It was Tuesday the 19th of October 2010 when I was sat in the college library revising for my A2 exams when a mate of mine, an Arsenal fan, text me and asked whether I’d heard the big football news of the day. “What are you on about?” I asked. “Wayne Rooney. Fergie just said that he’s leaving you lot” was his reply. I still remember it like it all happened yesterday, mostly because I loved Wayne Rooney more than any other footballer on Earth at that point, except for Paul Scholes, obviously.
The previous season had seen us move on pretty well afterCristiano Ronaldo’s record-breaking departure to Real Madrid, another player who I had once adored but quickly become frustrated with after his persistent flirting with the white giants of Madrid in the final weeks of his time in Manchester. Having lost the Champions League final against Barcelona the season previous to his £80 million move, I was adamant that the Portuguese star would stay and help bring the Champions League trophy back to Old Trafford after such a hapless team performance in Rome. It wasn’t to be though and Ronaldo eventually left, thus I was left disappointed but slightly anxious and excited to see how we would be able to move on from that point onwards. The inevitable signing of Antonio Valencia was the main reason why I was adamant we would continue to do well, mostly because I envisaged we would revert back to an old-school 442 formation similar to that in our 1998/1999 season, with two strong wingers, Valencia being comparable to David Beckham and Nani beingBlomqvist, either side of our midfield who would simply whip the ball into Wazza who would go on to be the best player in the world. And, to a certain extent, I wasn’t that far off. I’d always rated Wayne Rooney higher than I had Ronaldo or anyone else as a matter of fact, even when the winger was scoring 42 goals a season for us and winning the Ballon d’Or, but in the 09/10 season Wayne Rooney had taken his football to a whole new different level.
If you were to sum up Wayne Rooney’s early United career in one game, it would have to be the Manchester United vs. Manchester City Carling Cup tie in the 2009/2010 season. Although there were some players who could score more,others who could score better goals, or those who were more skilful, Wayne Rooney didn’t let that hold him back because he was still capable of influencing football matches as well as anyone else on this planet. Back to the game though andUnited had lost the first tie 2-1 with Carlos Tevez grabbing a brace after his unthinkable move to inner-city rivals Manchester City. After a good first half in the second leg, Wayne Rooney had picked up the ball near the close touch-line just before the halfway line, had taken a fantastic touch to take him away from the defender and then sprayed the ball with superb precision across the field to Ryan Giggs who was through one-on-one with the ‘keeper, a move which eventually lead to our first goal with Paul Scholes burying it in front of the Stretford End. Wayne Rooney had done this all season. He’d often be fielded as a lone-striker in a 451 formation but he was good enough to drop deep, dictate the game, pass the ball around with ease and spread the play, make tackles, track back and defend, all the while grabbing countless goals, one of which came in the dying seconds of that same Manchester derby. Ryan Giggs had taken a short-corner and swung the ball in from the far post which landed perfectly on Rooney’s head who powered the ball in past Shay Given from close range and sent the Red side of Manchester into euphoria. The English superstar cartwheeled away in front of the Stretford End knowing full-well he had sent us to yet another Wembley final. He punched the corner flag and celebrated like a madman with his teammates before turning to the fans and giving them the thumbs up. He was one of us. He was a Manc and he was United through and through, just like us – and we loved him for it. I loved him.
A few months after that brilliant night in Manchester and things had taken a turn for the worse. Wayne Rooney had picked up yet another foot injury which hampered his form and eventually saw us narrowly missing out on the league title to Chelsea and crashing out of the Champions League in unfortunate circumstances against Bayern Munich. The new 2010/2011 season however saw United all over the place with some impressive displays early on against the likes of Newcastle and West Ham coupled with a series ofunimpressive draws from winnable positions, with both Fulham and Everton in particular springing to mind. All the while, Wayne Rooney’s contract was up for renewal and allUnited fans, myself included, were adamant that the Manchester-adopted youngster would put pen-to-paper on yet another contract with the club. Although Wazza was experiencing his worse ever goal drought in front of goal, a record which would eventually extend to 9 months before he would score again from open play, the United fans and Sir Alex were under no circumstances willing to even imagine the club without their star man and hero. And then it happened.
First there were rumours, mostly from cheap tabloid papers, and then all of a sudden it was all over the press. “Wayne Rooney Wants Out” screamed the papers, but even then I stilldidn’t even blink an eyelid at it. There was no way on Earth Wayne Rooney would leave Manchester United, especially for City. “He loves this club, remember? Just look at him kissing the badge!” I said rather naively. It was only once I’d heard Sir Alex say it himself did I finally begin to realise the scale of things that were about to unfold. “How could he do this?” I asked as I tried to find an explanation. “I bet Sir Alex and Rooney planned this to make the Glazers buy some more players this summer. It must be that.”
The more I thought about it though, the more it didn’t make sense, and the more my confusion turned to pure anger and hatred. Yes, he slept with a granny in a brothel; yes, he cheated on his pregnant wife with a slag and yes, he’d pissedoff Sir Alex a few times earlier that season but this was simply not something you’d expect from Wayne Rooney. He represented commitment, passion, hard work and winning. He wasn’t like the rest. How could this be? How could he do this to us. Like Ronaldo, I wanted him gone. That young, innocent boy that was loved by all was no more. He’d disrespected the club, Fergie and the fans. Whilst Nani and Berbatov were winning us our 19th league title, Wayne Rooney was sat there trying to con the club out of more money whilst in the worst form of his life or threating to join our fiercest rivals.
A few months on and I had tried my best to forgive him. His form was returning and we were well on our way to overtaking Liverpool as the most successful club in the country. Although he hadn’t scored anywhere near as many as he did in the previous year, he was still putting away some vital goals and impressive displays. His hat-trick against West Ham at Upton Park being my personal favourite, where he managed to single-handedly turn the game around. It was a ‘proper’ Wayne Rooney performance, complete with both class and controversy. Away ticked the games and we were once again the champions of England. We’d officially knocked Liverpool off their perch and it was amazing.
The following year saw an odd type of football season unfold for Wayne. Although he had scored quite a few goals against many big teams, he had often disappeared in games and was failing to have an influence on matches when the team had their back to the wall, especially in the latter stages of the season. It is only fair to say that he did have to play in different positions at times, with his role as a makeshift central-midfielder obviously having an impact on his form, but at other times he looked like he simply didn’t care. Taking into account his form which had been below par, and the fact that he was going through patches as long as 9 games without scoring, you still couldn’t say no to having him in your teamsimply because he was still scoring so many goals for us.
The start of the 2012/2013 season saw the arrival of Robin van Persie, another player capable of scoring 25+ every season alongside Rooney. Our first game against Everton didn’t go as planned though with Wayne Rooney looking fat and unfit as he wobbled his way across the pitch huffing and puffing. It wasn’t the first time that he had come back from preseason in a state but for some reason, this time it was different. This time we had another player that we adored as much as we did Wayne. This time we had Robin van Persie. Everything Wazza was going to do from now on was going to be compared with that of the Dutchman, and so it was simply unacceptable for the so called ‘professional’ to turn up to his job in the state that he was in. It was like an office manager attending a meeting drunk. We all know that Wayne loves his food, he drinks a lot and enjoys the smoke every now and then but this was an all-new low. It just wasn’t on.
Frustration grew as the season progressed. The lack of goals and the occasional assist did very little to satisfy me with the game against Swansea being a real eye-opener. To me, Wayne Rooney is a great footballer. Regardless of how I feel about him, I still credit him where it’s due. Having said that though, he isn’t world class quality and that Swansea game and the Robin van Persie comparisons are perfect examples as to why. You see, when Robin has a bad game, or a quiet performance, he still does the basics right. He passes the ball well and keeps possession; he remains a threat from set-pieces and still looks capable of creating a moment of magic from pretty much nothing. Wayne Rooney however no longer seems to be able to maintain his standards when he has a bad game. During that Swansea game, and countless others this season and last, he’s failed to control the most basics of touches, misplaced the easiest of balls and completely disappeared when needed by the team. When Wayne Rooney is bad, he is nothing short of appalling. Wayne Rooney isn’t world class, and he certainly doesn’t deserve to be the third highest paid footballer in the world, but we’re only starting to see this now that we have a world class player alongside him to constantly compare him too.
Let us look at the root of the problem and ask ourselves where it all went wrong. Sir Alex obviously had a massive influence in how Wayne Rooney turned out to be, or what he didn’t turn out to be. “What happened to that amazing world-beater that we saw in Euro 2004?” you might ask. Sir Alex always rated Cristiano Ronaldo higher and built the team around him in the 06-09 years, as was evident by Ronaldo’s shift up the pitch and Rooney being deployed out wide on many occasion. Did he do this because no one else was capable of fulfilling that role? But if Wayne Rooney was really that good, Sir Alex would never sacrifice his talent in the first place just to get the best out of Ronaldo. Regardless, a chunk of the blame has to fall on Sir Alex for the way he has dealt with Wayne Rooney.
Wayne Rooney’s body is another issue that leaves you asking even more questions. The fact that he was as talented as he is but never really looked after his fitness makes you wonder how much better he would have been if he’d have had the same attitude to football as someone like Cristiano Ronaldo did. Once a tiny kid, Ronaldo was shipped to Portugal to compete at World Cup 2006 and returned a beast. He always strived to be the best player on Earth and so he put in the hours and dedication in the gym, and look at him now. Wayne Rooney on the other hand has always been doing the bare minimum to get by, doing just enough for his fitness to not be an issue, unless of course you take into account the time he was sent to ‘fat-camp’ in the states during midseason a few years back, or during the start of this season.
The change of formation and style United have expressed themselves with this season has also had a damning effect on Rooney’s form, as have the summer signings. With vanPersie, he is going to start every single game up front, no question about it. That leaves only three other slots open for Wayne Rooney: Behind the striker, Central-midfield and out-wide. Wazza simply doesn’t have the finesse or touch to play that ‘Iniesta/Ozil’ role which requires intricate dribbling technique to bypass a crowded midfield and perfect short-passing ability to set up a goal. He doesn’t track back well enough either, as was evident by Sir Alex’s decision to axe him for Welbeck in our game with Madrid at Old Trafford. In the middle of the park, his passing and possession retention again isn’t good enough to compete with the players around him, nor is his fitness. That leaves only one position, but Wayne is far too one-footed to ever be a proper out-and-out winger on the left-hand side. The truth is that Wayne Rooney is one of the main reasons why United have been so poor this season. We have been trying to fit him into all these roles that he simply isn’t good enough to do, and as a result, the team as suffered. Wayne Rooney is a great centre-forward, but he is not better than Robin van Persie, however, he’s not good enough to play elsewhere. Taking into account the wages that Rooney is on, his age and the time remaining on his current contract, you really do have to wonder at what the future holds for the soon-to-be 28 year old.
As harsh as it may seem but the number of goals Rooney has scored this season is nowhere near the number you’d expect from a player of his calibre. Having previously scored 34 goals in two of the last three seasons, the fact that he’s only scored 12 in the league this year is simply unacceptable. Take into account that two of those goals came from the penalty spot and those numbers look even less impressive. If he wasactually good at taking penalties though then that goal scoring number could be a lot higher however his conversion ratefrom the penalty spot has been shambolic to say the least with him missing 9 out of 27 penalties. It is possible to then say that he’s moved into a much deeper position and that is why the number of his assists has increased, thus hindered his goal scoring tally. Again, the stats speak for themselves and as impressive as 9 league assists may seem, 7 of those assists came from wide positions rather than from deep in-behind the striker, again proving my point that Wayne Rooney is not good enough to play as a playmaker.
Looking back at the last few years, it has become evident that Wayne Rooney is nowhere near as good a player as he once was. He very rarely takes on players now, his touch is disturbingly average at the best of times, he hardly ever influences games like he did before (Think back to the City Carling Cup game mentioned earlier), he loses the ball far too regularly for a player of his calibre and he has far too many ‘off-days’ than should be acceptable for someone on his wages. The game against Real Madrid at Old Trafford was another milestone in this on-going Rooney saga after he was dropped by Sir Alex for the biggest game of the season. When has Sir Alex ever dropped his biggest player for a game of that calibre? Imagine Fergie dropping Cantona for our FA Cup final in ’96 or Cristiano Ronaldo for our Champions League final in ’08. It just doesn’t happen because Sir Alex will never drop his best players.
My frustration with Wayne Rooney has been on-going for over a year now but his performance during our 1-2 loss against City was the first time in quite a while where he had left me angry and annoyed at just how poor he’s become. He couldn’t get hold of the ball, he did nothing with it when he did and off it he was practically invisible. Simply put, he doesn’t look like he cares anymore. The fact that Sir Alex took him off when we needed to get a goal back late on just goes to show how far he’s fallen in the manager’s eyes. When the game isn’t going your way, your best players have to stand up and make themselves count and Wayne Rooney didn’t do that. He hasn’t done that in a long, long time.
I’ve always been disappointed in Wayne due to how much I rated him and because of what I thought he would become. Instead, I feel let down and a little bit betrayed by the recent turns in his career. I would go as far as to say that I do dislike him as a person and as a player but that doesn’t mean I will not support him if he’s wearing our colours. Do I think Wayne Rooney is a bad player? No, of course he isn’t. He is a tremendous footballer, without a doubt. Does he represent value for money? I don’t think so, and I’m certain Sir Alex doesn’t think so either. The persistent fitness problems with Wayne, his poor form, his attitude, his age, the time left on his contract and his current wage bill all indicate that this summer is the perfect time for us to cash in on our once-prized asset. A £25 million bid would be far too good to turn down if made from the right club, a team from outside the Premier League, as it will offer us the opportunity to reinvest that money into our team. Although there are very few players like Rooney, we do not have to buy a like-for-like replacement. We very rarely have in the past, and I can’t see us doing that here either. Instead, we’ve used that money to strengthen elsewhere and improve the team as a whole, with the central midfield area in particular currently being a cause for concern.The truth is that Wayne Rooney is no longer world class. It’s time to move on.