Wayne Rooney has fallen a far way down in the eyes of the public over the last while, but is it justified? Could it be that he is neither a world-beater, nor a obstinate dinosaur? Maybe – just maybe – this once talismanic striker is just a good player who suffers from a grotesquely temperamental domestic press desperately in need of reform, more than a once remarkable talent being brought back down to Earth, in need of a position change.
The first myth that must be dispelled is that Rooney is, for some reason, capable of playing in the midfield at a club of Manchester United’s stature. Promptly, it must be addressed that this poor man is not an elite attacking midfielder in any regard.
According to WhoScored.com, the top attacking player last season when it came to creating shooting opportunities for their teammates was Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil, with 4.2 key passes per game. Dimitri Payet was next at 4, then Christian Eriksen and Kevin De Bruyne at 3.3. Simply by reading their names, we know that these players are capable of being a creative force at any club in the world. However, for the sake of further clarification, here are their assists per 90 minutes: Ozil leads the pack at 0.56, Payet has 0.42, Eriksen is with 0.39 and De Bruyne has a solid 0.40.
What are Rooney’s numbers as an attacking midfielder last year, you might ask? 1.2 key passes per game, and a mighty 0.1 assists per 90 minutes. This the player that the mighty Red Devils could supposedly play behind Zlatan to produce equally stunning numbers. But he, of course, does not. You knew that; I knew that – hell, your bloody grandmother knew that.
Before any fool begins to argue that Wazza is still trying to adapt to the position, we need to remember that Rooney is recorded to have played in midfield as early as 2010. No, Rooney does not need to reinvent himself to maintain his spot in his teams’ XI, mainly because he should not have one in the first place.
Let us be clear here: Rooney is talented. Watch highlight reels from this 30-year-old’s heyday back in 2009 and 2011 and you will see a Rooney that for the most part scores similar goals to the ones he does now. Fox-in-the-box, right-place right-time style goals. At his statistical peak Rooney was a mere 26-years-old. So, what has changed? To put it plainly, the team around him has withered.
Regardless of the individual quality United can boast on the pitch today, there was a coherence in the sides of Sir Alex Ferguson that simply were not and are not found in the sides of managers such as Louis Van Gaal, Roy Hodgson and Jose Mourinho.
Such an understanding in a team elevates players to another level, and when a player in such a side scores 30 goals he is going to be a put on a pedestal. When that player happens to also be from England then the press might as well have declared that the second coming was a Scouser. Thus when Rooney fails to turn water into wine the collective public either groan or gasp at the thought of a Rooney on the decline.
Rooney is a good striker and, recently, has shown us that he is a player with a decent head on his shoulders as well, handling his removal from the England XI artfully. However, the fact of the matter is that England and United’s captain is not the best striker in either of the sides he represents anymore.
That is not to say that Rooney should not be on the pitch at all, rather that in sides of the expected quality of United or England we need to accept that he is better suited to the bench.
So, instead of continuing with vain attempts to shoehorn him into a side due to the messianic status the press has given the player, let us just accept that the player is good, but not great. Good, but not great. And most importantly, definitely not a bloody midfielder.
Image courtesy of Ian C