Now Rooney must provide more than hard work

September 6, 2013 Tags: Reads 22 comments
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When Wayne Rooney executed a full-blooded tackle on Ramires near his own corner flag during Manchester United’s recent draw with Chelsea Old Trafford rose to its feet in appreciation. It was about the most exciting thing that happened during a game that said much about Jose Mourinho’s negativity and, potentially, offered a glimpse at David Moyes’s approach too.

That moment seemed to crystallise the ensuing narrative about Rooney’s performance: that he was playing well, looking motivated and was prepared to give his best for the club. Except, Rooney didn’t actually play that well.  He did okay; a six out of 10.  But a player that demands to be centre stage for club and country ought to reach a higher level than when his team really need him.

As most journalists and many fans rushed to heap praise on Rooney the principle justification was that the striker “worked hard.” In other words Rooney “ran around a lot,” making the Scouser a glorified, and very well paid Park Ji-Sung.

Perhaps fans were shocked by the novelty of Rooney putting effort into something other than trying to leave the club.  But a high work-rate is surely the minimum asked of a professional footballer, especially when that footballer is supposedly a world-class.

It is an English world view; that football that is defined by grit, determination and will-power above technical ability. That’s why reports about Rooney’s performance focused on his work-rate and not, for example, his inability to release Robin van Persie through on goal when, instead, the Englishman elected to try and beat Petre Cech from 30 yards.

More widely this attitude is why the enduring images from the English national team over the last 30 years are of Paul Ince and Terry Butcher with blood-stained bandages on their head.  It’s why the enduring national results are of missed penalties in shoot-outs, where technique and mental strength are tested to their limit and ‘our brave boys’ are found wanting.

It’s why the English love to support the underdog, praising effort and courage, rather than celebrating success, and with that the ruthlessness, and above all, skill it takes to reach the pinnacle of the game.

It’s certain that observers from other countries – those that value skill and technique – looked on in astonishment at England’s midfield at Euro 2012, with Scott Parker and Steven Gerrard chasing shadows and consistently giving the ball away. Meanwhile Michael Carrick, the only English player in the past 20 years who comes close to Paul Scholes’ passing ability, remained at home.

Bringing the argument back to United, this attitude is why Rooney’s name has always been sung so loudly, even when his attitude off the pitch, and at times his performances on it, have not warranted the adoration. And the love of effort is why Dimitar Berbatov, who played the game with poise, skill and a Cantona-esque degree of arrogance, was criticised for being ‘lazy’. The Bulgarian didn’t steam into tackles like a madman, but rather gave an impression of being a god among mortals – it made him brilliant fun to watch.

It seems working hard, or running around a lot, proffers players an unusually high amount of leeway too.  And to many, it seems that these ‘qualities’ are valued more than technical ability.

But it’s difficult to think of the last time Rooney lit up a game with any of the qualities that made him such an exciting prospect when he was a teenager.  The 28-year-old does still get into good positions, both between the lines and in the penalty box, and he has good vision, but they alone are not qualities that make a world-class player.  It would be a big stretch to name Rooney in the top 20 players in Europe at the moment.

Put it another way, if Rooney didn’t sport his Roy of the Rovers-esque habit of charging around the pitch, chasing the ball, with a face of determination and rage, would he really be as highly regarded in England? Certainly not after his indifferent form over the past two seasons.

It is telling that Rooney has asked to leave United twice, and on neither occasion did United receive a bid from a club outside of England.

The observation may sound harsh, and of course even since Rooney’s decline began two to three years ago, he has still produced some game-defining moments, but these tend to be surrounded by a greater mediocrity.

United has begun the season requiring more creativity. There has been a worrying lack of invention and creativity in the last two games, and it is no surprise that the Reds failed to score in either.  But what United didn’t need against Liverpool and Chelsea was more effort – the players ought to be doing that anyway.

Besides, Moyes’ side contains plenty of players who do work hard, but while Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia get their shirts sweaty, neither beats a defender, creates chances, or scores goals.

What United really needs from Rooney now is for him to get back to his best – and that means he needs to do more than work hard.  Rooney needs to re-discover that edge that made him terrify defenders; he needs to re-discover his ability to be a creative and goalscoring fulcrum of the side.

Yet, if retaining Rooney and using the striker regularly means United ends up with more bluster and little end product, while Shinji Kagawa sits on the bench, then Moyes’ men will continue to struggle to break down defences. Just as the side did against Chelsea when, for all of Rooney’s supposed good work, the home side failed to create a clear-cut chance.

Rooney, of course, is not the only player who needs to contribute more, but while Young, for example, has never shown match-winning ability at United’s standard, the Scouser has.  And that’s why it is particularly frustrating to hear Rooney being praised for ‘working hard’ on the pitch, as if that is somehow noble, when he has the ability to contribute far more.

If Rooney re-elevates himself to the level seen prior to the 2010 World Cup there is little doubt he should partner van Persie in attack. At his best, Rooney is a special player, but the one on show against Chelsea is not the player United really needs.

Retaining the striker at Old Trafford could be the most impactful decision made by the new manager in his first summer at the club.  Time will tell whether it turns out to be a positive or a negative for the club.


Thorsten - September 6, 2013 Reply

When you bring Rooney down to an 6 out of 10 performance, what is RvP`s then???????????????? 4?????

James - September 7, 2013 Reply

At times i was wondering if he was even on the pitch at all.

linecom1 - September 6, 2013 Reply

what would be your preferred starting 11, and which formation?

Adedoyin Taiwo - September 6, 2013 Reply

Roo is a creative striker to b candid ManU nd this guy he can play in any wing as a player we all knw

Mongoletsi - September 7, 2013 Reply


Francis - September 6, 2013 Reply

This articles makes no meaning. You are talking about a player who has been out since EPL title winning match against Aston Villa and the last time he played a competitive game was against Brzil in Rio with a goal to his name. After enduring so much speculations about his future & injury, he came in against Swnsea with two assist and gave an outstanding performance against Chelsea. How else do you want him to play? You are talking about not given RVP a pass, I want you to watch the match again, you’d see how many times RVP held on to ball instead of passing to Rooney. Sometime, RVP will the change the play instead of passing to Rooney. Rooney is still the main man for United not RVP bcos Rooney has showed his class over the years & there’s more to come bcos he’s only 27 yerars old.

Ugo - September 6, 2013 Reply

Whoever wrote this, something’s definitely wrong with ya head. You know absolutely nothing about Wayne Rooney and Manchester United. You tend to forget that over the past two seasons, he’s not had so much starts and appearances like before. Yet he still manages nothing less than 15 goals for each of them seasons. I guess maybe until you see Rooney leave the pitch all covered in blood, he’s not yet making a mark for Man United. Stupid article.

Ugo - September 6, 2013 Reply

Mention Europe’s top 20 players and you say it’d be a big stretch to include Rooney? Damn!!! You really need to delete this piece!

Denton Davey - September 7, 2013 Reply

“Just as the side did against Chelsea when, for all of Rooney’s supposed good work, the home side failed to create a clear-cut chance.”

I seem to remember a very, very, very good chance that DannyTheLad flubbed against CSKALondon – who passed the ball to him ?

Against LiverPoo, Welbeck wasted a brilliant opportunity when he was unable to get his shot off quickly; RVP was sent in by Chicharito; Nani had a very, very good shot that Mignolet stopped even though he was handcuffed by the force of the shot which, unfortunately, was right at him.

If you’re going to grumble about how TheLads have played so far this season then maybe you ought to get some basic facts straight. And if you want to find reasons for the lack of creativity in the second and third matches then you need look no farther than Ryan Giggs, AshleyBloodyYoung, Young Tom who were tasked with providing “creativity” and provided the square-root-of-sweet-fuck-all.

It’s not just a question of TheWayneBoy “saving” the team with his heroics, it’s all going to be helpful if the manager can get his really-skilful players (especially Nani and KagawaBunga) on the pitch along with Rooney and RVP.

Who knows ? Maybe the arrival of TheBigFella might just prompt a switch to some version of an attacking-diamond or 4-2-4 which will allow those four skilful players to flourish.

If that’s the case then you have to wonder why the manager (and the trade-meister) waited so long to pay Everton what they wanted.

Mongoletsi - September 7, 2013 Reply


twat - September 9, 2013 Reply

Well fucking said.

Julian - September 7, 2013 Reply

You’ve clearly got it in for Rooney. Nevertheless, he’s still the best player we have and the old issue about United not being the same team when Rooney’s not in it still rings true. Yes he’s had issues with the club. So what? Fergie handled him badly towards the end of last season. Leaving him on the bench against Madrid was absurd. No wonder he had gripes about it all. Anyway, keeping him on board was probably the best thing to happen in the transfer window. However, if things don’t go in the right direction under Moyes in the next four months – come January he may again want to leave. If that’s the case, I for one wouldn’t blame him one bit.

Tom - September 7, 2013 Reply

Article spot on…. Rooney lacks a first touch to be a world class no 10

Denton Davey - September 7, 2013 Reply

Julian @ 09:14: “Leaving him on the bench against Madrid was absurd.”

No it wasn’t “absurd”; SAF’s game-plan was working until the absurd red card to Nani. After being reduced to ten men, the game changed – where SAF fucked up was in being so slow to react to such a significant change.

It wasn’t the first time that SAF had a “deer in the headlights” response – against Barcelona in London he not only kept Dimmy in the stands but also was very, very, very slow in bringing on Nani in place of ThreeLungPark or AV25 both of whom were simply out-classed in the second half of that match. Without Dimmy/Nani, TheLads were always fighting an uphill battle against a team like Barcelona who hunted-in-packs when they lost the ball. Neither Park nor Valencia could withstand Barcelona’s pressing-game – it’s moot whether Dimmy/Nani could have done better but this was an option that wasn’t really tried.

jimmymac62 - September 8, 2013 Reply

Have to agree with that, Fergie was great at building teams to take on and defeat the might of the Prem but he was the architect of United’s failure to defeat the best in Europe. There was seldom any plan B and plan A wasn’t up to much a lot of the time.

Omar - September 7, 2013 Reply

This article is absolutely spot on. Rooney’s work-rate and tackling should be qualities incidental to his goal scoring and creativity, not the other way around. He plays as an attacker, put in the side to score and create goals. That he makes a few tackles every game should not make up for the fact that further up the field he is nowhere near the quality that he was 3 years ago. Talk all you want about his assists v Swansea or the odd good performance he put in last season, at the end of the day it’s been two years of mediocrity from a supposed world-class player who has twice tried to force his way out the club. And still there are those who claim he’s the best we have. Absurd.

Ashish - September 8, 2013 Reply

Hi Ed,

Wayne Rooney in 2011/12 scored 34 goals in 44 appearances while last season he scored comparatively fewer goals ie 16 goals in 37 appearances.

Already this season, he played a direct role in United scoring 2 goals against Swansea and I’m sure had he started against Liverpool, he would have done what Welbeck, Hernandez, Young, Valencia couldn’t do….namely carve the opposition defence open.

Although his goals tally last season wasn’t as impressive as 2011/12, to say that he’s on decline is a bit premature.

On one hand United fans say that Rooney is in decline, on the other hand, they were busy saying that selling Rooney to Chelsea would be a dangerous thing to do.

Surely if Rooney is in decline as you so forfefully assert, then logically Chelsea shouldn’t be a better team with his signing then right? Then why this fear about selling him to Chelsea ?

The only reason why United fans are saying Rooney is in decline is because he has no desire to play for the club.Period.


Ed - September 8, 2013 Reply

Ashish – I respectfully disagree. He’s in decline because he’s in decline not because he wants to leave. It was a topic of conversation on the podcast almost every week last season. Goals and assists are one thing – performances another, fitness and physical prowess another again. Selling to Chelsea is another matter altogether. It’s a shame I can’t get access to the club’s prozone stats but I’d be surprised if they didn’t show a marked drop in Rooney’s numbers last season – overall distance, sprints, sprint times, etc

Tone - September 8, 2013 Reply

Spot on. We need somebody with a bit of imagination round the box now that Scholes has finally gone. I think Nani will be an improvement on both Young and Valencia. He needs a run in the side to get some confidence though -he’s always been made a scapegoat when the team hasn’t performed. How can we fit Kagawa in the team though- because we need to?

Joe Brindley - September 9, 2013 Reply

At least he provides hard work. The rest of the team show nothing at all. Where’s the great RVP? He’s not much without Rooney around. Welbeck is a joke and Nani should be playing Cricket.

Tom Foran - September 9, 2013 Reply

@rourkey87 great read

Dayus D red - September 10, 2013 Reply

I agree with you that Rooney has gradually decclined over a period of 3 seasons. Even the season he scored 34goals(2011/ 12), he was subsistuted in may of the matches. I remember SAF and Rooney himself admitting(in his book, A decade in PL) that even though he was scoring goals, physically he wasn’t at his best. I read somewhere it has to do with the medication he used prior and after his hair trasplant which reduses the level of andrelin in him which in turn reduses the level of agression on which his game is based on. Is it a coincidence that his game drops after the transplant? Whenever i watch the video clips of Rooney’s goals especially his heart trick on his debut, the volley vs NCU, the chip vs Postmouth, i can’t but wondered what happened to that Rooney. At 28, he should be at his peak, unfortunately his not.

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