Firstly was Rooney even dropped by Manchester United? Or was it purely tactical on Ferguson’s part? Secondly, a confession, I am not Wayne Rooney’s biggest fan, not in a long shot; however this article will not be a list of reasons negating Rooney, more a reasoned view of what has gone wrong with United’s number 10.
Rooney has been an excellent signing for Manchester United since he signed from Everton, before this season started he had always scored over 15 goals a season in all competitions, and his work rate can never be questioned, so why I hear you ask is Rooney coming in for such levels of stick? You only have to look at Twitter during a United highlight package to see how difficult it is to explain Rooney’s downturn in form to people. Take United’s win against Norwich at the weekend, my Twitter timeline was full of people saying Rooney had an excellent game – MOTD showing his wonderful goal and his couple of assists. However, actually watch the whole game and Rooney was average at best. His passing was poor and he looked like at times as if he couldn’t be bothered. This season in particular when Rooney has a bad game he has been dreadful, take Swansea away for instance, his whole game consisted of misplaced passes and a lot of angry frustration. Rooney never seems to have an ‘ok’ game – he is either very good, or very very bad.
Some have argued this is down to Rooney not stepping up to the plate since the signing of Van Persie, Rooney not quite getting used to being second fiddle, however this is nonsense. When Manchester United had Ronaldo (particularly his last 3 seasons) Rooney was second fiddle then, but he still played very well and at times this season Rooney and Van Persie have shown to have an excellent understanding. Others have pointed out his fitness levels, which have been a concern – Rooney is a big lad and doesn’t need to do much to put on weight, he consistently seems to come back from pre season overweight and unfit (just look at Euro 2012) and this affects his game massively – Rooney thrives on energy and hustling the opposition whilst also driving on his own team. I do not think it is much to ask of a player earning a 6 figure salary (of which I help contribute towards being a season ticket holder) to watch his weight and to return in full fitness.
Some have correctly pointed the connection between Rooney and the downturn in form of Antonio Valencia. Rooney’s best 2 seasons for the club in goal scoring terms were in 2009-2010 and 2011-2012 when Valencia was arguably at his best, consistently delivering excellent crosses, Valencia this season however has been poor, and Rooney has not been getting any (decent) service. However one would argue that a player of Rooney’s undoubted talent should be able to find other ways to influence games, he is United’s highest paid player, this is what you would expect him to do, and you would expect him to start every week, let alone in the big games.
And boy was Tuesday night a big game. Real Madrid in the Champions League and Rooney was....on the bench. It was surprising to say the least but it does give an indication to how much his stock has fallen at United that he is no longer an automatic first choice. Some fans (myself included) have not really forgiven Rooney for trying to engineer a move to Manchester City and trying to hold the club at ransom in the process – if it wasn’t for a certain Dimitar Berbatov that season, United would not have won the league. Some fans, I think have come to realise he is not the player we maybe once thought he was. Wayne Rooney is a very very good player, but he isn’t world class and at 27 he is unlikely to ever be world class. He cannot dictate games like he once could and although Rooney has always worn his heart on his sleeve, his frustration levels this season have been even more evident than ever before.
Should Rooney have started Tuesday? He played well in Madrid and always performs well when he is (usually too often in the big games) played out of position for the sake of the team, but the fact is, he wasn’t playing and until Nani’s sending off United were in control of the game, so it is futile to suggest (like some have) that United would have won if Rooney had started. It was United’s biggest game of the season, and United’s biggest player (in terms of salary) was not in the starting line up, this speaks volumes. Since the signing of Van Persie, Rooney is no longer the ‘go to guy’ to influence games he has been since Ronaldo left. If Rooney cannot get into the side for the big games, regardless of whether Ferguson is being tactical, when is he expected to start? That is the thing, Rooney is no longer United’s most important player and he shouldn’t expect to play every week.
I do not mean to be harsh to a player who has on the whole been a very good player for us, but at 27 and his form dipping, perhaps United should sniff out any potential buyers for Rooney. I would be sad to see him go, despite holding the club to ransom, but sometimes players (see Beckham) need to move on and Ferguson is a better judge of that then anyone.