It is almost 10 years to the day that Wayne Rooney introduced himself to the watching world. Receiving the ball from a hopeful Thomas Gravesen punt, the then 16-year-old turned and lashed an unstoppable long range hit past David Seaman as Everton brought Arsenal’s 30-game unbeaten run to an abrupt end. It was this goal that attracted the watchful eyes of one Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson and also made Liverpool born England star the youngest goalscorer in Premier League history.
A decade on and many are debating whether this is the season that defines Rooney as a true world class superstar. This is a player that has collected numerous club and individual accolades, including the Premier League four times, a Champions League winner’s medal and a three time inductee into the PFA Premier League Team of the Year.
For a player that has made such a big impact on the game, the 26-year-old still has his doubters as to his quality. Let’s get this in the open; Rooney is a good player. There can be no arguments of that, but there are those that question whether he deserves his place in the “great” bracket.
I won’t lie; I have to agree with them. When I think of the great players of the game, the likes of Michel Platini, Johan Cruyff and Diego Maradona all spring to mind. In the modern day, you can’t overlook Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta. Would I rank Rooney alongside them? Absolutely not.
There can be no arguments of that, but there are those that question whether he deserves his place in the “great” bracket
But that isn’t an insult to the United ace. To quote Real Madrid head coach Jose Mourinho, the duo of Ronaldo and Messi are on another planet, while Iniesta recently picked up the UEFA Best Player in Europe Award.
Holding a candle to the trio would be one tough task, that’s a given, but I, personally, rank the trio in a league above Rooney. Yet, despite his domestic performances, 182 goals in 370 appearances for United, including a 35 goal haul last season, there are those that wouldn’t rank him as one of the Premiership’s better players.
Despite his on field exploits, many are of the opinion that this season, 10 years after his first, could well be his most important to date. United are going through somewhat of a transitional period, with Ferguson driven to overcome Barcelona on the European stage following their 2010 Champions League dismantling of United at Wembley.
The veteran Scot brought in Ashley Young, Phil Jones, Shinji Kagawa, Nick Powell and, most notably, Robin van Persie. It is the signing of the latter that could well see Rooney forced to alter his game to in order retain his place in the United starting XI.
Yet, despite his domestic performances, 182 goals in 370 appearances for United, including a 35 goal haul last season
It comes as no surprise that Van Persie is now viewed as Ferguson’s main attacking threat, and the Dutchman has begun to repay the faith shown in him with seven goals in nine games in a United shirt.
The 29-year-old also outshone Rooney in the goalscoring charts last season, netting 37 times, albeit having played four more games than his teammate. Nevertheless, it was no surprise to see Ferguson part with £24m in order to bring the former Arsenal ace to Old Trafford.
With Van Persie leading the line, there had been calls to whether the two could form a striking partnership capable of usurping rivals Manchester City as England’s top team. However, he was relegated to the bench for United’s second game of the season, a home win against Fulham, but was stretchered off after suffering a severe leg gash that sidelined him for a month.
This saw Kagawa pushed further forward behind Van Persie, further hampering the impact Rooney had on the opening exchanges this season as the duo began to form an understanding with each other.
However, he was relegated to the bench for United’s second game of the season, a home win against Fulham
Nevertheless, upon his return to the first-team, a 2-1 win over Newcastle United in the Capital One Cup, the England international continued to show the form that made him a potent threat in the past.
However, with Javier Hernandez and Danny Welbeck both starting, it saw Rooney pushed further back to support the midfield. Ferguson again utilised the 26-year-old in a similar position during the wins of CFR Cluj and Newcastle in the Champions League and Premiership, respectively.
There had been talk of Rooney reinventing himself as a midfielder during the summer, especially with the abundance of attacking talent available to Ferguson. It’s a move that former United and current Sky pundit Gary Neville has welcomed.
The 37-year-old believes his countryman needs to adapt, much like United stalwarts Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes have done. "Ryan Giggs has gone from a flying out-and-out left winger to someone who now plays off the front, inside left, central midfield. Paul Scholes was a goalscoring midfielder, an off-the-front No 10 player, when he first started playing as a 16-year-old. Now he's a holding midfield player who controls the game," he told BBC Sport.
There had been talk of Rooney reinventing himself as a midfielder during the summer
To be fair to Rooney, he possesses all the traits, both physically and mentally, to reinvent himself as a midfielder. His tenacity and physique can see him dominate games from the middle of the park. If he can learn to curb his fiery attitude, or at least utilise it to his strength, will bolster Ferguson’s options in the middle of the park.
With Michael Carrick or Darren Fletcher behind him, the 26-year-old has the capability to stamp his authority on the game, providing a goal threat from deep as well as working hard to improve the defensive aspect of the game.
It may take the reinvention of Rooney to finally prove his critics wrong, 10 years after his Premiership debut with Everton, but in doing so, fans and players alike could finally see the best of the England star.
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