Wayne Rooney is a walking, breathing and kicking football conundrum.
No one can doubt the Manchester United star’s pedigree – five Premier League titles, a Champions League title and a career return of 173 goals and 89 assists in 374 league appearances speaks for itself. Add an insatiable work-rate and baby-elephant-like charm into the equation, and many – but not all – will argue that you have a world-class player.
But what is Wayne Rooney? How can one best define him? Is he a striker? Is he an attacking midfielder? Is he a number ten? Is he a false-nine? Some even believe, including Sir Alex Ferguson, the 28 year-old’s best position could in fact be central midfield.
That is the nutshell of the debate surrounding Wayne Rooney. Although a world-class talent with a world-class CV, perhaps a victim of his own versatility and selflessness, he is not a world-class anything. His finishing is too inconsistent to be a world-class striker, his frame too stocky to be considered a permanent option out wide, his attention to detail too corruptible to be considered a genuine number ten of a worldly standard, his short passing too inaccurate to be trusted in a deeper midfield role at football’s highest level.
Evidence of this was prevalent against Uruguay yesterday evening. Just consider the contrasting fortunes of Rooney and Luis Suarez over the course of the 90 minutes.
Not that the England international was particularly poor – rather, one goal, two more good opportunities to score, three successful dribbles and two key passes suggests he was England’s best player in the 2-1 defeat, especially considering the abject performances of Steven Gerrard and Phil Jagielka to name a few.
Yet the Uruguay star fared significantly better – the difference being that his two shots on target in the entire match resulted in two goals. Suarez has always possessed that seemingly divine clinical streak that’s shared by the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi – not only in terms of his shooting but throughout his all-round game – Rooney however, does not.
He failed to take the opportunity of a hat-trick against Los Charruas, with his header ringing against the bar and his attempt to convert a Leighton Baines cross safely falling into Fernando Muslera’s hands, and let an equally fruitful chance, within the parameters of the box and Salvatore Sirigu at his mercy, wizz past the near post against Italy.
With that in mind, is it time we accepted that Wayne Rooney simply isn’t good enough at the highest level of the game?
Don’t get me wrong, I am a fan of Wayne Rooney. The 28 year-old must be a manager’s dream – an endless work-rate, the ability to pull off the sublime, a positional flexibility spawned out of his exceptional attitude and team spirit. Over the course of 90 minutes, there is no doubt that Rooney contributes positively with remarkable consistency.
When he’s struggling to produce on the ball, he’s makes up for it with energy and defensive commitment, and vice versa; the England international always finds some way to favourably influence the match. That showed last night, when Rooney persevered until the 76th minute to find his first ever World Cup goal.
But football is not a zero-plus-one-sum game. That is to say, it’s not simply a logical case of putting in more than you take away to assure success or victory. Football is about moments, and whilst Suarez embraced two yesterday evening, as he did for Liverpool on endless occasions last season, Rooney failed to do the same.
I’m not referring to goal-scoring ability alone. After all, Rooney was on the pitch to create as much as he was to find the net last night. But that in itself is an equally disturbing concern – moved into the limelight of a central position after having a limited impact out wide against Italy, the England international, although impressive in spells, lacked invention and ruthlessness. It’s incredibly telling that despite England boasting 61% possession, the Manchester United forward created just two opportunities for his team-mates to score.
Perhaps in another England team, perhaps against different opponents, perhaps on a different night, perhaps at the end of a less disappointing domestic season, Rooney could have propelled England to glory last night with a hat-trick. But the 28 year-old has never been the talisman his country desperately needs. He’s never been the man who delivers when the Three Lions find themselves in a now-or-never situation.
When you look at Luis Suarez’ role in Uruguay’s win, or Robin van Persie’s for the Netherlands against Spain, or Didier Drogba’s for the Ivory Coast against Japan, or even Lionel Messi’s for Argentina against Bosnia, there is a notable, worrying difference.
Perhaps it’s time we all accept that in comparison to other players labelled world-class, Rooney just isn’t quite the same calibre.