Man United Fan: Scholes Was Right, Rooney Must Be Dropped
Wayne Rooney is a constant source of division amongst Manchester United and England fans. He's a man who has scored countless goals for club and country, many of them wonderful. Yet he remains a figure who evokes deeply mixed feelings in the match-going public.
It's a shame, really. He should be a cult-hero, by now. He's been at United since he was seventeen, scored a hat-trick on his debut and is on the brink of becoming the all-time leading goal-scorer in their history. Yet he remains reviled and revered in equal measure.
Whether you love or loathe him, Wayne Rooney is a name that evokes staggeringly strong feelings amongst the United faithful. Praise him and you can expect a barrage of abuse; disparage him and expect a vat-full of vitriol.
I have remained fairly constant in my opinion of Rooney, over the years. As far as I'm concerned, he's a player who came to United brimming to bursting point with promise, but who has failed to live up to the potential we all saw in him when he arrived; a player left behind by his peers, who could have been one of the world's best but can now only look on in wonder, rubbing his eyes clean of the dust that has encrusted them in his former teammate, Cristiano Ronaldo's, wake.
For many years after his arrival at United, after exploding onto the world stage with breathtaking force during Euro 2004, the club's supporters were not disappointed with the capture of one of European football's most exciting young talents. Rooney has provided them with countless moments of great joy, his on-field relationship with Ronaldo representing one of the most enduring memories of the last decade. The speed with which those two players could turn defence into attack was, at times, revelatory, with the counter-attacking goal against Arsenal, in the 2009 Champions League semi-final, still talked about in reverential tones by the club's supporters.
Now, after numerous woeful tournaments representing his country, and despite an equally impressive goal tally at international level as in the domestic game, Rooney's value for England is also being called into question. As we are about to embark on the 2014 World Cup, Rooney has once again found himself thrust into the spotlight. People are lining up to express their opinions on England's number nine: Glenn Hoddle and Jose Mourinho have offered him support and encouragement. Yet it is the suggestion of one of his old United teammates, Paul Scholes, that Rooney has 'peaked,' that has caused the greatest furore.
Scholes is a name that reverberates throughout the footballing world, due to his phenomenal record whilst playing for United, not to mention his sublime talent. He was a conjurer; a midfield magician; a puller of strings. He was also a quiet, bashful, one-club family man. Thus, to suddenly hear him speak so forthrightly on such a controversial matter, at such a critical time, demands that we sit up and listen.
So, is he right? Is Rooney past his best?
Well, another hugely respected footballing figure also felt he was. Sir Alex Ferguson wanted rid of Rooney by the time he came to retire. This is a man who had the ruthlessness of a dictator, able to distance himself from the human being with whom he was dealing for the good of the cause; in this case, Manchester United. The last two decades are littered with players sent packing by the Scot when he had realised, before anyone else, that they had passed their sell-by date. He rarely got it wrong.
Had David Moyes chosen to adhere to Ferguson's wish, United could have got a tidy sum for a player who had just completed the most abject season of his hitherto illustrious career and invested the funds into improving the overall squad.
Under Moyes, many claim, Rooney excelled, at times even 'carrying the team.' It is true that his statistics for the season just passed are reasonably impressive. Yet stats never tell the full story. Rooney was impressive, but only when compared to his previous woeful campaign and the pathetic performances of many of his teammates who, having not been pandered to and rewarded with an obscene contract, seemed less willing to buy into Moyes' ultimately catastrophic philosophy.
For those who sat in the stands and watched his performances for the deposed English champions, last season, Rooney was less impressive. He huffed and puffed but often lacked the touch expected of top-level footballers. Gone are the days of his electric, surging runs through opposition lines. His passing has become painfully predictable, more often than not simply splaying it out to the wings, albeit with a long, accurate ball that would be more impressive if he didn't do it with such monotonous regularity.
Rooney is certainly still capable of moments of real magic. His goal against West Ham at Upton Park last season, scored from just within the home team's half, was a thing of majesty. Still, such moments are, these days, few and far between, made all the more memorable by the mire of mediocrity from which they so rarely emerge.
Perhaps Paul Scholes is wrong. Perhaps Wayne Rooney will prove him wrong in the coming weeks, on the biggest footballing stage there is. Perhaps that is exactly the reaction Scholes is hoping to provoke. That is the hope of the nation. For many Manchester United fans, though, who watch him lumber laboriously around the pitch week after tiresome week, it would come as a surprise to find that there's life in the old dog yet.