Rooney departure backed by the numbers

August 26, 2013 Tags: Opinion 7 comments
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Sir Alex Ferguson announced his retirement after sealing Manchester United’s 20th league title last May. The greatest football manager in history could and should have just enjoyed the plaudits that poured in. Instead, he made public Wayne Rooney’s second transfer request to let loose a maelström of media coverage that has lasted to this day.

United’s fans turned against Rooney remarkably quickly. David Moyes had been chosen as Sir Alex’s successor long before the actual announcement. And given the history between the new United manager and the former Everton prodigy, Ferguson conceivably put out the transfer request story to aid the fellow Scot should the incoming man deem Rooney expendable. It is likely that a previous assertion on Rant, arguing that the time had come to let the forward go, may now find greater favour.

Continental Europe, though, has never been a realistic destination. With everything tallied Rooney is the third highest earner in world football and even those few continental teams with financial muscle to handle the deal have shown little interest in a player clearly in decline.  Rooney does not offer an improvement over players teams such as Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Barcelona or Paris Saint Germain.

It would be a risky deal for all parties. Rooney has never left the north west, let alone England and there is a genuine risk that the player would not settle in a new culture. The former PFA Players’ Player of the Year is not in a position to gamble in a World Cup year, while two very young children complicates matters. Simply put, Rooney cannot rationally move to a club outside the Premier League with possibly his last major international tournament closing in.

Nor is domestic competition for his services fierce. In 2010 Manchester City attempted to recruit Rooney, but United’s neighbours now boasts a stable of talented players in the striker’s position.

Chelsea, on the other hand, has shown a definitive interest in signing the wayward England ace. Because of a dearth in quality in the country Rooney remains the best English player. Moreover, Chelsea could rid itself of the nouveau riche tag should the London club succeed in capturing the “White Pele.”

But Chelsea’s rise would come at United’s expense. The transfer should be carefully considered.

Rooney versus van Persie Rooney RVP
Average Pass Accuracy 83% 80%
Average Pass Length 17m 17m
Key Passes Per Game 1.8 1.8


Rooney 2011/12 2012/13
Average Pass Accuracy 81% 83%
Average Passes Per Game 50 46
Assists Per Game 0.12 0.37
Key Passes Per Game 1.5 1.8
Goals Per Game 0.79 0.44

Data offers some insight into Rooney’s performance over the past two years.

United’s tactical approach – to control matches through ball retention – remained more or less the same during the period. In 2011/12, the Reds accumulated 20,184 passes. In 2012/13, the figure was 19,686 leaving United right up there with possession based teams such as Arsenal and Swansea City.

Rooney scored more in 2011/12, but assisted more a season later – Robin Van Persie’s acquisition is the obvious cause. Despite playing nominally at number 10 in both seasons, Rooney was used much more in a supporting role in 2012/13 due to the Dutchman’s arrival.

Given that Rooney’s form noticeably dropped in Ferguson’s last season, the 27-year-old should be commended for putting up decent numbers – as good a sign as any of Rooney’s natural talent.

Having said that the former Arsenal captain’s arrival released Rooney from being the only reliable source of goals at United. Whether by instruction or instinct, Rooney spent increasingly more time in central midfield. He should have seen a lot more of the ball as a result, but the decrease in passes made indicates that Rooney failed to stamp his authority on games in 2012/13.

Curiously there is virtually no change in Rooney’s defensive statistics from 2011/12 to 2012/13. Despite his increased presence in central midfield, the number 10 contributed very little defensively. It is risky to make assumptions based on just one game, but Danny Welbeck played a very similar role in the season opener against Swansea and made three interceptions – Rooney averaged 0.5 per match last season.

Rooney’s physical decline has been frequently noted too. The player’s visible puffing last season has not quelled critical observations. And a big manifestation of this is Rooney’s inability to break past opponents. In 2011/12, Rooney on average completed one dribble per game. The number shrunk to 0.4 in 2012/13.

The numbers offer some indication of Rooney’s decline, and while Chelsea being the player’s only admirer complicates matters greatly, any decent offer should be accepted if finance is a concern.

Chelsea, meanwhile, has nothing to lose. Despite the obvious deterioration Rooney demonstrated his inner genius by managing 12 goals and 10 assists last season. Just as no club was blamed for Paul Gascoigne’s decline, Chelsea will not be held liable should Rooney continue on his current path.

The club could win the public relations game though. After all, José Mourinho once convinced Samuel Eto’o to play full-back, and he can certainly bring Rooney’s mental state around. Not only will Chelsea benefit on the pitch, the club would also be hailed for saving the man who could finally bring the nation glory at the World Cup.

But the west London club is not just interested in PR. After all, Rooney is still a pretty good player, with all the attributes to adapt his game to the role at number nine Mourniho seeks. Crucially, the Liverpool-born player can use his natural understanding of space to bring other players into the action. The London club boasts a fine set of attacking midfielders and Rooney can bring fluidity, while providing the goalscoring that Chelsea’s forwards lack.

However, the transfer may impact United more than Chelsea. After all, Mourinho’s squad boasts more quality than United’s – for the Portuguese Rooney is not essential to his tactical vision. Moyes, however, needs Rooney or someone of similar talent and quality.

Uniteds’ shortages are affecting Moyes’ approach. In the Swansea game, United bypassed the midfield entirely and the manager asked his team to attack opportunistically. The inclusion of Ryan Giggs raised a few eyebrows, but the selection was forced by the composition of United’s squad.

United’s central midfield lacks a player who can push forward and provide creativity. With little imagination in the squad’s attacking midfielders and wingers, the direct approach was a pragmatic effort. But even against a mid-table side, the brute-force plan cannot be relied upon and Giggs was included to provide moments of creativity.

Meanwhile, Shinji Kagawa, who is quite possibly the most specialized playmaker in the league, has not been used by Moyes. The Japanese can certainly do a job as a classical playmaker, but he exists to play the final ball. To use the Japanese to his fullest extent, the team needs to be built around him; at the very least Kagawa needs Cesc Fabregas, or a similar player, behind him. Such an acquisition looks increasingly unlikely.

Unitil then Rooney is still is a good player, albeit in decline, who can cover a variety of positions. Even if a big name or two arrives Rooney can provide might provide Moyes with a good rotation option. If anything, big signings could stoke the fire in the Scouser’s heart.

It is a key decision for Moyes to take.

While Ferguson’s shadow will always follow future United managers this is especially true for Moyes. Ferguson’s man management has often been lauded and his successful relationship with Eric Cantona is frequently cited as an example. The Reds supported Cantona through good times and bad. With fans seemingly against Rooney, Moyes faces a much tougher task this time around.

Data sources: Squawka, WhoScored


Denton Davey - August 26, 2013 Reply

“United’s central midfield lacks a player who can push forward and provide creativity.”

You’re joking, right ?

In an article that is purportedly about TheWayneBoy, you’ve overlooked the most obvious candidate for that role.

Rooney might not want to play in TheScholesRole but he is – as you rightly point out – less-and-less suited for the #9 (or the #10) position in this team. Besides, his selfish demand to be #9/#10 means less playing-time for three younger players – KagawaBunga, DannyTheLad, and Chicharito. So, in that sense, Moyes’ pre-season comment about TheWayneBoy being a very important player in the event of an injury to RVP was very carefully crafted.

I know that making this point – again ! – will call a shower-of-shit on me but what other realistic option does Moyes have ? He can’t get Fabregas or Gundogan or De Rossi or Schweini; Dembele was judged to be “not good enough” by the previous managerial regime; YoungTom and FatBoyAndo really aren’t good enough, and so on.

The key point in this melodrama is UTD’s power to hold Rooney to his contract for two more seasons; the secondary issue (corollary to that point) is that TheWayneBoy is competitive so if his way out of UTD is blocked he’s unlikely to get all stroppy like Carlitos and work on his golf game. Indeed, judging by TheWayneBoy’s thirty minutes @ Swansea last weekend, he might not want to be playing in the red shirt but he will still put in a shift even if he won’t smile while doing so.

I reckon that what Rooney needs is “tough love” from Moyes – he’s been told that he’s not for sale, Jo$e has been slapped down in his attempts to upset the player. He also needs a very tight remit – a job description that makes no bones about where (and how) he is to play the game for the good of the team. Given how immature and selfish Rooney is, it’s a big job facing the new manager but I’d imagine that he’s got form.

This whole scenario reminds me of the “chaotic” description of the way in which one butterfly on the other side of the world can set a train of events in motion that are completely unpredictable on this side of the world. OR, mayber, as TheBard wrote, “unpluck one string and hark what discord follows”. Chaos and discord are not necessarily bad things – a lot will depend on how they are confronted and managed.

RedDevilInAz - August 26, 2013 Reply

Rooney’s fate was determined as soon as Sir Alex outed him last May.

Stevie D - August 26, 2013 Reply

There seems to be a popular opinion out there that if we keep Rooney, he’ll have to perform for us to ensure he gets in the England Word Cup squad. I’m not convinced by this.
Can anyone honestly tell me that England will not be taking Rooney to the World Cup, even if he has a poor season?? He’ll be the first name on the England team sheet next year in Brazil regardless of his season pans out (excluding injury of course).

Ed - August 27, 2013 Reply

Stevie – he could sh*t on Roy Hodgson’s carpet and he’d still be the first player in the team…. and Hodgson would clean it up

marlon - August 26, 2013 Reply

Rooney actually made more accurate passes per 90 mins less season and fewer inaccurate passes than in 11/12. Don’t you think the decline in his offensive numbers are due to playing deeper in midfield? His use is determined by the manager – that shouldn’t be used as a stick to beat him with and is equally not indicative of a decline.

Ashish - August 31, 2013 Reply

Hi Ed,

I believe that United fans are making a big mistake in believing that Rooney’s best days are behind him as he’s not been played in his prime position.

If we consider Rooney to be a midfielder, his contribution is quite significant and I daresay that it’s one of the best in United’s midfield.

When you say that “Rooney scored more in 2011/12, but assisted more a season later – Robin Van Persie’s acquisition is the obvious cause.Despite playing nominally at number 10 in both seasons, Rooney was used much more in a supporting role in 2012/13 due to the Dutchman’s arrival.” You are acknowledging that Rooney had to play a more supporting role and therefore that explains the lack of goals from Rooney. But unfortunately you chose to highlight his lack of goals as evidence that he’s on decline and say nothing about the assists and chances he’s created to prove that he’s still a formiddable player.

And then when you say “Given that Rooney’s form noticeably dropped in Ferguson’s last season, the 27-year-old should be commended for putting up decent numbers – as good a sign as any of Rooney’s natural talent.” Couldn’t the same argument be applied to the likes of Valencia and Young who, like Rooney had great seasons in 2011/12 but not so good in 2012/13 ?

While it’s true that his body language in recent times is that of a player who has no desire to play for United, to dismiss him as being on the decline is a bit premature.

Mind you, John Terry was also said to be on the decline for many years, but he put up a hell of a performance last Monday didn’t he ?

The only reason why people are saying Rooney is on decline is because he has no desire to play for Man Utd. Period.


AHMED MEER - September 10, 2013 Reply

I think rooney would stay and will have a fantastic season.Jose M is playing mind games with uniteds boss. And if Rooney wants to leave than they should sell him to outside club not in the premier league.No player is bigger than the club.

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