“REMEMBER THE NAME, WAYNE ROONEY!”, screamed the commentator as Rooney scored his very first goal for Everton. Being the youngest ever to score in the Premier League when he was 16, he was always destined for greatness. 13 years on, he has proven himself to be an invaluable member of the English National team, being the all-time high scorer for England. Apart from that, he has been a constant in the ever-changing Manchester United squad over the ages – from the Sir Alex Ferguson era to the Moyes era and now into the van Gaal regime, ever-providing as and when the team demands. But has he lost the youthful charm which saw him rise to glory? And if so, would he still manage to maintain a place for himself in a Manchester United team which provides a constant struggle to achieve a first team spot?
One can but agree to the claims that he has slowly been deteriorating over the past couple of years, from a goal scoring machine who scored 30+ goals a season to a supporting striker who only appears passively at games. While he used to once rush past defenders with ease, find gaps and create his own magic, he now fails to even identify certain opportunities ahead of him. His thirst for goals has not yet been quenched, but now he can only walk so fast. Age can do that to a player. But can Manchester United afford to still keep him as a regular?
Playing as a first team player for over 14 years is no joke, and it takes its toll on the person. Rooney was no different, as it is apparent now. Although some players did manage to shine, like Giggs, others, like Beckham found a simpler approach when they found themselves dwindling near their 30s – move to a lower league. Although Rooney still has a lot to give to the club, it is now more than ever that he needs to display his willingness to play at the top-tier of football.
His importance in the club is very understated. He might have been a seeker of goals, one who spots a free spot and finds himself in front of a sweet ball in, but that was just one part of how he influenced the team. While the team rotated, Rooney was a constant up ahead, along with another striker – from Rudd van Nistelrooy to Danny Welback. Albeit who ever played with him, he was a ruthless player who longed for the ball and fought for it. He had the stamina for it and moved all around the pitch. He played behind the central striker, moving both back and front, supporting both the midfield and the forward. Over time, the team started building itself around the player and he created a permanent spot for himself in that number 10 spot of his.
Comparing his first Champions League hat-trick against Fenerbahce with the most recent one against Club de Brugge, both speak totally different stories. The former showed aggression and the touch along with the optimism and the intention of taking chances. The latter being tap-ins, however, none of them stood out and displayed the ability of the playmaker rather than the striker. He morphed himself from a complete striker to a poacher- adapting himself due to his loss of physicality. This reduced his area of interest to a very specific region. But even that doesn’t seem to be working for the English captain as he often finds himself misplacing his first touches. His situation is very much comparable to the Ukrainian legend Shevchenko, who played for Chelsea. For both, their constant play time took their toll. While Rooney played 564 games, Shevchenko had played 462 games when he was in his 29th year. Wayne though has had a much more strenuous career in comparison to the Chelsea legend, as he has played a far more number of matches, over various countries and in varied positions. Every position demands certain requirements and taxes the player depending on his involvement in the position. Unfortunately, many are disappointed with the way Rooney handled his fitness, and how he had twice threatened to leave Manchester United. This, culminated with his poor run, has put him in the war-zone.
Previously, Rooney used to be the main man, scoring the majority of goals with the secondary striker supporting him or in some cases being assisted by him. But after Martial’s explosive entry into the Premier League leaving a deep mark, his spot as a goal scoring machine has already been stolen. He has to now adapt himself to a different role or fight for his position as the lead striker. With his run-down pace and strength, the latter looks to be a bleak choice. The team needs someone who can go past defenders easily, breaking the offside traps. Rooney should focus on a more preferable position for himself, like the number 10 role.
But even as the number 10, playing in the hole between the striker and the midfield, he has not made the most of the opportunities Louis van Gaal has kept on throwing at him. Despite his poor run, the Dutch manager kept his faith and played him at his natural spot behind the lead striker. During the era of Sir Alex, Rooney, playing in this very spot, used to spit venom and score screamers. The position works well for him since the striker pulls the defense with him, giving the number 10 space to work with. Unfortunately, the English lad is not making the most of it either.
The value of a £300,000-per-week striker is not playing a passive role, passing the ball back, or taking time to give a redundant pass to his teammate parallel to him. If he doesn’t prove himself at his best position, he would soon be replaced by Hererra, who has been begging for a chance ever since the start of the season. With a trio midfield of Mata, Hererra and Schweinsteiger, one can only imagine the creativity and vision in hand. No player is bigger than the club, and form has to be given preference over all other considerations. A few matches with Rooney on the bench would give him time to focus on what’s important, and give him time to recover as well.
Louis can also consider him to be made a substitute entry after 60 minutes. It would ensure that he gets regular play, which would also not tire him out. Unfortunately, not many would have imagined such a scenario for the present Manchester United captain. But when bad comes to worse, radical steps have to be taken. For the benefit of the team and the player, Louis has a very critical job to focus on – whether to let Rooney have more time or give him a clear warning. It might decide the future of the club a few years from now – for we are talking of the magnificent Wayne ‘Wazza’ Rooney!