Data Rant: Rooney’s sale makes sense

May 31, 2014 Tags: , , Data 34 comments
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Paul Scholes caused much ruckus this week by claiming that “Wayne [Rooney’s peak] could have been … when he was 26.” Sir Alex Ferguson’s vehement efforts to dispatch Rooney also hints at something more than simply a personality clash. After all, on the pitch, the 28-year-old has been mediocre for three seasons now. The new four-year contract gifted to Rooney may prove to be the worst legacy of David Moyes’ era at Manchester United.

Louis van Gaal’s opinion on Rooney will certainly be interesting. The English forward’s versatility might appeal to van Gaal, but the Dutchman has surely spent too much time at Ajax and Barcelona to look past Rooney’s, sometimes horrifying, first touch. The incoming United manager could very well have instructed Ed Woodward to find a new home for the Scouser already.

For United, transferring Rooney to a continental club would be ideal, but not only does his huge wage offer a stumbling block, many top European clubs do not need the forward or have a better version already. Thomas Muller and Angel di Maria are just two examples.

England beckons, then, and Chelsea is the only realistic destination for the forward. Only Eden Hazard succeeded in scoring more than 10 goals in 2013/14 for Chelsea so there is a clear need for a number nine at Stamford Bridge. José Mourinho has long been an admirer of Rooney and the English striker would offer dependable firepower to Chelsea’s frontline. It is a marriage that suits all parties.

United’s most iconic player leaving for a rival could be a public relations nightmare, of course, and the Mourinho system is tailor-made for Rooney, which may allow the Englishman to flourish. Yet, if Rooney’s physical decline continues, the Reds will have the last laugh.

The London side was just as defensive as United last season, but managed to score seven more goals and concede 16 less across the campaign – this was achieved with the same 53 per cent average possession. The mobility and technical approach offered by Hazard and Willian, however, allowed the Blues to dribble past opponents where United did not. A classy striker will make the system tick.

table-1 - attacking attributes/goals scored

The data shows that Willian and Samuel Eto’o bear resemblance to Rooney and the Englishman would be a great replacement for the departing Cameroonian. Rooney’s scoring record last season was better last season than any Chelsea strikers.

Tactically Rooney should fit with Mourinho’s system. Juan Mata was ostracized at Stanford Bridge for doing little of the dirty work and Hazard was publicly chastised by Mourinho for the same reason. Considering that Rooney is diligent to the point of indiscipline there is every reason for the Portuguese to chase the wayward English striker.

Figure-1 - attacking attributes / goals scored


Deducing from the statistics of Chelsea’s forwards, Rooney could be expected to score 10 league goals if he moved to London. Apart from penalties, Rooney has largely monopolised set pieces at United – a luxury he will not enjoy at Chelsea – and his figures might drop even further as a result. Oscar and Hazard run the midfield so Rooney would be on the pitch to finish alone.

There are plenty of other striking options for Chelsea, with the London club closing in on Diego Costa, who is better finisher and might even cost less. Indeed, Rooney was probably earmarked for a defensive forward role last summer, such as that taken by Ji-Sung Park, which would have diminished Rooney’s output further.

Of course, statistics are only a guide, but the analysis suggests that Rooney might fall further from his peak in the coming years. If United took a Machiavellian view, the damage inflicted on Chelsea by Rooney declining rapidly at Stamford Bridge, far outweighs any chance of the English forward recovering the form of yesteryear.

The really frightening thing for United fans is that this analysis assumes Rooney will stay in rude health next season. He rarely has in the past.


Justin M. Dowling - May 31, 2014 Reply

– But sell to whom? Wouldn’t a buyer be hard to come buy especially with the wages he would command?

Vishnu Karthik - May 31, 2014 Reply

wish you could make this presentation to van Gaal and Woodward

Daniel Chan - May 31, 2014 Reply

Rooney would be outstanding in his first season at Chelsea, but then his form would dip after that. I could live with that.

jimix tona - May 31, 2014 Reply

Why the hate on the white Pele? Just a reminder Rooney is a part time boxer. Be warned!

Michael Wendell - May 31, 2014 Reply

makes more sense to let an aging @WayneRooney slide in to central MF a la scholes/lampard. @juanmata8 on attack, roo stay @ home

mee - May 31, 2014 Reply

I still bliv rooney is a top player nd still has so much to present for mufc he culd be convertd to d box 2 box midfielder we hav bin hopin 4 or culd b playd on d flank like fergie once used him

mongoletsi - June 2, 2014 Reply

In English?

Spanish Red - May 31, 2014 Reply

I have been saying this for the last 3 years. He is overweight, overpaid and overrated.
Read this article:

Gary - May 31, 2014 Reply

You just hate a good white player.

MS Assefa - May 31, 2014 Reply

Wow, Just Wow!!! We all knew Rooney was put on a pedistle he doesnot deserve because he was English but now you are saying its because he is white? What a rascist cunt you are.

Gary - May 31, 2014 Reply

You people are unbelievable. Shit fans, I must say. Rooney is still one of the best players. The team can’t win shit when Rooney is not in the lineup. Just look back at the stays.

Ed - May 31, 2014 Reply

What makes you such a good fan. Curious – ever been to a United game? Realise that’s a bit harder for you than being a keyboard warrior.

Hallvard - May 31, 2014 Reply

As valuable as Mata last season with less caps and Mata named Chelseas player of the year. As valuable as Kagawas best season in Dortmund this season. Still these are labelled mediocre seasons.

Hard to swallow sometimes this guy, but his stats speaks for themself.

david - June 1, 2014 Reply

he has scored 68 goals in past 3 seasons!! More importantly he is still our talisman and carried the team for most of last season.He is still only 28!! Over the hill and past it: Behave!!

dood - June 2, 2014 Reply

Stats are useful but don’t tell the whole story.

He may have scored a lot of goals, but then most decent strikers would put up good numbers when they are the main striker for Man Utd and the team is built around them.

My problem with Rooney isn’t that he’s rubbish, it’s that he’s only good – and for good we are paying world-beater wages.

His touch has been shit for years. His pace is gone. He doesn’t beat a man any more. He can head a ball but you have to get the cross perfect because he won’t be out-jumping any centre-backs. No tactical discipline, wandering from his position and role in the team when it suits him.

Sure, he’s upped his free kick game and can take a decent penalty, but there are others (e.g. Mata, RVP) who can do a better job. The only thing we’d be missing out on is his cross field long balls, as without Scholes we don’t have anyone better in this area at the moment. Everything else he brings (finishing, long-range shooting, passing, work rate etc.) we either have in the team already or can replace without too much effort.

We have a better striker in RVP. We have better play-a-makers in Kagawa and Mata.

Then we have the issue of him blocking others progress: Welbeck in particular should be getting more game time because he is a quality player, all he needs is more game time and he will prove himself better than the Rooney we have seen in the last few years.

If I were in LVG’s shoes I would sell him to Chelsea for as little as £5m and be glad that I got those ridiculous wages off my books. Then I’d build the attack around Welbeck, Kagawa, Mata and Januzai and get a proper central midfielder with all the cash I saved from the Rooney sale.

Brandon Boyle - May 31, 2014 Reply

Better off without him, especially under van Gaal. Kagawa/Mata would flourish, there’d be more games for Hernandez (if we don’t sell him) and Welbeck.

Chelsea would pay his outrageous wages, and I don’t even think he would be that fantastic there.

Chris - May 31, 2014 Reply

Why would we sell one of our best players it makes no sense whatsoever. We have one centre forward, in fact scrap that half the team that go into hiding because they don’t like the manager and one of the few to put the effort in is attacked left, right and centre.

It seems a personal thing imo with many probably because of the two so called transfer requests. First time it actually turns out he had a point we have suffered from a lack of investment in the team and when ferguson left all the paper fell off the cracks, which is what Rooney basically suggested in his statement. The second time round is there really any difference between Rooney wanting to leave because he’s played out of position and what’s happening with Welbeck right now? Sure his agents a cunt, but you could say that about a lot of agents.

I also hear a lot about the so called 300 grand a week, none of us know the exact figure even if we did Rooney is obviously from a club point of view valuable in commercial terms.

On the injuries and so called peak just a couple of points, RVP is injury prone and if where saying Rooneys peaked get shut why not the same with him? Also Giggs had a spell when he was around Rooneys age of fans getting on his back and so called poor performance, I say so called because in both cases it was no where near as bad as some make/made out. Also on Giggs when through out the 90’s he had trouble with his hamstring did you think he’d be playing at 40?

Anyway enough rambling, I enjoy reading the columns on the site baring the excessive Rooney bashing! You’ll soon be bashing our record goal scorer, a scouser has our record scorer maybe that’s the problem!

Ronan - June 2, 2014 Reply

Totally agree with this…

dood - June 2, 2014 Reply

Just because you run around a lot doesn’t make you an effective player.

Welbeck isn’t trying to join Man City because he wants higher wages. He just wants to play, preferably as a striker. Fair enough I say. Rooney saga(s) not so much.

A lot is made of £300k because that’s Messi / Ronaldo money. He’s nowhere near that, never was, never will be.

Your point about not knowing the future makes a bit of sense. The bit about Giggs in particular is spot on. But based on the kind of player he is, his body type, how he looks after himself (smoking, the fact it takes him longer than most players to get back to match fitness after injury), a patchy injury record and last but not least the fact that his best seasons were when Ronaldo was here! (god that seems so long ago now…) I would say it’s a very safe bet that he’s past his peak.

Richard A. - May 31, 2014 Reply

Hi All,
The only thing I can do is offer the opinion from a far away American who absolutely loves united. And I would give my eye teeth to see a game at old Trafford. With that being said. I do agree with Scholes on one point. And that is Rooney tries to do too much. I have watched every game for the past 5 years. I can’t count the number of times Rooney has been on united’s own goal line literally saving a goal. Or back in the 18 yard box digging out the ball to save the defense. It must be really difficult being in 2 places at the same time. Considering he’s saving the defense’s Ass. And has to be back upfront to score the goal on the quick counter strike. I’m just really tired of everyone putting the Blame at Rooney’s feet. Maybe if we (united) had a decent defense and really pacey talented wings. And real midfielder’s Rooney could stay upfront and do the job that he so loves. Everyone seems to foget the year before van Persie showed up Rooney scored 29 goals in the PL. And in van Persie’s first-season at United when Ferguson stopped playing Rooney and van Persie together at the end of the season van Persie’s goal scoring ability seem to just dry up.

Opti - May 31, 2014 Reply

I still believe Fergie was ousted when he demanded the sale of Rooney. His last season had “Let’s get rid of Rooney” written all over it. The purchase of van Persie in Rooney’s position. The benching of Rooney against Madrid. Then fall out towards end of season. It ALMOST worked… until Fergie was squeezed out (by Rooney?). Then after Fergie leaves, Moyes comes in and sucks up to Rooney and gives him a new fat contract. Rooney is happy again… #conspiracyTheory

Opti - May 31, 2014 Reply

If we can sell Rooney for 25-30 million (maybe higher if he plays well in Brazil), I would be happy. It would bring our team in focus again. I am willing to suffer Rooney’s success elsewhere for 1-2 seasons, but have major doubts that Rooney is disciplined enough to perform well much past 30.

Opti - May 31, 2014 Reply

Jay, on the data you present, two things are missing:
1) You make the point that Chelsea need a striker (because they mostly suck), but then you apply your Chelsea striker model (the regression) to Rooney and state that he would only be expected to score 10 goals. I think that is not true. He would be expected to uphold a standard that no current Chelsea striker have done since Drogba left. Therefore, Rooney does not apply to current Chelsea model, which detracts from your arguments. You should have used other clubs’ data (i.e. Liverpool, City) to show how poor Chelsea are up front and then build a premier league striker model and place Rooney in this to show how he would improve Chelsea.

2) I honestly like your data discussion on United, but this one is pretty weak. The model fit you have in your regression is misleading. The R^2 = 0.60 is misleading (since Hazard is an outlier) and actually represents a very poor fit. Since this a “Data Rant” you have a great opportunity to add a little bit of “education” to allow the reader to understand more than just your conclusions.

Looking forward to more from you.

Jay Shon - June 2, 2014 Reply


you need to learn more statistics/econometrics.

1) Chelsea’s current tactic is represented by the regression based on Chelsea forwards. I apply Rooney to Chelsea model to see if Rooney would fit it to the current tactic.

This is basic scientific method.

2) R^2 value means jack shit actually. What’s called OLS table is far more important and you can have a really good R^2 value while having bad OLS figures (i.e not so good at predicting stuff)

You can also have crappy R^2 value but really good OLS numbers (i.e. the model actually has some predictive powers)

Also because of the way R^2 is computed, it goes up (even if the fit is same) as the number of variables increase.

Look, if you want to learn stat/metrics pick up a book. I recommend Mathematical Statistics by Rice and A Guide to Modern Econometrics by Verbeek

p.s. just about every subject is infinitely more difficult and nuanced than stuff you pick up in 1st year uni classes

Jay Shon - June 2, 2014 Reply

p.s.s. United Rant is great but you really shouldn’t be here if education is what you seek

Opti - June 3, 2014 Reply

PPS: I will stand by my argument that your model is flaky and so is your conclusion. Rooney is not making Chelsea better (for the reasons you state), but he is a better finisher than all of Chelsea’s strikers combined. Rooney does not apply to Chelsea’s model. Your data does not help you rant better.

I think a better model would be to show quantitatively how poor Chelsea’s strikers are in the premier league, develop a premier league striker model (with lots of data), show how Rooney would improve.

I wish you the best on your future on your data rants, but if you think you don’t require feedback, then “Welcome to the Internet” — we’re all experts 😉

Opti - June 3, 2014 Reply

Wow. You are incredibly defensive and rude. I was looking forward to a discussion here, not this poor response. Here’s what I meant:
1) You have a feature called “Data Rant”, yet you build a chelsea model with 7 data points of which Hazard is (mathematically speaking) an outlier. And you do not explain that in any part of your discussions about Hazard or your models. That’s lazy journalism and shoddy statistics. Remove “lazy” Hazard (who you anyways explain is very different from “diligent” Rooney) and your model falls completely apart. Any decent engineer/scientist doesn’t use data blindly. You need to filter and remove outliers, after which your argument falls apart: Rooney would be a horrible candidate for Chelsea.

2) I completely agree that R^2 is bogus indicator of model performance, which was the point I was trying to make; however, it was YOU who added it to the graph…

The only conclusion I could draw from your figure with the “R^2” was: you wanted to strengthen your argument of correlation by making your model “seem” better than it really was. Anyone with basic 1st year statistics background would know that R^2 is a poor fit when the mean is a poor estimator.

Lastly, claiming educational high-ground is petty. For example, I am a recent PhD in electrical engineering from a top 10 school in US. As you may understand, I find your language derisive….

Jay Shon - June 3, 2014 Reply

I don’t think I am claiming educational highground – that’s up for debate while you are mentioning your background…

Look I was defensive but trust me on this I do my due diligence.

I don’t publish everything. Simply because some of tricks I pull I actually use to make a living.

1) Yes you don’t just blindly trust data but you also don’t remove data points without good justification.

Because we are talking football, there is going to be heteroskedasticity. Removing seemingly outlying points is then very bad practice.

I can understand why an engineer would worry less about it since your data comes from nature and you basically only have to worry about observational errors.

Different in social science – often, outliers are the most important data points.

2) I am extremely confused as to what you mean by a Premier League model.

First “[Rooney] would be expected to uphold a standard that no current Chelsea striker have done since Drogba left.” True but wouldn’t Rooney just shrink? When was the last time Rooney bossed an important game?

I don’t think Chelsea team sucks – they have the third best goal difference (outscored only by City and Liverpool), Chelsea is far more defensive than City or Liverpool.

Chelsea is likely to continue being defensive so it would be pretty inappropriate to compare the London side to the more attacking City or Pool.



Opti - June 3, 2014

Thanks for your response. Good point that each team (due to their own tactics) represent a separate model but I think you need more data points to build such a model of each team (maybe multiple years of data — hard given the revolving chairs of managers). Interesting problem.

By whole model, I mean take the same metrics in your table and apply them to each attacking player in the premier league (~5 per team = ~100 players). You could organize data by “attacking” / “defensive” team tactics and have two separate models perhaps. Then highlight how Rooney would perform within a more robust “defensive” model and how Rooney compares with Chelsea current bunch of strikers.

On outliers, if it was a small disjoint cluster of data points, I would agree with you but Hazard’s solitary data point looks like a world class player performing well above Chelsea’s tactics.

I really enjoy what you’re doing and keep up the good work.

Hug and glory glory Man United!

Subterranean Steve - June 1, 2014 Reply

Rooney is still a good player but his best days are behind him. His first touch has become heavy and his mobilty is not what it was.

If van Gaal has a plan to incorporate Rooney then fine but otherwise consider moving him on. Where he would be allowed to go is a moot point. The transfer fee is also an issue but not the only one. It’s also the 15 million quid a year wages for the next four years which is of concern. He’ll never be worth that sort of money.

Alleras - June 2, 2014 Reply

Been a huge advocate of his sale since as far back as 2010/2011.

He’s incredibly ill-disciplined in his ‘favourite’ 10 role. He genuinely has to be the worst no. 10 I’ve ever seen. His incredibly casual nature on the ball is infuriating. I really miss player cam on Sky Sports but next time you see him play in the 10 role just watch him very attentively. His ball retention rate is borderline atrocious.

He was better than Ronaldo when they were 18. It sounds mad to say that now. Rooney abused his body, you can see it in his physique. While Ronny was in the gym busting ass and making gains Lord knows what Rooney was doing with himself. He gets by by fooling the wider public with his ‘work ethic’. It doesn’t take much to track back or do something on the pitch which isn’t your job but it’s passed off as determination all the while people seem to forget he’s not doing what he’s actually being paid to do. If England hope to have any chance of performing in the World Cup they’ll see sense and drop him. Sturridge is much more capable in my eyes.

Rooney’s a good player capable of great moments but he’s not a great player.

Above all else it’s his temperament that’s unforgivable. He wanted to leave because we didn’t meet his ‘standards’ at one point. We didn’t have enough world class players to compete. Fergie signs RVP, there’s finally competition for places in the squad and what does he do? Throws another strop. Terrible attitude, overrated player (although I suspect the wool is finally being pulled from the English media’s eyes.)

dood - June 3, 2014 Reply

Spot on mate

Subterranean Steve - June 3, 2014 Reply

It’s been clear to me that Rooney has deteriorated somewhat from the high standard which he set 2-3 years ago. His physiology and lifestyle mean that he is not a player who will hold top form into his thirties. His days as a key United player are numbered (and so they should be given the deterioration).

Don’t take my word for it, read Paul Scholes’ comments.

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