New year, same old Wayne

February 14, 2016 Tags: Reads 8 comments
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No other player has epitomised Louis van Gaal’s second season at United quite like his captain. The Dutchman’s side staggered through the latter part of 2015, with December becoming statistically the worst month in the club’s long history. And, much to the chagrin of United’s support at large, the manager has simply refused to go away. Much of that analysis can be directly applied to Wayne Rooney. 

United’s record goalscorer in waiting has received heavy criticism for his role in the turgid brand of football that has been on display for much of the season. However, Rooney has enjoyed an extended stay of execution, despite being a serial offender, whilst others have been consistently reprimanded for lesser crimes.

Pundits have been reluctant to criticise the England captain with another major tournament on the horizon, but for months United fans have voiced their collective ire at Rooney’s apparent immunity. The announcement of United’s starting XI triggered a minor meltdown for weeks in a row as Rooney’s name declined to disappear from the team sheet.

The worldwide football forum on Twitter has, for better or worse, continued to grow – and Rooney has been one of several players scapegoated by the group. Some of the criticism levelled at the United and England captain this season has been overly personal, but more constructive observers are as valid as the abuse has been excessive.

"Much of what once made the Evertonian so exciting to watch had seemingly deserted him – no longer was he able to bulldoze through defences with explosiveness not often seen in a player of such stocky physique. Rooney’s barnstorming goal in United’s first half rout of Tottenham Hotspur last spring had become the exception and not the norm."

Conversely, the sight of a ball bouncing off Rooney’s shin as he attempted to control it was no longer cause for surprise. Rooney’s penchant for berating referees, once considered an outward display of his insatiable appetite for winning, now appeared to be the desperate protestations of a player who knew his best days were behind him.

It has long been considered a foregone conclusion that Rooney will eclipse Sir Bobby Charlton at the summit of United’s all-time goal scoring chart – but what should be a triumphant procession of Wayne’s talent near deteriorated into a painful death march. The record will be Rooney’s, but any sense of anticipation was quelled by this season’s extended run of dire performances. Most just hoped he would hurry up and get it out of the way. Until recently.

Rooney was rightfully dropped for the Boxing Day horror show against Stoke City, but has since responded well to the demotion – claiming the club’s Player of the Month award for January as well as being directly involved in 10 of the side’s last 14 goals. Some physical attributes will unfortunately never return, but in recent weeks Rooney has shown signs of recapturing at least some of his former glory.

"Two undisputedly world-class finishes against Newcastle United and Derby County, either side of the decisive strike in United’s win at Anfield, have served to restore a measure of faith in Rooney’s ability. More encouragingly, however, is that before United’s recent games against Chelsea and Sunderland, his all round game seemed to have improved."

In the past even when Rooney’s general contribution was lacking, the striker still scored goals. But when playing alongside the electric Anthony Martial this season, Rooney has often looked like that one elder statesman commonly found on a local five-a-side pitch, toiling to keep pace with a group of young upstarts. January’s performances suggest that Rooney will not yet suffer the classic five-a-side ignominy of having to retreat into goal.

Combining for two excellent goals against Stoke City, the bones of a promising understanding between Rooney and Martial were visible for the first time. The United captain picked out Martial to finish spectacularly at the tail end of a flowing move, before the young Frenchman later squared for Rooney to round off the scoring against the Potters.

In a season where Van Gaal’s side has frequently lacked any fluency, it was refreshing to see two attacking players appear to finally be on the same wavelength. Last year, Ander Herrera and Juan Mata looked set to occupy that double act, but Herrera’s confinement to the bench for much of this campaign has put an end to that relationship. Might Rooney and Martial take up the mantle?

It is, perhaps, somewhat premature to place too great a focus on this potential partnership, but if Van Gaal’s side is to pull off a minor miracle and qualify for next season’s Champions League, the cohesion displayed between Rooney and Martial is something that has to be increasingly prevalent.

Indeed, a major facet of United’s Champions League winning side of 2008 was the intertwining talents of Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo, yet the United captain has not really clicked since with a teammate in such wondrous fashion. That is not to make any hasty comparisons between Martial and Ronaldo, regardless of the Frenchman’s potential, but finding another player with whom Rooney can effectively link up with may be exactly what the Scouser needs.

Rooney’s football intelligence will likely endure any physical decline, and if he can continue to link with Martial as he has in recent weeks, United may have stumbled upon a somewhat unlikely attacking partnership. If Rooney can sustain January’s form that is – and the dip of the player’s displays against Chelsea and Sunderland are not the new normal.

"It leaves an inevitable question – just how much will the effects of time burden Rooney now that he finds himself the wrong side of 30? Until the turn of the year he looked very much like a player whose body was no longer responding the way it used to, and the psychological pitfalls of such a realisation should not be underestimated."

If Rooney has spent the last few months coming to terms with these changes then perhaps the good form in January was a sign that he is beginning to adapt.

In Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, Rooney has two strong examples of how to prolong a career once the dynamism of youth has faded. Yes, it is debatable whether Rooney has looked after his body with the same care as Giggs, but with Charlton’s record in sight, the Scouse-born forward should not lack for motivation.

Exploding onto the scene as a 16-year-old, Rooney has already spent extensive time at the top of a field where careers are relatively short. If Rooney has the desire to prolong his time in the spotlight, he must now show that the form he has displayed at the start of 2016 is not merely a temporary reprieve in what many considered to be a terminal decline.


Denton Davey - February 15, 2016 Reply

SAF would have/should have sold him but, then, TheMoyessiah came along and gave this guy a FIVE-YEAR contract at huge wages and made him team-captain. This meant he has been un-droppable. Compounding this terrible team-building, the next two purchases were Mata/Fellaini – both of whom are also #10. Sadly all three are still at the club while center forwards like RVP, DannyTheLad, and Chicharito were shown the door – even if the sale of Chicharito was the only real mistake. So, the heritage of 2013’s ridiculous appointment – nomination ? – of a sadly-under qualified manager is still a millstone.

Really, the only way out of this mess would be IF Svenny can convince TheWayneBoy to join his project in China or Sir David makes him the center-piece of the MiamiBeckhams. Otherwise, it’s three more years of coping with a team that is odds-and-ends.

IF – and it’s still not a sure thing – the MUFC Board comes to its senses and gets LvG out and Jo$e in then maybe there might be a way out of this mess. Or, else, the club will end up paying a huge amount to keep this guy on the payroll, on the pitch, and in the dressing-room when it’s pretty evident that his best days are behind him.

I had thought that maybe he could shift to TheScholesRole but that seems to be unlikely as he’s flunked his trials. So, he’ll likely continue to be a key impediment to the creation of a NewUTD.

giggyjon - February 15, 2016 Reply

Can you really see Mrs Rooney in China – not a chance. Miami may be an option as despite his ever growing limitations, Rooney remains a global superstar and would be a great coup for Becks. Did you really ever think he could take the mantle of the Ginger Prince – not in this lifetime Davey!

Denton Davey - February 15, 2016 Reply

You’re right about his playing limitations in midfield – but it did seem like a possibility a couple/three years ago, especially after SAF so cavalierly let Paul Pogba go for peanuts and couldn’t controls Ravel Morrison.

The ChinaSyndrome is big money for aging “stars” and, like it or not, TheWayneBoy is an international star, which doesn’t necessarily have much to do with his current ability – look at the late “career” of Ronaldinho for an example of how an aging super-star can milk the down-side of his career.

One has to wonder about Rooney’s pride – let’s consider this scenario:

Jo$e gets a good look at TheWayneBoy and decides that he can ride-the-bench. What would Rooney’s response be. Pouting ? Dissension ? Or “get me outta here – I don’t care where ‘cos Wazza just “wanna play footie” ?

If Jo$e is the new manager then he has several of these elephants-in-the-room: Rooney, Fellaini, Mata, Carrick, and maybe even Schweini. Guys who – with the obvious exception of Fellaini – have been terrific players but who just will not fit into his team, for whatever reason. That’s a lot of money in cancelled contracts that UTD will have to eat.

Subterranean Steve - February 16, 2016 Reply

From what I gather, homeless Becks United is ‘looking to join the MLS in 2018’. So even if Wazza does go west it won’t be for a while yet.

joe jordans missing teeth - February 16, 2016 Reply

Fergie knew Rooney was a liability and tried to ease him out at the end of his tenure, his biggest mistake at UTD (not Pogba) was trying to ease Rooney out then endorsing Moyes as his successor, surely he could have known that Moyes would align himself with Rooney after their history together, could the last three years have been any worse if we had moved forward with RVP, Welbeck, lil’ Pea and Wilson instead of getting rid of all 4 and moving forward the Albatross that is Wayne Rooney.

Denton Davey - February 16, 2016 Reply

I’m not sure that I’m completely in agreement with the notion that TheWayneBoy has been an “Albatross”; rather, he’s been given too much power/influence/money. I do agree that SAF made a huge double-mistake by not flogging Rooney and then anointing/appointing Moyes. Rooney’s prominence has been made more problematic because it has not only been at the cost of marginalizing others – DannyTheLad and especially Chicharito (and, maybe, KidWilson and Angel Henriquez) – whose contributions might have made TheLads a more coherent team.

What worries me about the “rumours” of UTD’s targets for the summer transfer window is that they seem to be more focussed on galactico-profile as opposed to fitting in with the rest of the team. We saw how futile that policy was with Di Maria and Falcao. The last thing the current UTD squad needs is another wholesale “transition” as opposed to an evolution of the group that is now on-the-books. Two/three very judicious additions would, I think, be far more worthwhile than a Bale or a CR7, regardless of how good those two are. Some stability and team-building are what’s needed – and it is probably just that issue on which the negotiations with Jo$e will be made – or broken. Indeed, it might even be that Jo$e can somehow wave a magical wand and dispense some fairy dust over TheWayneBoy to squeeze some value from what looks like a vastly-depreciated asset.

joe jordans missing teeth - February 17, 2016 Reply

I think we’re on close to the same page here, SAF was always good at knowing when to let big names go – he got the best out of Wayne but I think we can agree that he wanted him gone at the end of his final year. Since then the next 2 managers tried to put the focus on Rooney and build the team around him or at least make him the first name on the team sheet, I also think that Wayne has demanded to play up front and in the middle either #9 or 10 and we have had to let better players for those positions either go or rot on the bench. He hasn’t the speed to play up front alone or the touch to play #10, he doesn’t have the guile to play in midfield or the inclination to play out wide. I just think that this transition period would have gone more smoothly if SAF had got his way.

Denton Davey - February 17, 2016 Reply

Well said.

With the benefit of hindsight, it is apparent that pandering to TheWayneBoy, jettisoning Chicharito and, to a lesser extent, DannyTheLad was just as disastrous as getting rid of SAF’s managerial team.

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