Ok, this has gone on long enough. This will be the 4th annual “Rooney is rubbish” article I’ve posted on this site. First it was back at the tail end of the 2013 season when I thought he was on the decline and that United should sell him while he had some value, because it was only ever going to go south from that point. Then I expressed hope, that under a new manager (LVG at the time) and a whole new raft of players that came with him, Rooney might be able to find himself some form again. Last year my tone was one of “If United and England want to move into a new era, they need to leave Rooney behind”. This year I’m just starting to feel sorry for him.
As sorry as I can for a guy earning such ludicrous amounts of money; but even putting the money aside for a second, just look at him. Look at his performances, I’ve gone from being mad and frustrated at watching him play to just cringing at the sorry state he has now become. He looks like a man who just can’t keep up, simple as that. Both physically and mentally at this stage, the game is moving at too fast a pace for him to keep up with either his feet, or his brain.
He needs too many touches to take a simple ball under control – assuming he actually gets to control it and isn’t disposed by the time he sorts his feet out. He is routinely caught in possession, usually an opposition player nipping in and stealing the ball away while Rooney is taking an absolute age to look up, observe his surroundings, process the situation, decide what pass to attem…..oh, the balls gone. Again. If I were to describe his passing as erratic, I would be describing one of his better performances of late. When he shapes to have a shot (and then nearly always decides against it at the last second), his body language sends a message of a player who knows this isn’t going to end well. Like when you see a full back running onto a loose ball to attempt a 30 yarder with their bad foot. It just looks awkward, unnatural and clunky. This is Wayne Rooney we’re talking about.
Everyone ages and time waits for no man. Some players are more keenly aware of their body and its needs, and have the foresight to be able to adapt those needs in order to be able to extend their playing careers. Rooney has never been one of those players. Rooney was always a player who routinely struggled to keep his weight down. A player, who even at his peak, would take a little longer than others to get back to fitness after an injury or a lay off, he was never going to be one of those players to play well into his 30’s. But to see such a drastic decline, so young, it’s as shocking as it is saddening.
Rooney broke onto the football scene at a very young age, and has been pretty much playing first team football since he was 16. There are a lot of miles on his clock, and in his younger days, he was the kind of player who would ‘cover every blade of grass’ and run himself into the ground for his teammates, but it seems that all that hard graft has caught up with Wayne a lot earlier than most would have anticipated. Rooney at 30 looks less mobile than Giggs did at 40.
But none of this would be a problem, if it wasn’t for the fact that he seems virtually undroppable. Undroppable, unsubbable, untouchable, that’s the Wayne Rooney situation in a nutshell. United have had a lukewarm start to the season, without playing exceptionally, they won their first three games, but then proceeded to lose their next 3. And while everyone around him is feeling the wrath of Mourinho, Rooney seems to be escaping any and all criticism. Everyone else is getting subbed off, dropped or publicly lambasted, while Rooney just carries on, stinking up the place with immunity.
Rooney isn’t the only problem in the United team at the minute, but he is one of the biggest issues, and the bottom line is, he is holding the team back. There is nowhere to fit him into the team anymore without hampering the overall balance and collective unity of the side anymore. For a couple of seasons, the cracks could be papered over by shifting him around the pitch and shoehorning him into different formations and positions. When he would have a poor run as a striker, sections of the fans and media would be calling for him to be played as a number 10. He’d string together some inadequate performances there and then get moved to midfield. A couple of half decent performances against underperforming sides, and people would be hailing him as the next Paul Scholes, until he played against a team with an actual midfield in it, and the gulf in class would be made abundantly clear. Then there would be a demand for him to be a striker again, and the whole farcical cycle would repeat itself.
Now though, squeezing him into the team means other, better players have to play out of position to accommodate him. We had this situation a few seasons ago when RVP was saying his game was suffering because other players were trying to occupy the areas he was suppose to be taking up. The signs were there back then, he is just getting in the way. Record signing Pogba is playing deeper than he would normally be accustomed to, or Mkhitaryan is forced to play wider than he normally does, all to allow Rooney to waddle around areas of the pitch that other, more dangerous players could occupy. It baffles me, surely if you are spending big money (massive money in Pogba’s case) to bring in the likes of Pogba and Mkhitaryan, then you would surely want to play them in the positions on the pitch that they can cause the most damage to the opposition, right? Shouldn’t it be that simple? Why spend the money on these kind of players only to handcuff them in how effective they can be?
Or when Mourinho does decide to move Rooney out of the center and shunts him out to one of the wings, you are greatly reducing your attacking threat from the wide areas of the pitch. United have players like Rashford, Martial and Lingard in the squad who are all young, fearless, full of confidence and have bags of pace who can all do a much better job out there than Rooney can offer.
United looked to Zlatan Ibrahimovic this summer to help them lead the line. A calculated gamble, but a gamble nonetheless, having someone like Zlatan, who is in the twilight of his career, requires having tons of pace and energy around him, something Rooney simply can’t offer. Zlatan is great, he really is, but he isn’t as mobile as he used to be, and pairing him with Rooney is a recipe for disaster. If you throw Juan Mata into the mix, you may just have the slowest attacking line I can ever recall in football. They must be a dream to defend against. Surely surrounding Zlatan with the likes of Martial, Rashford and Mkhitaryan with Pogba charging in powerfully from deep, is a significantly scarier thought for defenders than a bunch of slow players, ponderously passing the ball 5 yards sideways to one another, in the vain hope that a gap is miraculously going to appear in the defensive line?
I genuinely can’t think of a single hypothetical United starting 11, in any formation, that wouldn’t be improved with Rooney’s omission. There is no position on the pitch I can put him, where I wouldn’t think someone else can do it better. Wayne Rooney has somehow turned into the Man United version of Steven Gerrard. He was once a great player, but too many Liverpool fans were too blindly loyal to see he was decline so much that he was a detriment to the team. People will point to the fact that he has a goal and a couple of assists this season, so he can’t be that bad, but I can’t help thinking about the goals United may have scored without him in the side.
I have no doubt in my mind that Sir Alex Ferguson would have sold Rooney in the summer of 2013 had he not retired instead. Since then, I’ve been waiting for a manager to have the balls to do what needs to be done. I genuinely thought that Jose Mourinho of all people – for all his flaws – would have the balls to drop him, but even he seems to be backing down in this game of chicken. Rooney has a ridiculously large contract at United, the kind that he wouldn’t get anywhere else, so the likelihood of him leaving anytime soon is way off the cards. It’s a problem United fans are going to have to endure for some time to come, but I really struggle to see how the team’s fortunes can get any better while Rooney is such a central figure.