It is not only Wayne Rooney who appears to be heading for the Premier League exit door at the end of the season. An era is coming to an end at some of English football’s major clubs, with a changing of the guard also about to take place at Manchester City and Chelsea.
While the spotlight remains fixed on Manchester United captain Rooney due to his diminishing importance at Manchester United and efforts by wealthy clubs in the Chinese Super League to tempt him away, his counterparts Vincent Kompany and John Terry are fading from the picture without similar fanfare, almost going unnoticed as their careers wind down at the Etihad Stadium and Stamford Bridge, respectively.
Rooney, at least, can claim to have left his mark in what is likely to be his final season at Old Trafford by finally claiming the all-time club goal-scoring record last month.
If Rooney leaves for a new adventure in China before next Tuesday’s transfer deadline — sources have told ESPN FC that remains unlikely — he will do so with images still fresh in the mind of the crucial equaliser at Stoke City which maintained the club’s long unbeaten record in the Premier League and, on a personal level, took him beyond Sir Bobby Charlton’s 249-goal mark to secure the top spot in United’s scoring charts for himself.
Even though he is becoming a fading force at United, Rooney is going out on a relative high.
But the story is different for Kompany and Terry and it is becoming increasingly difficult to envisage a change of narrative between now and the end of the season for two of the most influential defenders and captains of the Premier League era.
Rooney, sidelined as he has been by Jose Mourinho due to issues related to form and injury, has made 29 appearances in all competitions for United this season.
He has made a contribution and he may yet provide more key moments if he stays at United to help Mourinho’s team in their pursuit of three major trophies and a top four finish in the Premier League.
Kompany, meanwhile, has made just six appearances for City this season — with only three in the Premier League — while Terry has played 10 games under Antonio Conte, with half of them coming in cup competitions.
At 36, Terry’s situation is perhaps easier to accept for a player who has defined Chelsea’s glorious era since Roman Abramovich began to bankroll the club back in June 2003.
Terry could have left Chelsea last summer and cashed in with a lucrative move to China, but the former England captain ultimately signed a one-year contract after Conte sanctioned his extended stay at Stamford Bridge prior to his arrival last summer.
The centre-back has simply been a victim of Chelsea’s evolution under Conte this season, with his opportunities restricted by the form of the club’s back three of Cesar Azpilicueta, David Luiz and Gary Cahill.
His experience and dressing-room voice will no doubt have helped Conte along the way this term, but Terry’s time is clearly coming to an end at Chelsea.
Kompany’s story is different, however. Still recovering from summer groin surgery when the campaign began, the 30-year-old has since been struck down by further injury problems and, when fit, been unable to convince Pep Guardiola of his reliability.
The City manager even admitted earlier this month that Kompany has been overlooked at times because he is unable to be the ball-playing central defender that he requires.
Rio Ferdinand, speaking to ESPN FC recently, claimed that Kompany’s presence in the team would have helped accelerate the development of £47.5m defender John Stones, but Guardiola has pursued a different path and it is difficult to envisage the Belgium international being at City beyond the end of this season.
Between them, Rooney, Terry and Kompany have amassed 11 Premier League winners’ medals, seven FA Cups with Terry and Rooney also winning a Champions League apiece. The three of them have been hugely significant figures over the past decade — in each case arguably the most important player at their clubs for the duration of that decade.
They have all earned the captaincy due to their status on and off the pitch at their respective clubs, but in a modern game dominated by superstar coaches of the ilk of Guardiola, Mourinho and Conte, the armband offers little protection when it comes to decisions being made over their value to the team.
But as the clock ticks down for Rooney, Terry and Kompany, their impact should not be overlooked or brushed aside in the ruthless fashion that football can sometimes allow itself to do.
Rooney and Terry have both seen their achievements tarnished by controversies, but Rooney will leave United as the leading all-time scorer for club and country, while Terry will head out of Stamford Bridge as one of the greatest defenders of his generation and perhaps the last of those dominant captains who embody the demands of their manager on the pitch.
Kompany has led City through their growing pains of the Sheikh Mansour era and emerged as a defensive colossus, rightly earning a place alongside Terry, Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Tony Adams as one of the Premier League’s outstanding defenders of the past 25 years.
The brutal reality for Rooney, Terry and Kompany, though, is that their clubs are moving on without them.
They have all, at times, been so important to their teams that a future without them would have been unthinkable, yet we are now approaching that moment when the curtain will fall for all three.
And the sadness for Terry and Kompany is that, while Rooney can at least point to some kind of farewell contribution, they are having to watch from the sidelines as the sands of time run out.
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_