Last night’s clash of the titans ended up being disappointingly anti-climactic on the goal front, with both Moyes and Mourinho clearly deciding that the damage caused by losing would outweigh the gains accrued from winning. Despite the lack of goals, however, it was still perfectly watchable, with the Chelsea defence in particular shining; Terry had van Persie in his pocket all night. In fact, the striker that shined the most on the pitch was Wayne Rooney, who played with kind of tenacity that shows just why Mourinho wants him so badly.
A scheming troll in the mould of Niccolò Machiavelli, Mourinho put out a starting XI that did not actually feature a recognised forward. The message to Rooney could not be clearer, “If you join Chelsea, I’ll make sure there’s room for you, sonny.” And, whilst Wayne Rooney certainly did an admirable job last night, showing professional integrity to put in such a hardworking performance against the side everyone knows he wishes to join, I think Mourinho is wasting his time flirting with the England forward.
The first reason for this is that of feasibility. Manchester United have outright said they will not sell Rooney to us, whatever the price. Obviously, anyone who takes everything a football club says at face value is probably going to be even more gullible than Ryan Giggs’ brother, and were we offering numbers around what Real Madrid have offered for Gareth Bale, then they could change their tune. Abramovich seems happy to bankroll the club, but offering £80mill+ for Rooney? Behave. Rooney is not an £80million player. He barely merits the generous amounts we’ve already bid for him.
I have several issues with the proposed signing of Wayne Rooney, and one of them is not altogether his fault; between the Kežmans, the Shevchenkos and the Torreses of this world, Roman Abramovich has spunked a small fortune on strikers who are great on paper, and terrible the moment they put on a Chelsea shirt. My immediate fear is that this curse afflicts Rooney as well.
Then there are more personal issues: I still don’t trust his temperament. Whilst recent seasons show him to have elevated past the red-faced testicle-stamper that got himself sent off in England’s crunch match against Portugal in the 2006 World Cup, there is still something about Rooney’s Shrek-like mien that betrays the attitude of someone who is a refereeing call not going his way from getting sent off.
Last season, playing for Chelsea, even the squeakiest clean of players, Eden Hazard, got himself sent off, so just imagine what could happen to Rooney. In some ways, fans don’t mind when a player gets sent off because it shows their passion. But the memory of that England vs Portugal game still lingers because Match of the Day and the British media made a point of highlighting how Cristiano Ronaldo had been on some kind of “Get Rooney sent off Mission”. The idea behind that was to cast Ronaldo as the pantomime villain, and whilst his actions did nothing to endear the greasy Portuguese to me, what was really telling about it all was how easy it was for Ronaldo to achieve his aim.
Since then, Rooney has made himself less of a sitting duck by not rising to the bait as much, but I’m still not convinced. In any case, whilst some of his anger has dissipated, the lack of fire in him has adversely affected his playing. Completely overshadowed by the arrival of Robin van Persie at Old Trafford last year, Rooney faded into the periphery, the lowest point being when he was benched for Utd’s home game against Real Madrid. As football fans across the nation scratched their heads, one had to reflect on the irony: Rooney issued Utd an ultimatum to sign better players to show their ambition, or he was off. So Utd signed van Persie, and, unknowingly, Rooney commandeered his own fall from grace.
Chelsea certainly do not lack ambition, and with Manchester City suffering a hiccup at Cardiff City, we’ve already been handed a surprise head start. But Manchester City currently has a better squad than us, and whilst Willian certainly bolsters our team, I’m not altogether convinced it’s in the right position.
It is a sad indictment of how much Torres has regressed that Mourinho commented that he chose to play a false 9 because he saw a lack of mobility in Utd’s defence. After all, there used to be times, when Torres played for Liverpool, that Nemanja Vidic couldn’t face him without getting sent off. Last night, Torres was relegated to the bench, and when he came on, he made little impact. Mourinho had started Torres in Chelsea’s home game against Hull, then rotated to Ba for the game against Villa. Neither striker hit the net, and so Jose, not being one to suffer fools gladly, decided to give up on strikers altogether last night.
That the game finished a goalless draw tells you everything you need to know about just how successful the ploy was. Utd’s attack were much brighter than ours, and John Terry and Gary Cahill had to have their wits about them in order for Chelsea to get anything out of the game. As mentioned, Rooney was the best attacker from both sides, but even he was let down when it came to connecting with van Persie. Schürrle looked completely out of position upfront and would often drift out wide, leaving the attacking talents of Oscar and Hazard without a proper outlet.
Given what I have seen on Chelsea’s three opening premier league games, I have no illusions about the fact that Chelsea need another striker. We do need one, and desperately. However, I just don’t think Mourinho should be so myopic in his pursuit of Rooney that it leaves him blind to any other options. After all, if Wayne Rooney was that good, how come he didn’t score last night?