So Wayne Rooney is carrying Manchester United according to former Geordie messiah and unbuttoned lapelled shirt mannequin Alan Shearer. According to Shearer, Rooney is having his “best ever season” and has, in his own words, “carried” The Premier League Champions “on his own at times”.
While it’s just as clear to the world and his wife that Rooney is United’s best and most important player as it is that Alan Shearer isn’t fooling anyone with that little tuft of hair at the front, to say he’s been carrying them seems a little OTT. Although to be fair to Big Al, I can see where he’s coming from, and I actually take issue with his other point more. Is Rooney having his “best ever season?”
From Shearers point of view, as a striker, he’s clearly having his most prolific so far. But is he actually performing to his best? Or to the same heights he was when he was a fresh face…er…slip of a….errm….19 year old? Rather than saying United are doing so well because Rooney is, I’d lean closer to the view that they aren’t performing to their most elegant best because Rooney isn’t.
19 goals, 2 hat tricks and top of the scoring charts obviously looks good on paper, but those who’ve watched Rooney over the last couple of years have noticed a subtle, but poignant, drop off in the ‘magic’ department. He may have scored a great deal but he hasn’t scored a truly great goal for a while now. While obviously not crucial to his overall performance standard, the shift from have a go hero Wayne of pre 2006 vintage to the “getting in there where it matters” Wayne of now is a tangible example of the change in his game. At many times this season he’s been well below his best, running around a lot, getting frustrated and scoring a lot of conversions in Rugby. When he is at his best there’s no doubt he’s the most important player at the club, just like Gerrard is at Liverpool and Lampard (and maybe Drogba) is at Chelsea. The best players influence the team more than others do. Thats how it works. And when Rooney’s truly at his best, United often play to theirs too. Their defeat at Eastlands last Tuesday was placated by the fact that they played some genuinely sumptuous football at times, the United of old if you will, and this was very much Rooney’s doing. But in many games this season they haven’t attained anywhere near that level of fluidity and Rooney has often been on the periphery of those games, struggling to make and impact and shooting wildly into row Z in the final minutes. In fact in a couple of their most important victories earlier this season it’s been Darren Fletcher and old hairy stalwart Ryan Giggs who’ve risen to the challenge more prominently.
Rooney hasn’t carried Manchester United, but he probably should be doing. It’s fair to say Ronaldo did at times, although his brilliance was complemented superbly by a brothers in arms type relationship with Rooney himself, but Rooney hasn’t reached that level yet. The level he seemed to be at before Ronaldo decided he wanted all the cameras to be on him, when Rooney truly was the magic man at Old Trafford. When he used to lash in 30 yard volleys for fun without even paying attention, or toy with Arsenal, then the best team in the land, in every game he played them without so much as breaking sweat. Watching Rooney in his formative years, the most glaring thing isn’t how much he’s doing now that he wasn’t then, but how much he isn’t doing now that he was then. His consistency has gotten much better, as has his goal ratio, but his wow factor seems to have dropped off a little. As has his confidence. How many times this season have we seen him cut in side and look to shoot, only to feign and cut inside again. Or, conversely, cut inside and look to pass, but then hesitate and shoot badly instead.
This isn’t really Rooney’s fault per say. The fact that Ferguson chose to buy him a strike partner who wants to play in exactly the same position as Wayne hasn’t helped. Rooney was so great with Van Nistelrooy, and then Saha, because he had someone to look for and someone to put the finishing touches on his art. Cross his I’s and dot his T’s. With Berbatov, Rooney is generally left to do that himself or, in the occasional moments Dimitar decides he wants to play too, finish off someone else’s brilliance. Take this goal against Charlton. This is what Rooney should be doing to ‘carry’ Manchester United. But nowadays he’s just as likely to be the sniper in the center as he is the brains behind the operation.
United are missing something this year, and Rooney is vitally important to their title challenge and often at times trying to do it all himself. But by doing it all himself he isn’t making the most of his talents and far from carrying Man United, it’s probably restricting them slightly by having him do the donkey work as well as the rewarding parts. Don’t get me wrong, he hasn’t been bad by any stretch, but to say this has been his best ever season is to mistake the figures for the facts in my opinion.