney could return to the United starting XI against Fenerbahce on Thursday night having been used from the bench in his club's previous four games, while England's all-time record scorer also lost his place in the national team's line-up in Slovenia last week.
This week marks the 14th anniversary of Rooney's first top-flight goal against Arsenal but, ahead of his 31st birthday on Monday, the forward is no longer first choice for either club or country.
Lawrenson thinks time has already called caught up with Rooney, citing the career of Michael Owen, who exited the game at 33 having slowed down considerably from the teenage sensation who first emerged at Liverpool.
"Basically, when your legs go, your legs go," Lawrenson told Press Association Sport.
"He (Rooney) is still a very, very talented player but if you can't get around the pitch you've got to find a position where you want to play.
"He'll play lots of games for Manchester United, they're not suddenly going to go, 'Your legs have gone, you're going to sign for someone else'.
"But he's had an unbelievable career. Sometimes, i t's a bit like Michael Owen. Michael Owen burst on to the scene when he was really young, as did Wayne Rooney, he was 16 when he scored that wonder goal against Arsenal. Maybe that's just your career.
"For him, I think the reason why he's coming to the end early is because he was a beast of a man when he was 16, as he is now. That's just the way it is. It's a bit like tennis players, some go from 18 until their 25, some get to their thirties. It's just your career."
Lawrenson can speak from a position of experience. The former Republic of Ireland international, who was inducted into the National Football Museum's Hall of Fame on Wednesday night, made his professional bow with Preston as a teenager but signed off from the game shortly after turning 30.
"I finished when I was 29-30," he added.
"People say that's really, really early, but when I was 18 and I made my debut for Preston I was still at school, it was the best moment ever."
Lawrenson's playing days were effectively ended as soon as he left Liverpool, with only a season in America following his trophy-laden spell at Anfield.
However, the 59-year-old thinks Rooney's intelligence can prolong his own career.
"Even if he doesn't play for Manchester United, somebody else will take him because you don't lose it between the ears and he's got a fantastic football brain," Lawrenson said.