Ever since Wayne Rooney emerged on to the football scene as a teenager there has been a lot of hype surrounding him. It started with the Everton fans. They might remember a cheeky 11 year old ball boy who chipped Neville Southall in the warm up before the Merseyside derby back in 1996, who went on to play a pivotal role for the youth team. He scored eight goals in as many games in Everton’s trip to the Youth Cup Final back in 2002, and went on to score that goal against Arsenal in the Premiership just a few months later. “Remember the name, Wayne Rooney” the commentator boomed.
Next it was the England fans who ranted and raved over the youngster. He became the youngest player to represent England in 2003, beating the record which had been set in 1879, and is the youngest player to ever score for the country. He really made his mark on the international stage during Euro 2004 when finishing the team’s highest scorer, bagging two goals in the first game against Switzerland in a 3-0 win, and another two in the following 4-2 victory over Croatia. England’s hopes were dashed when he was injured early on in the quarter finals against Portugal. Without the 18 year old on the park, the England players’ heads went down, and they ended up getting knocked out on penalties (for a change).
When he signed for United, it was our turn to get the bragging rights on the talented youngster. We had to wait a month before we could see him in our shirt whilst he recovered from the injury he’d picked up in the Euros, but it was certainly worth it. In his debut, Rooney bagged a hatrick in our Champions League game against Fenerbahce, marking the start of what looked to be a great career.
Since then, United fans haven’t been able to rate him highly enough. His failure to replicate his club form for country has seen him face criticism from football fans in England, claiming he is overrated, but the lad has been hugely influential in his time with United. Whilst his influence usually can be backed up by stats as well (4th highest scorer in the league with the 3rd highest amount of assists for the past two seasons), it is the impact he makes which can’t be measured that I rate more. He raises the game of the rest of the players on the park by just being there, which was seen most recently at Villa Park when he was subbed on in the FA Cup. He has fighting spirit and a passion unmatched by most players, which trickles through to the rest of the team. He always wants to play, he always wants to score and he always wants to win. With Rooney on the field, winning certainly happens more often than not. Our three league defeats this season, which have come against City, Bolton and West Ham, were all without involvement from Rooney.
Over the past few weeks, we have seen a different side to Rooney. Whilst as usual his passion and effort can not be faltered, he is struggling to find his spark, as well as the back of the net. He’s scored just twice in his past eleven games, despite having a handful of great opportunities in each game. He is too often trying to do the clever thing, the most skilful thing, the most impressive thing, rather than just getting the job done. How many times in recent weeks have we seen Rooney try to chip the keeper from fifteen yards instead of just put his foot through the ball? He is doing unnecessary things to impress, rather than just doing what he does best, relying on his power and accuracy.
As I’ve said though, it’s his game outside of the stats which can and should be praised, and I believe he’s still making a positive impact despite not scoring, but it raises a good question over why he is going through this current patch. To begin with, Ronaldo has been stealing all the headlines, and rightly so, after currently enjoying a sublime season. He can’t be praised enough for the effect he’s having for United at the moment, with his two goals last night making his goals tally 27 in as many games. The last time a United player was doing the business in such a way was Ruud van Nistelrooy back in 2003, but I wonder if even that can be compared to Ronaldo. After 27 games in that season, Ruud had (just) 20 goals to his name, and as an out and out striker, a goal poacher, you’d expect him to beat Ronaldo hands down.
Is Rooney feeling the pressure of living in Ronaldo’s shadow? In terms of age and ability, Rooney is the only player in our side who can be compared to Ronaldo, and whilst not much is made of that in the press, it is a possibility that Rooney is making the comparison himself. Any player in the World who compared themselves to Ronaldo at the moment would get an inferiority complex though, and it shouldn’t be something that Rooney should pay too much attention to.
Another answer could be the pressure Rooney is feeling under Capello’s watchful eye. The new England manager has been making an effort to watch every United game since being appointed and Rooney of course will be eager to impress. With the captain’s arm band up for grabs as well, Rooney will believe he’s in with a shout of that. After getting Fergie to back down and let him captain United for their trip to Rome in the Champions League this season, after months of begging, it is clear Rooney sees himself as captain material. With less than impressive recent England form (discounting the goals he scored in consecutive games against Estonia and Russia in Euro 2008 qualifiers), Rooney will want to show the new England manager what he is capable of.
After watching Rooney play against Aston Villa, Capello said, “it was good to be at a game where a lot of the players were English players. And of course to see a player like Wayne Rooney come on as a substitute in such good form and have a major impact on the game was good for me on my first day.” Since then, Rooney has failed to impress as much as he would have liked when Capello has travelled to watch us play.
Equally, Rooney could just be going through a rut, with there being no psychological effects of Ronaldo or Capello making a difference to his game. Whatever it is, a goal to his name, whether it be for club or country, could certainly do the trick to return Rooney to the goalscoring form we’ve been accustomed to. However, there is no doubt that Rooney has always had huge expectation to live up to, whether that is from the fans of Everton, England or United, and at the moment, he is struggling to do that.
Rooney has today been picked, along with Ferdinand, Brown, Hargreaves and Carrick, in Capello’s 30 man squad ahead of the friendly England are set to play on Ferbuary 6th, and hopefully he can get the performance he needs.
What’s up with Wayne?