Before getting started and to make it clear, this is not a piece to make Wayne Rooney receive any more vitriol than he already receives. There is no doubting the talent involved here however it has come to a time in the career of England’s ‘best player’ that he has to, along with his manager, assess the situation and what is the next step in his career.
Talking about Rooney’s career would be an apt place to start. Can it be viewed as a success? Yes. To think otherwise is, quite frankly, absurd. He isn’t viewed in the highest regard by non-Manchester United fans but the other side of the coin is that he isn’t held in such esteem by Manchester United fans either. In October 2010, a night that will not be forgotten in the supporter’s minds, Rooney issued his threat to quit the club and hold Manchester United to ransom. It is too simplistic to call the guy a mercenary however his ambition seemed to be bigger than that of arguably the biggest football club in the world. At 24 years of age and with only two years left to run on his current deal it was a time when he was the talisman. ‘Was’ being the clear word here and the reason he could do what he did. To empathise with Manchester United here, what would you do when your best player asks to leave? Let him go or agree to his excessive demands? You do what any sane person would do and give in to such demands when the number 1 globally endorsed English player asks for anything.
As this is being written, the media is awash with articles about Wayne Rooney wanting a new contract. It seems apt that at a time when he could be considered surplus to requirements would he now want to stay at the club. You could even say that his plan three years ago has backfired in the sense that he’s not the main man any more; if anything, he is hindering Manchester United. An explanation of this can be called the ‘Jenas Theory’ (bear with me). Luka Modric signed for Spurs in 2008 and came in as Croatia’s next big player. A player that had an attacking mindset with a penchant for creating rather than scoring, he was a player that Spurs really needed in the middle. However Juande Ramos played him as a deep-lying defensive midfielder and Harry Redknapp played him on the left wing. The only reason for this was to not interrupt with the constant inclusion of Jermaine Jenas. In conclusion, Jenas’s lack of flexibility and, quite clearly, ability moved Modric around the midfield to play in positions he was not naturally selected for. To apply this to Manchester United is simple and works in two ways:
1. In 2008 when Manchester United won the Champions League, Rooney was Modric and had to move around the midfield/attack to compensate for the talismanic Cristiano Ronaldo. Now in theory and in practice, this is the perfect reason to keep Rooney in the side due to his flexibility and footballing ability. The opposite to Jermaine Jenas but very much the same theory.
2. This current season Rooney is Jenas. A player not at the top of his game and quite clearly hindering the side unless he is playing against a team that is happy to relinquish the ball and have one eye on the next game against a fellow relegation struggler. When he was dropped against Real Madrid Sir Alex Ferguson was castigated in the press. It was clear to see that this was a shrewd move and the team selection worked until that famous red card. Players at the club are playing out of position so that Rooney can remain in the side. However he is much the better playing in comparison to Jenas and he has been effective in his link up play even if his goal scoring exploits have had to take a back seat. Summer signing Shinji Kagawa is having to do what Rooney did in 2008 and play out of position to compensate for Rooney being in the side. Kagawa is therefore Modric.
This theory can be applied to many teams across the globe however this season it could not be more apparent that it seems Rooney’s inclusion happens to take the fluidity out of the side. When selected in midfield, he has allowed the attacking players more freedom and as could be seen against West Ham at Upton Park, a poor game for him, his role as Jenas was seen by all viewers and was correctly taken off to let Giggs play on the left and move Kagawa inside. Once this substitution was made the dynamics of the game changed and Manchester United became relentless, even if they were slightly ineffective in testing the goalkeeper more.
Wayne Rooney is on a claimed £250,000 a week which makes him Manchester United’s best paid player but not paid because he is the best player. It’s a sad indictment for a footballer that had so much potential early on. It has been noticed that on many occasions, Rooney returns from pre-season having gained weight. The same happens when he returns from injury and Ferguson’s constant response of him needing a few games to get up to speed cannot wash forever. There comes a time when you only need to look to Van Persie for what an athlete should look like. Only two years his senior yet he hasn’t an ounce of fat on his body yet having the same diet available to him in England that Rooney has. It is safe to say this speaks volumes of mental as well as physical ability.
As mentioned at the beginning of this piece, this was not written to discount Wayne Rooney as a footballer. It is however a reason for people to see that something needs to change and come the summer it will be more apparent than ever. Manchester United need players to replace Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs and short of stating the obvious, Rooney’s move to midfield in October against Newcastle was seen as his second coming. A piece on this blog about looking closer to home for the answer to Manchester United’s midfield conundrum sprang to mind against Stoke at the weekend. Alongside Carrick, he was influential and his constant want of the ball worked in his favour. It is this characteristic which works to his detriment when playing as a striker. The ‘interfering’ with dropping so deep and leaving space in front of the midfield caused more problems than solutions against West Ham. Honing his midfield ability would save United a lot of money in the summer as well as allowing them to spend elsewhere when Hernandez clearly needs games. A return of 16 goals from 28 games this season compounds this enough. Ironically this is the same amount of goals that Rooney has scored even though he’s played 3 games more and the majority as a starter. It won’t be long before Hernandez’s ability to woo any man with his smile will be replaced with demands to play more football and not as a substitute. 30 goals in 46 games for Mexico is not something to take lightly.
Rooney’s demands to sign world class players could not have gone more wrong for him as a footballer. He is not the main striker at the club with Van Persie in the ranks and he is not the trequarista with Kagawa coming in. So where does that leave the player that was held in the same regard as Gascoigne? Or a player that can best Charlton’s international goal tally? Only time will tell but if a club offered £30m for Rooney this summer, it wouldn’t be a swift rebuttal like it would have been 2 years ago.