Simply a changed man at Old Trafford?

A split-second is all it takes, a spray of the red mist and a flailing limb can bring your world crashing down before you. Beckham discovered this in ’98, Zidane in 2006 and to an extent Wayne Rooney in 2010. You simply cannot lose your temper in football for even a moment and whilst the former pair discovered this on the world’s greatest stage, Rooney has perhaps learnt this valuable lesson before it costs him and his country dearly.

It was the night of October 7 when Rooney fell foul of his much-publicised ill disposition. His reckless lash out at Macedonia’s Miodrag Dzudovic nearly cost him his participation in the group stages of Euro 2012. His ban was only reduced to two games after a lengthy appeal in which former England manager Fabio Capello claimed “He is paying for my mistake,” having realised Rooney was struggling to deal with the dramatic news of his father and uncle’s arrests over an alleged betting scam.

The incident and the subsequent recognition that his plans for a trip to Poland and Ukraine were in serious jeopardy, have seemingly ignited a transformation. Since that date Rooney has not picked up a single caution, having only previously picked up one booking all season, in an away fixture against Benfica in the Champions League.

In the Premier League the stats are even better, it’s been ten months since his last yellow and three years since his last dismissal. But how has this newfound maturity affected his game? There was once a time when you would have been condemned for suggesting that Rooney needed to be tamed, with many claiming his tenacity defined him as world-class player. We certainly wouldn’t get any more goals like his volley against Newcastle, in which he spent the build-up berating Howard Webb, or would we?

As Rooney has already amassed the same number of league games that he managed last season it seems like the appropriate time to be drawing comparisons. Last season he notched up 11 league goals and 5 yellow cards in 28 appearances, this season however has seen Rooney score twice as many goals without picking up a single caution. Aside from the exceptional Robin Van Persie, Rooney has been the most prolific striker this season.

In recent times we’ve seen Rooney drop much deeper into the heart of the United midfield, seemingly getting the same pleasures from pulling the strings as his did when he adopted the selfish nature of a typical striker. With either Welbeck or Hernandez ahead of him, he knows he has capable colleagues who will act as the perfect poacher should he feed them the ball. There is a previously unseen trust with his team-mates, he can rely on them and vice versa, meaning he no longer feels the need to go on mazy and unpredictable solo runs. Perhaps this is also an advantage of Ronaldo’s absence, with Rooney no longer having to compete with anyone for a prime spot on the centre stage.

Of course Rooney is still capable and often willing to attempt individual pieces of genius but he no longer feels the need to run around the pitch like a headless chicken, eager to appease the Old Trafford faithful. He’ll still furiously hound and bully the opposition into giving up possession but it’s nice not to live in fear that he’ll lunge into a defender’s knee should his frustrations get the better of him.

Sir Alex Ferguson has unsurprisingly rushed to the head of the queue for the chance to praise the attitude of his talisman. He even touted Rooney as a calming influence in the dressing room, which is incredible considering this is a man who had a habit of getting so angry, that his face was often the same colour as his shirt.

“You always see a maturity about players when they reach their mid-20s,” says Ferguson. “Along with their ability comes the thought patterns and timing. They are more in control of themselves in terms of what they are capable of doing.” (Guardian)

Despite the fact that Rooney has graced the Premier League for a number of years now, I still picture him as the baby-faced assassin rather than a 26-year-old grown man. It goes without saying that fatherhood has matured him and it seems like another lifetime that he delivered his foul mouth tirade at Upton Park, when in fact it was just 12 short months ago.

Nowadays he appears to have his head on straight, with the realisation that he is indispensible as the man who flourishes in that ‘hole’ behind the striker. Thankfully this doesn’t serve to inflate his ego but instead has created a more grounded and appreciative individual. Perhaps now Rooney finally understands his importance for club and country, both of whom look lost without him.

Come and find me on Twitter @theunusedsub where I’ve been practising shinning my overhead kicks so I can be just like the great man himself


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