This summer’s World Cup was meant to be the platform where Wayne Rooney would showcase his talents in front of a global audience, where he would brush aside the likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo and demonstrate to everyone just how brilliant he is. Ever since that goal he scored against David Seaman at the age of 16, Rooney has had the pressure of a nation on his shoulders. He is the one contemporary player who has that unique ability and natural confidence, which very few players from these shores have had since Paul Gascoigne. Although it looks like he will be a target for opposition fans this season after his dreadful tournament, how has the lad from Liverpool developed into the forward everyone longed for?
Last season was the greatest season of Rooney’s career in terms of goals, a season in which his style of play was altered. In previous seasons he had been someone who would look to drop deep and link up with the midfield, somebody to drift around the pitch, chasing teams on the counter-attacks, influencing the game and tempo or perhaps put in a defensive shift when asked to play on the left wing on European nights. His defensive work accommodated the virtuoso talents of Cristiano Ronaldo and Ronaldo’s departure meant his goals needed to be replaced, and the replacement was a source that was not renowned for being prolific. In his five seasons in Manchester, Rooney had only scored 20 or more goals on two occasions. Whilst on the face of it this seems prolific, we have to account for long barren spells the Scouse firebrand so often endured. So how has Rooney morphed into this predator?
Sir Alex Ferguson knew that to accommodate both Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov together in the Red Devils strike-force, one of them needed to be pushed into the focal point of attack. Both Berbatov and Rooney’s instinct seemed to be to play between the lines of midfield and defence, dropping off to create space – a tactic ruthlessly exploited by Ronaldo. In this new role, the Number 10 has been told to conserve his energy and simply stick to in and around the penalty area. The rewards have been obvious. Too many times had we seen Rooney wait outside the penalty box when a cross came in, or perhaps be the provider for his teammates when a goal-scoring opportunity arose. Whether this new role is the best way to maximise the use of his ability is questionable, but if he continues scoring 34 goals such as last season, it would be difficult to play him elsewhere.
His goal against West Ham on Saturday broke a goal duck which had lasted five months for club and country, with his last goal being scored in the Allianz Arena back in March. The media have been overreacting about this, and how the goal, which was from the penalty spot, does not really count. If that evening in Munich, where Rooney last ran off jubilantly, had not been the beginning of a tortuous goalless spell, then perhaps both England and Manchester United might have ended up with an illustrious trophy. Patently unfit, Rooney’s form suffered. Both club and country hope that the weekend’s goal is a sign of better things.
As seen on - A Different League