Rooney's record-breaking goal comes at Manchester United's bogey ground
Wayne Rooney finished the weekend smiling at London's Savoy hotel during a tribute night held by England's Football Writers' Association, and not only because his manager Jose Mourinho had given him Monday off training.
Guest of honour Rooney was the headline maker and record breaker thanks to his 250th Manchester United goal. Friends and colleagues were present to praise him, as was his club's executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, who negotiated the contract in 2013 that made Rooney the highest earner at United.
A video collage of some of Rooney's greatest goals -- and there have been many exceptional strikes -- played to the accompaniment of Temper Trap's "Sweet Disposition." A round of applause followed, before Darren Fletcher -- a late substitute after Rio Ferdinand was forced to pull out due to an "administrative mix up" -- and former England manager Roy Hodgson made speeches. Fletcher's theme, laced with amusing anecdotes, was that Rooney was a close friend, team player and popular captain.
Rooney has matured since this writer first interviewed him when he was still a teenager. The 11-minute chat gave barely enough material to make a decent paragraph. He's much better with the media now, more aware of the responsibilities that come with being United and England captain, although that progression must continue if he hopes to be a successful media analyst like his former teammate Gary Neville or fellow Liverpudlian Jamie Carragher.
Few doubt Rooney's achievements as a player: 320 goals in 741 professional games for Everton, Manchester United and England is the type of career which leads to dinners held in your honour in a grand ballroom at one of London's finest hotels in the first place.
Hodgson's view was that Rooney was ultra-professional; that he never missed a training session and that he can continue making headlines since he's still only 31. But it's what happens next for the 31-year-old that raises more questions.
History is likely to remember Rooney as one of United's greatest players and while he's said he won't play for another Premier League team, one wonders how long he'll be at Old Trafford, given he now starts more league games on the bench than the pitch.
He may look at Zlatan Ibrahimovic, still producing top class performances aged 35, and hope to emulate him or at the example of his former teammate Ryan Giggs, who played for United at 40. But, while fans will wish Rooney well in trying, it appears unlikely.
He doesn't have the pace of his youth but is still capable of the spectacular, as he showed with a fine goal in United's last defeat, at Fenerbahce 17 games ago, and with Saturday's record-breaking strike at Stoke, which was only his second league goal of the season. Rooney can still be his side's best player, though he struggles to have the impact against the best teams that he once did.
Stoke are not one of England's best teams, but they've become a Premier League mainstay and have often frustrated United in the years since Sir Alex Ferguson retired. In their last four league visits to what is now the bet365 stadium, United have been poor, drawing twice and losing the others.
Their last win in any competition came in December 2013 in the League Cup. Heavy traffic around the city meant it took fans from Manchester over two hours to travel 44 miles on a night of wild weather. It's usually like that for away trips to Stoke, where icy winds howl off the Staffordshire moorlands and through the gaps between the stands that have not been filled in with seating (probably deliberately to freeze and bewilder visiting opponents).
For reasons best known to the Premier League fixture computer, United are usually sent to Stoke in mid-winter when the weather is at its harshest. Last season's visit, on Boxing Day, ended in a 2-0 defeat and was one of the low points of Louis van Gaal's tenure.
A 2-1 defeat under David Moyes in February 2014 wasn't much better and certainly a far cry from Boxing Day 2008, when a late Carlos Tevez goal secured victory for jet-lagged United, five days after they won the Club World Cup in Japan.
United did once benefit from Stoke's inclement weather: In 1976, a storm blew the uninsured roof off a stand at the club's old Victoria Ground. To cover costs, terrace hero Jimmy Greenhoff was sold to United. The saga still rankles older Stokies.
On Saturday, United were heading for defeat, despite dominating the game after falling behind to Juan Mata's 19th-minute own goal. Stoke managed just on shot on target but, as was the case at Old Trafford in October, when Mark Hughes's ide escaped with a draw despite being outplayed, it looked like they would end the day as the happier side.
Mata, who missed a great chance to equalise shortly after putting through his own net, has experienced better afternoons but Antonio Valencia was strong again and Henrikh Mkhitaryan glided forward with balletic poise. When no breakthrough came, Rooney was brought on, as was the livewire Marcus Rashford. Mourinho even switched to a 4-4-2 formation. None of it worked, though.
But then United won a free kick in the 94th minute. Rooney sized it up as fans in the away end, who included the injured Marcos Rojo, waited. The ball flew in and the unbeaten run remained intact as Rooney provided a high point to what was shaping up to be another bleak day at a ground which has become United's Achilles heel.
Andy Mitten is a freelance writer and the founder and editor of United We Stand. Follow him on Twitter: @AndyMitten.