I think it’s time everybody calmed down a little bit following the incredibly controversial and rather dramatic Champions League clash between Manchester United and Real Madrid. Of course, the talking point that will always be remembered sadly will not be the two excellent Madrid goals but the opinion-diving red card, that at the time appeared to shock football fans around the globe, however has now been debated in retrospect with solid arguments on both sides of the fence.
Out of the fires of that titanic contest, which was unfortunately marred by a referee who inadvertently made himself the central figure, has arisen a bizarre hypothesis regarding the future of Wayne Rooney. Sir Alex Ferguson opted to bench his English forward and instead field Mr. 1000 games himself, Ryan Giggs, as well as Danny Welbeck.
Perhaps it’s simply for the sake of something to write about, but now the Tabloids are alleging the former Everton man’s career at Old Trafford is coming to a rather abrupt end this summer. In my opinion, the supposed logic on the part of Sir Alex Ferguson is implausible; why would he choose one of the most important and symbolic games in Manchester United’s recent history to signify to the rest of the world that Rooney will be put up for sale in the next transfer window?
Why not leave him out of Premier League clashes as he has Nani, who is expected to depart in the summer, and has therefore only been used in games where Fergie cannot afford to miss out on his winger’s exceptional talents?
Yet the winds of allegation keep the transfer merry-go-round turning in the breeze. The media hacks have linked Fergie’s decision to leave out Wayne Rooney with the striker’s handing in of a transfer request two years ago, adding two and two together and coming up with nine.
However, the fact Rooney discussed at the start of the season the prospect of emulating Ryan Giggs and ending his career at Old Trafford has been widely ignored: “Where else can you go from this football club? I want to be successful. I want to still be playing here in the next ten years – you just look at Giggsy and Paul Scholes how successful they’ve been – they are an example to us all. That’s the plan and hopefully that will be the case,” said the forward last September.
I have a far simpler hypothesis. Sir Alex Ferguson was determined to play Ryan Giggs in this game; the sheer scale of the landmark the Welshman had achieved was a huge motivator in a match that required something special. At the same time, Danny Welbeck was one of United’s best performers at the Bernabeu, getting on the scoresheet and providing tireless energy. Therefore, Fergie took a risk, dropped Rooney, and for once the Scot’s selection gamble didn’t quite pay off. The game plan was working well until it was ruined by the red card.
But nonetheless, let’s entertain the hypothetical situation that the 27-year-old is to be shown the Old Trafford exit door in the summer. In my opinion, it would arguably be one of Sir Alex’s biggest transfer faux pas. Amid conveniently anonymous murmurings from the United camp that Rooney has been ‘going stale’ as a pundit put it on Sky Sports News, the striker is currently sitting on a record of 11 goals and 9 assists in 20 Premier League appearances – that’s a goal per game Rooney can claim responsibility for.
He’s leading the assists table in the English top flight, and his contribution adding to United’s score line per minute on the pitch is actually a better ratio than Robin van Persie’s this season. Last year, where the side were more dependent on him, he finished up with 34 goals in all competitions, with 27 of them coming in the Premier League.
Furthermore, his impressive statistics have come from midfield, not up-front despite it being Rooney’s traditional position. Over the past few years, the England man has been moving deeper and deeper into the United midfield, and he now tips a triangle formed with the two central midfielders, whom he performs a screening role when his side are out of possession, and it is still customary to see Rooney filling in at full-back or providing a vital tackle or interception inside the Red Devils’ defensive third of the pitch.
Rooney’s tailored role in the United starting XI, which other attacking midfielders in the Premier League fail to capture the balance between attack and defence so successfully, provides the unique dynamic that allows Robin Van Persie to rarely venture into his own half, and rather concern himself with finding gaps in the opposition backline, or remaining on the shoulder of the last defender.
It would be wrong to praise the Dutchman’s prolific record of 19 league goals without paying due respect to the role Rooney plays behind him. The combination of the two individuals is what has brought Manchester United such a strong attacking threat that has seen them almost already have two hands on the league title in a division where scoring has been the name of the game this year.
Of course, the England man is not the perfect footballer, which is why he’s rarely discussed in the same breath as Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi, or even Andres Iniesta and Xavi. He often misplaces seemingly simple passes that United and England fans have found incredibly frustrating, and there are constant concerns over the forward’s fitness. He’s allegedly been caught smoking, and anyone can tell from a simple glance at Rooney that the favoured section of his fridge is not the vegetable draw.
But these have all been problems the England man has always suffered from, and it has never stood in the way of the club’s four Premier League titles, two League Cups and Champions League trophy won while Rooney has played an integral role in the side. Furthermore, at the age of 27, he still has at least three years of playing at his footballing peak ahead of him, and if he is to follow the lead of the likes of Giggs and Scholes, his talent will extend his playing years until his mid-thirties.
The decision to bench Rooney on the part of Sir Alex Ferguson is being inflated out of proportion. The tactics and selection for the contest with Real Madrid will have been months in the planning, and United’s clash with Chelsea in the quarter finals of the FA Cup on Sunday has been overlooked as a factor for Rooney’s limited involvement. Instead of simply criticising Ferguson for leaving out his star player, the media are looking for a grand master-plan or ulterior motive.
I seriously doubt that Sir Alex Ferguson will axe his star player in the summer; he has been the focal point between defence and attack this season, playing a vital role in supporting the midfield and also providing a supply line for van Persie. The United team has been shaped around him for many years, and now that Fergie is reaping the benefits while bringing through a new generation of talent to fit the mould, it seems illogical to decide now is the time for such a drastic change of heart.
Red Devils fans and England fans may enjoy moaning about him – his pot belly, his sloppy passing and his lacklustre performances on international duty – but they will certainly miss him when he’s gone.