This time last season, if Wayne Rooney had been ruled out for a month, we would have been totally gutted. As well as being the glue that holds our team together, showing great vision on the attack and working tirelessly to help win the ball back, he also scores a huge proportion of our goals. He scored a goal in each of our opening two games last season against West Brom and Spurs, before scoring a hattrick against Arsenal in our third game. By the end of the September, he had scored nine goals in five games.
Things are different this year. We started with a 1-0 defeat at Goodison Park, a difficult ground to go to, following a disappointing performance from United. Rooney wasn’t alone in being unimpressive but he stood out as one of the worst performers, chugging around the pitch, carrying too much weight, sweating too much and being nowhere near sharp enough. A couple of chances fell to him and he fluffed them both.
Several United fans were calling for him to be dropped for the next game, a viewpoint I didn’t share, and replaced with one of our fitter strikers. Robin van Persie needed time to settle with his new team after not having much of a pre-season and Javier Hernandez didn’t even make the bench for Goodison so was probably due some minutes on the pitch. Whilst I don’t agree with a player earning close to £1m a month smoking, eating and drinking himself silly during the summer, our priority was to get Rooney fit, whatever words were said about his unacceptable condition behind the scenes, so I wanted him to start. Still, you’ve got to trust the manager, and Robin van Persie, supported by Shinji Kagawa, was his starting choice. Ferguson’s decision was, of course, the right one, with them RvP and Kagawa scoring our first two goals of the game after going 1-0 down.
Rooney came on with over 20 minutes to go and didn’t set the world alight but maybe he looked a bit better. However, in injury time, just outside our box, a player went down injured. The other players huddled round him and a man near me went “it’s not Van Persie, is it?”. This time a year ago, the idea of Rooney being on the deck, needing a stretcher to take him off the pitch, would have driven us nuts, but that man sitting near me seemed to be voicing what most of us were thinking. No, of course we don’t want Rooney injured, because he can be such an important player for us, but judging on his current impact compared to our new striker, it’s fair to say we’d be more disappointed if RvP was out.
Four weeks means Rooney will definitely be missing Southampton away and Wigan at home as well as our first Champions League game. He could be available for Liverpool away, although like Goodison, it’s not a ground he typically plays well at and if he hasn’t had a game since Fulham, would likely only be an option from the bench. This time last year, the idea of Rooney missing Anfield would have gutting, despite knowing he hasn’t had a good game there for years, but now, is it that much of a problem? We’ll start Van Persie with Kagawa behind him, we have the option of Chicharito, who scored a late equaliser there last season, and Danny Welbeck. With our injury crisis at the back, our lack of options in midfield, if we could afford to take an injury anywhere, it’s to one of the strikers.
The hope is that Rooney will come back in to the team raring to go, eager to show Van Persie (who hopefully will be at the top of scorers table) who is boss, looking far fitter and ready than he did in our opening two games. When he’s on form, Rooney is our most important player, but he looked as though the season started too soon for him. Maybe seeing the other players doing well over the next month will be the incentive he needs to sort himself out.
Get well/fit soon, Wazza.