Amongst all the recent hysteria that’s surrounded Wayne Rooney’s Manchester Untied future in recent times, it was the two-legged Champions League tie against Real Madrid has perhaps catalyzed more than a simple question mark over where he might be playing his football in the near future.
Far from just speculating upon whether he might continue to ply his trade at Old Trafford, another realm of debate upon quite how effective that trade is, seems to have sprouted out of Sir Alex Ferguson’s decision to leave him on the bench during their 2-1 home defeat to Jose Mourinho’s side.
And as has been so often been the case during the former-Everton man’s career, it is the looming shadow of one Cristiano Ronaldo that continues to hover over his own progress like something of an overbearing specter. Because where as once the comparison between himself and his former teammate used to hold gravitas, it’s now proving to be an association that’s both as unrealistic in its application as it is harmful in its effect.
It feels somewhat amazing to think quite how dramatically Wayne Rooney’s stock seems to have fallen over the course of a two-legged Champions League tie. Before the two legs against Madrid, Rooney went into the game at the Santiago Bernabeu having scored an impressive 13 goals in 23 games.
Now taking into account a string of slight injury issues -most notably the gashed leg he picked up against Fulham at the start of the season – and the fact he’s played a far deeper role to accommodate Robin van Persie in the United XI, then that record isn’t too bad at all.
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Although while Rooney would probably be the first to admit that the draw away in Madrid wasn’t his finest performance, he found himself on the receiving end of what was an extremely downcast set of headlines following what was on the whole, an extremely impressive result for his side. The talking point should have been about a classic European performance away from home, although the narrative was loud and clear.
Where as once the pair of Rooney and Ronaldo were touted to be reveling upon a similar plateau of ability, the sight of Ronaldo knocking in his 33rd goal of the season cut a polar opposite to that of an exhausted Wayne Rooney coming off in the 84th minute after running himself into the ground for his side. Indeed, the image of the latter not even making it into the first team for the return leg, only made the gulf in class even more chastising.
But amongst all of the criticism that Rooney has received over the past fortnight, it seems incredible that part of its source seems to have stemmed as a result of comparisons between himself and his former teammate. Because as well as seeming incredibly damaging, above anything else, it’s also incredibly unfair.
And a large part of the negative column inches that Wayne Rooney seems to have received this season, must surely find its roots within English football’s failure to accept the simple truth that Ronaldo has developed into a footballer of a quality Rooney will never be able to replicate.
Just because the comparison may well have held poignancy six or seven years ago, that doesn’t mean it can be still wheeled out as a realistic yardstick for the pair in 2013. Whether you once thought that Rooney could have gone on to be the better footballer or whether you never thought he could hold a candle to the Portuguese’s talents is irrelevant.
Cristiano Ronaldo is now playing at a sustained level that doesn’t just thrust him as one of the two best players in the world alongside Lionel Messi – it’s a level that’s thrust him into the pantheon of greats amongst the modern era. There aren’t many footballers over the past 25 years who would look particularly flattering alongside Ronaldo, let alone Wayne Rooney. Comparing the two is a wholly unrealistic exercise and until we stop doing so, it seems difficult to see how Rooney is ever going to be viewed in a sustainably positive light.
Because when you stop trying to compare him with Ronaldo, it seems difficult to buy into the endless column inches of hysteria and hyperbole that have surrounded his name in recent weeks.
Yes, his influence within this United side has somewhat waned since he signed his record-breaking £250,000-a-week contract in 2010 and where as he was once tipped for greatness, we now prefer to describe as simply ‘very good.’ Which in itself does him something of a disservice.
People seem overly keen on pointing out what’s a perceived lack of goals this season, which seems strange considering he’s still notched up a ratio of nearly one in two and that’s not even taking into account the fact he hasn’t played as an out-and-out striker.
And when he is asked to perform that role, he usually performs it better than most in Europe, too. Last season, if you take away messrs Ronaldo and Messi, only three players scored more than his 27 league goals in the race for the European Golden Boot.
His work-ethic and willingness to sacrifice himself for the greater good are both in staggering abundance given his natural ability and perhaps it’s within that versatility- demonstrated yet again this season in his happiness to evolve his role within Ferguson’s side – we often forget what a brilliant player he still is.
Wayne Rooney isn’t Cristiano Ronaldo, nor will he likely ever bestow the Portuguese’s level of ability. But there aren’t many that in the game that ever will and it’s time to stop making this comparison between the two. Because when you view him for the player he is in his own entity, he remains a magnificent footballer.