It is never nice to watch a fallen icon flail around in a pit of their own self-pity. Paul Gascoigne had his reasons for doing so, David Beckham moved to LA Galaxy, as did Steven Gerrard last year. But Wayne Rooney, now at the age of 30, is currently flailing in full view of the whole of the English Premier League. Despite being granted a testimonial match for the end of this season, not only is Rooney’s form currently at the lowest of his regular low ebbs, but for the first time it looks like this is the Wayne Rooney Manchester United will have to handle for the next five or six years, and it is not a pretty sight.
If you look at the Rooney that United fans watch week-in-week-out at the moment, you see a player lacking pace, devoid of a decent first touch; a grumpy, tantrum-throwing child. This is nothing new for United fans; Rooney has, at best, always been tempestuous, never blessed with the touch of Pele or Messi. The aspect that really irritates United fans is that complete lack of pace Rooney offers up front, and on top of that, his ‘undroppable’ status within the United team.
Paul Scholes, a United legend in his own right, who played with Rooney throughout the formative years of the striker’s career, recently came out in defence of Rooney after a missed penalty led to United’s defeat (on penalties) to Middlesbrough in the League Cup.
He stated, in an interview with BBC Radio Manchester, that “I was at the derby on Sunday and Rooney’s movement was brilliant but when he’s playing in that team there’s no one prepared to pass to him. I think after 20 minutes you’d be tearing your hair out.
“I played with some brilliant centre forwards and I don’t think they could play in this team – the likes of Ruud van Nistelrooy, Andy Cole, Dwight Yorke, Teddy Sheringham.”
Nicky Butt, another member of the class of ’92, also backed Rooney, stating to the BBC that: “Wayne has carried the team for a long time and is probably our talisman, our main player. When you’re the superstar of the team and you’re the captain you’ve got to carry that on your shoulders. He does that without any complaints.”
This is all well and good, especially after Scholes said that he would not want to play in the current Manchester United side, but these statements of close to unconditional support towards Rooney are endemic of a larger problem with the club.
Rooney is past his peak and that no-one, least of all Louis Van Gaal, is willing to admit it, poses a huge problem for the club. Unlike when the class of ’92 were on their way out of the club, either through retirement or by being sold, as Sir Alex Ferguson so brilliantly did throughout his career (Wes Brown, John O’Shea, Nicky Butt, David Beckham, the list goes on), the fans are no longer on Rooney’s side.
Many will never forgive the striker for not once, but twice asking to leave Old Trafford. This has meant that Rooney was already walking on a tightrope before his form dropped, now he is plunging towards the ground at an ever increasing pace.
Statistics show this decline has been steeper and more destructive than many realise. It was only three years ago when Rooney scored 27 goals for United in the league. Since he scored 26 two seasons before that, then the closest he has come was during the disaster that was David Moyes’ season in charge, when Rooney scored 17 in the league.
The biggest decline however has not been his goalscoring – although he only scored 12 in last season’s league – but in his creativity. After he was moved to centre-forward under Van Gaal, Rooney’s effectiveness has plummeted. He created 12 goals under Moyes, and in Ferguson’s last season he created 10 despite only scoring 12.
Under Van Gaal, Rooney has provided six assists in the league. In 43 league appearances under Van Gaal, Rooney has been a part of 20 goals, averaging just under half a goal a game. Not great for a so-called ‘talisman’
However, the problems go deeper than that. As Rooney has gotten older, he has lost the two most integral and dangerous parts of his game: his offensive aggression and his pace.
Only a couple of weeks ago did he score against his former club Everton, but after being put through on goal with only the keeper to beat and with a good three yard head-start, Rooney was being pressed by Phil Jagielka, and only scored by getting his shot away in the nick of time before Jagielka managed to tackle him. The Everton central defender is not exactly renowned for his speed.
Rooney’s aggression has also morphed into his biggest weakness, leaving aside the fact he has been incapable of trapping a football since he has been able to walk.
The sight of Rooney throwing his arms up in the air at a decision that has gone against him is a regular occurrence, and leads to referees and other players losing respect for someone who should be an example.
Add all of this together, and you have a captain of a title-chasing team in horrendous form, losing the parts of his game that made him the player he was and adding aspects to his game that are far from positive. You have a player on the way out.
In Louis Van Gaal’’s brain, the opposite has happened. Rooney is undroppable in Van Gaal’s team, and the manager’s stubbornness is becoming detrimental to the club. Not only did Van Gaal have a winning formula at the end of last season in an, albeit makeshift, 4-3-3 with Herrera and Fellaini integral to the formation’s success.
The team was free flowing, creative, and were scoring regularly. This season, after Van Gaal had fixed the mess of a midfield Ferguson left Moyes, the Dutchman reverted back to 4-2-3-1, and United have never looked so pedestrian and impotent.
Herrera, arguably United’s most creative box-to-box midfielder, has been wasted on the bench most games, Juan Mata is not a winger and doesn’t play like one on the right, Memphis Depay is currently playing so poorly that fans have likened him to Nani, on a bad day. This leaves Rooney to pick up the pieces, but the striker simply does not have the talent any more to succeed in reviving a team’s creativity.
For three games now United have failed to score. Three 0-0 draws against teams that could have been beaten with a more attack-minded focus for Van Gaal, is not good enough.
The biggest bug-bear? The fact that in Anthony Martial, United have a player that is special. Martial’s impact and talent is huge within United at the minute, and he should be playing up front, in Rooney’s position. Instead, Van Gaal sticks with a player who is well past his peak, and is dragging a club down to his level slowly, but surely.
If United want to challenge for the league, Rooney has to be dispensed with sooner rather than later. The necessity for another winger is paramount, but a formation that is not perfect for Rooney, but is for Martial, with the correct players surrounding the Frenchman, is the way forward for United.
Image courtesy of Paul