Date: 8th February 2013 at 3:25am
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Can Wazza step out of RVP's shadow?

Can Wazza step out of RVP’s shadow?

For a man probably still getting used to no longer being the headline act, it seems unfair to begin an article about Wayne Rooney by talking about Robin Van Persie. But it feels necessary too: the Dutchman has changed the landscape at Old Trafford. For the last few years, Rooney has taken top billing. The media encouraged the idea, but if he was out of the team, it felt like we were in trouble. Remember when we rushed him back to face Bayern Munich in the 2010 Champions League quarter-final? It smacked of desperation, such was our (unwise) reliance on him at the time.

Now it’s different. Van Persie’s form – and the quality of our other forwards – has meant our dependence on Rooney has diminished. If he doesn’t make the starting eleven, there’s far less outcry than before, even leading to a few whispers that we could sell him. People have questioned how good he actually is. It’s not helped that his performances have been inconsistent this season. He seems to be easing into form in these last few weeks but at times this season he’s been less than convincing.

He remains our most high-profile player – at least partly due to the tabloids’ inclination to go doe-eyed about anyone English who can kick a ball without falling over – yet he can divide opinion. I believe the majority of United fans still recognise his qualities. A few go as far as to laud him as world-class, but there is also a minority who consider him over-rated and would rather cash-in and use the funds elsewhere.

Let’s rewind a decade or so. Wayne Rooney was only 16, yet he was one of the all-time greats before we had even clasped eyes on him. The media nodded knowingly about this young player before he had even burst onto the scene. When his debut for Everton arrived, it took one smart turn and a simple lay-off for Alan Hansen and his mates to become smitten. We were in the company of greatness. Don’t waste your time making up your own mind. There was no debate about it. The pundits said so.

Then came THAT goal. So good it requires capital letters. On 19th October 2002, Rooney curled a twenty yarder into the top corner to defeat a commanding Arsenal side and David Beckham was instantly shoved aside to allow our new great hope through. Euro 2004 was on the horizon and now we had someone else to unfairly pin our unrealistic hopes on.

As it turned out, Rooney shone. He lit up the tournament in the way we hoped he would. He was fast, powerful, skilful and direct, and watching England had not been that much fun since a blistering Michael Owen flew past static Argentineans. When he nodded in against Switzerland for his first England goal, he became the youngest player ever to score in the European Championships, until an even younger Johan Vonlanthen netted for Switzerland a few days later. Incidentally, this prompted my favourite ever Beckham quote when he was asked how Rooney felt losing his record as the youngest scorer. Beckham replied, “Obviously he’s disappointed but I know it won’t be long before he gets it back.”

After the tournament, Rooney’s star was on the rise. Clubs from all over Europe were circling around Everton but it was Newcastle who jumped first, causing United to wake up, swat them away, and secure his signature. The stage was set.

His first match would have been dismissed by Roy of the Rovers as unrealistic. Returning from a prolonged lay-off, he made his debut against Fenerbache and promptly scored a hat-trick. The fans were ecstatic, the expectations sky-high, and Mark Lawrenson and co could be heard saying ‘I told you so’ to anyone who would listen.

Over eight years later, has he lived up to that early billing? No, to be honest. The ‘white Pele’ tag was a little optimistic. That’s far from a criticism though: the fact he has never quite matched our early expectations should not detract from his ability and influence now. Besides, our expectations were always too high. We can blame giddy pundits for that.

Rooney’s game has changed over the years. As was the case with Owen before him, much of that thrilling directness and dynamism has been coached out of him. Rarely do we see him charging at players as he did so memorably at a startled Lilian Thuram in Euro 2004. He has, however, retained the strength of his younger self and his all-round game has improved, now possessing a greater passing range, sharper finishing, and better interplay. His snarling anger has subsided too.

His goal-scoring record perhaps exceeds common perception. He is known for scoring in bursts but the statistics suggest he is more consistent than he is credited for. He has scored 194 goals for United. Considering several injuries and enforced absences, an average of more than twenty a season is a fine record.

His work-rate has always been considerable, but his willingness to help the team can cause him to drift out of position. This has been largely solved by Van Persie’s arrival as it has encouraged Rooney to settle into a slightly deeper role, allowing him to dictate play and aid the midfield without stifling our attacking edge.

Of course, that is Kagawa’s favoured position too, and while he hasn’t set the world alight yet, there are signs his arsonist days are not too far away. If Rooney is to shine, how he is incorporated with Kagawa is key, and I hope Sir Alex can find a way to include both without sacrificing their best attributes.

So how good is Rooney? It’s fair to say there are numerous players in Europe and the Premier League who surpass his technical ability, but I feel he handsomely compensates with his desire and intensity (there are murmurings his passion has faded but I’m yet to be convinced, and feel it’s perhaps a hangover from that dismal contract saga). Even when not at his best, he rarely goes missing, a criticism you could aim at many well-known players.

If there is an obvious flaw, it’s the sloppiness that sometimes litters his general play (the recent FA cup encounter with Fulham is a good example, despite a nicely-taken goal). He can frustrate, particularly when he suddenly becomes hopeless, unable to pass accurately or even trap the ball. That these moments just abruptly occur from time to time and are so pull-your-hair-out frustrating, it almost makes you wonder if it is a creative marketing ploy for a certain weave company.

I believe the main obstacle for Rooney to overcome is to prove more at the highest level. Though he has enjoyed an impact on important games, he must strive do it on a more regular basis. For instance, he must consistently excel, and inspire, in the latter stages of the Champions League  – starting with Real Madrid.

It’s a huge game for United, and a huge game for Rooney. Madrid are looking to Ronaldo; we’re looking to Van Persie. But maybe Rooney can step forward, stamp his authority on a top-class game, and steal the headlines. We have just witnessed him playing well and scoring against quality opposition on a Wednesday night. The same again next week wouldn’t go amiss.


8 responses to “Has Wayne Rooney Still Got Something To Prove?”

  1. Al bash says:

    You got it all wrong. Even with RVP, Roo is still the man. Just below 400 appearance and he’s got 193 goals, he’s lived to every expectation, may be even more. I don’t understand why it has to be this site who comes first with weird articles regarding him every now and then. I am not a fan of English players, but what you are doing to him is unfair if you truly are united fans. Why don’t i see any article of welbeck who’s 22 and no where close to Roo’s talent when he was just 18. Roo came to us when he was just 18 and he’s has given us happy moments. Say what you want to say about him, but he’s got my support and am sure many other reds. Roo all the way

  2. Gere says:

    This is not fair. At times u just make Rooney a lesser player than RVP. Nooooo! Rooney is just a team & you can’t compare him with a single player.Take out Rooney and you will see that United is nothing. He is the best…please let him continue what he has been doing.

  3. Decks says:

    Oh! What a pathatic article, Rooney is the catalyst of what Man united have won since he came to us. Imagine he was just 18 and the whole world cheered for his talent who knew RVP that time enough old than him, Lets appreciate what Rooney has done for us i don like watching United without him because we look average team. please respect the guy he deserves legandary status fairly.

    • Jon Wilmot says:

      In reply to all 3 comments – iperhaps I didn’t express myself too well – it was intended to be an objective, though positive, piece on Rooney. My point with the early expectations was that he was being hyped that he would be the best player in the world – and I doubt many people would think that. I’m a Rooney fan and think he’s a great player but do feel, for a player of his calibre, he can influence games more at the very top level. As I said, I would love it if he did it against Madrid (and beyond). The point about RVP is that it means we don’t have to rely on Rooney as much as we did – doesn’t mean he still isn’t very important to the team.

  4. ASA says:

    Rooney is not that good, A team like manchester united should have a world class player in Rooneys place.

  5. aakash87 says:

    Looking at the comments section, I’m starting to wonder how many are actually Rooney United fans, rather than Manchester United fans.

    There can be no disputing that we are discussing an overrated player. For all the hype at the International level, what has Wayne Rooney accomplished for England? No more than anyone else in his bracket – the Gerrards, Lampards, Coles.

    And what has he done for his club in the last 2 seasons? Take the previous one – look at the matches we had with others in the Top 4, and the European fixtures. The lack of goals and assists from open-play is irrefutable. And the amount of goals he got through set pieces an embarassment (penalties especially).

    I remember people downplaying Berbatov’s Golden Boot season as ‘flat-track bullying’. Why? He scored 21 in all comps. And if he had had PK duties and not been dropped for a third of the season, he surely would’ve equalled Rooney’s goal tally of 2011/12. Then he was benched ‘for the sake of the team’. Hm…much like Rooney should be now (to accomodate Kagawa and RVP)?

    Rooney is a good player, but no longer great. Unlike when he was younger, he no longer has time on his side to iron out flaws. Unlike the last 2 seasons, he doesn’t have a guaranteed 1st team place.

    Too often he becomes unstuck against good opposition. Remember the Villa game? 1st half, him and RVP up-top. Nothing. 2nd half, Chicha and RVP up-top; turned the game around. Even RVP is a better #10 than him!

    Given his age and the burden of his 250k salary, I would not at all be averse to seeing him sold. If Spurs offered to swap Bale for Rooney, I’d do it in a flash.

    No man is bigger than the team, especially one who has already threatened to walk out on the club before.

  6. Andrew Wekesa says:

    Did someone actually suggest we swap Rooney for Bale?! deary me… sometimes armchair fans tend to have a short memory, what Wayne has contributed to united is insurmountable & that should be more than obvious to someone who’s been watching united games… let’s accord Rooney the respect he’s earned & deserves!

  7. Gary says:

    Another very good read Jon.

    I must admit that at times I’ve been one of Rooney’s harshest critics because I expect so much from him and when I see him fail to control or make a simple pass and retain possession it frustrates me greatly because I know he should be doing so much better. As you’ve stated, he’s certainly not the exciting individual anymore that he was in his early days at the club, he’s more of a team player now and in a way, I think his overall game has regressed somewhat over the years because of it although it didn’t really show at Fulham however, I think in terms of his goalscoring, his movement and positioning inside the area has improved considerably over the last few years because he’s become a terrific finisher.

    There’s no doubt in my mind that when Rooney is playing well like he did at Fulham 8 days ago, he’s still a massive player for us as he showed. He’s been unlucky with injury this season and because it usually takes him quite a few games to get back into the swing of things so it’s no surprise that he hasn’t performed that well this season.

    Now that he’s back fit, seemingly starting to find some good form and clear of injury, hopefully that performance against Fulham was just a taste of things to come which if it is, I don’t think there’ll be many people saying we’d be better off without him in the team or at the club full stop.