If you had asked Chelsea fans at the end of last season to name their striker shortlist I very much doubt that Wayne Rooney would have featured too heavily. To be linked with signing Falcao, Cavani and Lewandowski regularly only to pursue Wayne Rooney is extremely underwhelming. While I commend the club for sticking to its recent tact of acting sensible, the dearth of truly world class centre forwards meant those available were always going to come at a premium.
Chelsea’s recent transfer tactic has been to focus on buying young players with a high potential ceiling. Players like Kevin De Bruyne, Thibaut Courtois and Marco van Ginkel are salient examples of one end of the spectrum. Signings like Eden Hazard and Oscar are the other. The thing to note is that all of these players have drastically increased their value or proven their worth since signing for the club (MvG aside). They have upside in terms of their talent, age and potential resale value should things not transpire as one would hope.
The transfer of Wayne Rooney would certainly go against this recent trend. One can only assume that his signing would be to obtain the final piece in the jigsaw, the elite finisher that Chelsea sorely lack. The main questions that arise from this whole situation are really to do with Rooney himself. Chelsea fans should naturally be cautious. We have previous when it comes to signing players on the verge of decline for exorbitant sums of money. Our current number 9 is the poster child for the expensive punts gone wrong.
Chelsea signed Fernando Torres for £50m when the telltale signs of decline had already become part of his game. Injuries amounting to the loss of his electric pace and his style as a striker were all things that would conspire against him succeeding at Chelsea. Torres remains a striker who plays on the shoulder and in his pomp he was exemplary at it. He has never truly been able to adapt his game post-injury to take into account his lack of pace. Chelsea had always played a more robust game that required their striker, most notably Didier Drogba, to play with his back to goal and utilise himself in a more well rounded manner.
The link from the Torres saga into Wayne Rooney is simply to ask are his best days behind him? Are Chelsea yet again ignoring the signs in terms of form and application?
My biggest gripe with Rooney concerns his professionalism. A player of his calibre should not prompt questions concerning his weight, fitness or lifestyle. Nevertheless the frequency of comments made concerning his inability to keep in shape is worrying. There is a perception that when injured he piles on weight, therefore extending his ineffectiveness as he gets back into shape. A four week injury becomes a 7 week period without his talent as he struggles to get back into the flow of things. While footballers should not expected to be martyrs his taste for life’s vices raises questions over his longevity.
Chelsea are looking to buy Rooney on the back of a lacklustre season – we have been here before I feel. There were moments, as Manchester United fans will attest, when Rooney single handily won them games. However, the general summation of his season can be characterised by his omission from the Real Madrid game. People can argue about the tactical move of deploying Welbeck all they like, but the reality is that Ferguson did not trust Rooney in United’s biggest game of their season.
Rooney’s performance at Upton Park was as shocking as it was poignant. He trudged around the pitch, a pale imitation of his early 20s, with everything made to look impossibly complicated. Rooney would appear to be the footballing equivalent of Ricky Hatton, his years of neglect apparently catching up on him. Has he already peaked and is he burnt out before his time? There seems to be a very Torres-like reality here that no amount of fitness work can reverse this decline. Would there really be a question of United letting Rooney go had he plenty to offer for the next five years? I highly doubt it.
The hallmark of Wayne Rooney as a player has always been his exceptional touch. He plays in a way that few can, where a perfectly timed piece of control will usually open up the pitch or take him skilfully past a defender. However, this was seen less and less as the season progressed. The explosive style of play that characterised Rooney from a young age seemed to fizzle out into the occasional glimpse of brilliance. While this is certainly more than what Torres and Ba offered for much of last season, it does not appear to be the panacea to Chelsea’s striking woes.
Everything points to this being an exceptionally unwise gamble. While there are no certainties with any signing actively courting someone so out of sync with their true game seems bewildering.
There are a few counterpoints to my opinion and trying to be optimistic I would look to Rooney in the 2011/12 season where he was deployed as a central striker. This is undoubtedly his best position and where he is most effective. He scored 34 goals in 44 games that season, a superb return and played exactly like a player I would love Chelsea to sign. With the arrival of Robin Van Persie things changed as Manchester United deployed Rooney in an array of positions. Crucially he only started twice in his preferred role. Van Persie was playing too well and Rooney deemed too good to leave out, hence the attempt to pigeonhole him around the park. A return to a regular central role might well be what Rooney needs to rediscover form.
Rooney’s spark and fitness are something that not many managers could rekindle. However, his noted friendship with Cole, Terry and Lampard, plus the opportunity to work with José Mourinho might just be the catalyst Rooney needs. Mourinho has been clever in his courting of Rooney, making him feel wanted and he would come into a side bursting with creativity where he is destined to start. I imagine that “proving United wrong” is also quite the motivation, hence their reluctance to sell to a direct rival.
What version of Wayne Rooney are Chelsea trying to buy? The one who frequently touches greatness or the one content with merely getting paid? My advice for Chelsea would be to hold onto their money and place faith in Romelu Lukaku. Starting another season with Torres is painful, but the potential disappointment that Rooney not cutting it would result in might trump that.