BY GRAEME ATKINSON
The overhead kick Wayne Rooney scored against Manchester City in 2011 was the final totem of a career that, whilst impressive, could have been so much more.
That particular goal was superb for a whole host of reasons. Technically it was magnificent, in terms of the title race it was vital and given the occasion it was memorable.
However – and here is the rub – if you thumb back through the football archives and pull out ‘The best of Rooney’ you would be hard pushed to find a better goal after that one. Yes, February 2011. Approaching six long years ago.
Sure, there are times when he comes up with an assist or two at just the right time and he even managed 15 Premier League goals last season. Let us not fool ourselves into thinking Wayne Rooney has become Bebe overnight. However, for someone that once promised so much the stardust has quietly turned a dull grey.
Leading up to the most recent Manchester derby there had been much discussion around the England captain carving out a new position for himself on the pitch. Pundits remarked that a number of greats had found the need to transition into a different role as they got older – something more sedentary where the play could be dictated from deep – and therefore so Rooney should follow suit. This is nothing more than a cliché.
The truth is that the former Blue has been a fading force for some time.
Sure, he has been involved in some key moments for United already this season. However, stats alone can be misleading. What the reality shows us is that these glimpses of brilliance projected through brief pin holes of time more often seem to be at a cost of his side’s shape and discipline.
Perhaps it is borne from frustration at his fading star but Rooney’s obsession with hunting out the ball when his team loses possession has been mistakenly described as admirable. Big names in the sport have declared it refreshing to see that schoolboy style play in his game.
However, this wild innocent enthusiasm is instead the very problem now holding Rooney and in turn United back. In fact, it is surprising to see one so experienced in the game play with such naïvety. A player cannot be omnipresent if they are a declining force, and this is compounded further when their teammates are not equipped to deal with such freedom in a role. Rooney has always been keen to get involved in the game even from a young age. But this was previously carried out at the right time and with a clearer positional identity.
Now we all watch a footballer chasing the ball like a child that has let the air out of a balloon.
To be clear, it is not that the Reds have a player capable of creative flair dropping so deep he splits the back four, it is instead that he appears to decide when and where he will pop up next playing on a whim without his teammates being able to adapt.
Yes, Manchester United and England have a 30-year-old on the field playing like Scrappy Doo in a ‘let me at ‘em’ style approach without apparent care for formations or shape. This is not admirable but unforgivable.
The only thing more confusing than Rooney’s play is since his selfish behaviour has become more entrenched, the managers working with him appear incapable of curbing it.
Both José Mourinho and Sam Allardyce have recently flip-flopped on their attitudes towards Rooney and his best position. Despite both saying he would be playing as a striker in their squad they have now curiously allowed him to occupy whatever role he likes. Allardyce said in July,
“If José Mourinho says he is not going to play him in centre midfield and he is playing up front and scoring goals for Manchester United, then it would be pointless me bringing him into England and playing him in centre midfield.”
Big Sam has since said,
“Yes, sometimes he played a little deep, but I can’t stop Wayne if he thinks that’s the right position to play, to go a little deep” and “It’s not for me to say where to play Wayne Rooney.”
Perhaps this is understandable at United to some extent where Rooney has been involved in so many great victories under the Alex Ferguson era. There is still a lot of good feeling towards him amongst supporters. However, it is bizarre that the freest of free roles extends to his country too.
Whilst the top brass at the FA will now likely be focused on getting England to the World Cup you begin to wonder, should the curtain be pulled away at St George’s Park, whether Wayne Rooney would be stood alone like Oz working all the controls anyway he sees fit.
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