The Prodigal Son – remarkably appropriate given the plot of the parable from which the phrase originates – returned on Saturday. Despite the sporadic chants of “Rooney! Rooney!”, the ambience was decidedly uneasy – it is unclear whether Wayne Rooney’s former hero status among the fans will ever be restored.
Rooney’s thirty odd minute stint was average; he looked fit, forced a good save but missed a rather easy chance.
Most fans expected more from Rooney, given the numerical advantage Manchester United enjoyed in the second half. Rooney’s petulant and decidedly unprofessional media stunt over the contract and the resulting mega-pound deal put great pressure on the striker to recapture the form of last season.
Rooney partnered Javier Hernández upfront in a classical 442 for the last 30 minutes of Saturday’s match. Notice though that Rooney has spent much of the Wigan game on the left (see graphic, below). Rooney has always had a tendency towards the left.
He might not know how to spell the word ‘professional’ but Rooney’s reading of the game is excellent. The 25-year-old naturally looks to roam in search of space – particularly towards the left – when he plays as a striker.
Fabio Capello, before the disastrous change to a 442 in the World Cup, took advantage of the Rooney’s leftie tendency by deploying Steven Gerrard on the left-wing. Gerrard, a right footed player, looked to cut inside and Rooney often moved to the left to indulge the Liverpool captain.
England, notoriously devoid of intelligent movement, did well in the qualifying campaign mostly because of the fluidity brought on by the link between Gerrard and Rooney.
At United, before the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo, Rooney was often deployed on the left either as a defensive winger – just like Park Ji-Sung – or as a modern winger. Except, unlike Park, Rooney can actually pass, cross and shoot, of course!
Indeed, with Hernández doing well, deploying Rooney on the left to accommodate the Mexican and Nani sounds tempting. Certainly Rooney is a good left winger. He is no Lionel Messi when it comes to trickery but his physical strength and speed afford him the direct, penetrating runs.
Perhaps his movement and all around game intelligence, the strength of Rooney, would serve him better on the flank, given the current set up.
On the left, Rooney drifts in-field in search of space, not the other way around. This movement is also aided by being right-footed and he is no slouch with his left meaning that many of reasons why Nani does so well on the right apply to Rooney. In other words, Rooney the winger will move towards the goal.
It is hard to argue with statistics though. In 2008/09, when he was often deployed on the left, Rooney scored 20 times in 49 appearances. Last season’s figure was 34 goals in 44 appearances.
Of course, the improvement in Rooney’s scoring rate can’t solely be attributed to the change in position. Rooney’s records in 2007/08 (18 in 43) when he was deployed in partnership with Tevez and in 2006/07 – (23 in 55) when he played just behind Louis Saha, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer or Alan Smith – the position commonly thought as Rooney’s best – provide strong counter-examples.
The caveat of course is that in these two seasons Rooney notched up many more assists than he did in 2009/10 but he didn’t put in nearly enough to offset the relative lack of goals.
It is also hard to argue that wingers, particularly the modern kind, cannot be as prolific as more central forwards when Cristiano Ronaldo continues to bang in goals from the flank. Moreover, when Rooney is up-front, he sees less of the ball. Therefore the team doesn’t take the full advantage of his strengths.
On the flank Rooney sees more of the ball and consequently does more with it. In the current United set-up, there is a distinct lack of drive from the central midfield. The creativity must come United’s width and deploying Rooney there is an obvious solution. And since Rooney can play as a modern winger, he can easily be accommodated in United’s new 442.
Rooney can also play in the hole with two holding midfielders behind him as pivots. It’s a compelling argument that many United supporters take up. Deployed in the hole, Rooney is afforded even greater room and scope to move around.
We must also keep in mind the impending retirement of Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs and the pair’s declining role in the team. And the transfer market is no less difficult to navigate. Paulo Henrique Chagas de Lima – ‘Ganso’ – and Javier Pastore, two of the most exciting young playmakers, are not on the books of Europe’s elite clubs and remain realistic targets for United – even in the winter transfer market since neither plays in the Champions League.
There are also well-established players like Wesley Sneijder and Bastian Schweinsteiger who could be available – for a price.
However, a left winger of similar stature and/or promise is much harder to find. Juan Mata and Stevan Jovetić are perhaps the only two names that come to mind.
A central playmaker remains more of a priority than a left winger though. United already has Gabriel Obertan, Bébé, Park and Tom Cleverley in the wing department. Aside from promising youngsters like Ravel Morrison and Magnus Eikrem there is a distinct lack of playmakers at United.
As tempting as it is to play Rooney as a trequartista, it is surely be better in the long-term to start playing the former Evertonian on the left.
All the off-field histrionics notwithstanding, Rooney has blossomed into a fine player in his time at United. He will do well just about anywhere across the attacking midfield stratum and up-front.
But with the promise Hernández and Federico Macheda are showing, the lack of a classy left winger at the club, and the potential availability of promising playmakers in the market, the left beckons for Rooney.
18 thoughts on “Rooney: an argument for the left”
You make a compelling argument for Rooney on the left, but you need to remember how it felt to see him toiling away out there when all you wanted was to see him up top. My own view is that he is best with space to run in behind, darting down the channels, running defenders ragged, using his power to tear defences apart even when he doesn’t have the ball. Throw in his superb hold up play last year with his back to goal and you had the complete striker.
What Rooney has definitely lost is control in tight situations, confidence with his left boot and ability to dribble. I always believed he’d end up in a traditional No. 10 role but he just doesn’t have the technique for it. He is not an Iniesta/Zidane etc., despite Capello’s best efforts to convince us otherwise.
Last year he was a top striker. The worry is that this year it doesn’t matter what position he plays in, he just plays plain shit! And I don’t think shoe-horning him out on the left will help get his confidence back quick enough.
time to switch to a 4-2-3-1 modern formation for red devils. our current CMs cannot cope with a 4-4-2 resulting in poor attacking drives. until valencia comes back and we sign a quality CM who can tackle and distribute ball wide we should best use our resources in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
Guardian Chalkboards? Wonder where you got that idea from….
Nah only kidding, great article. Can’t see us winning anything with this current 4-4-2.
It’s something that I realized as I was preparing for this piece…
It’s actually ridiculously hard to get any number beyond the basic – the Chalkboards remain just about the best source for data
I am assuming you are referring to excellent Zonal Marking? A great site that should be frequented by any serious football fan.
Nah I did one myself at Truly Reds a few days ago:
But of course I drew my inspiration (i.e. ripped off and copied) first from reading Inverting The Pyramid and then finding Zonal Marking. What a website.
Yeah the chalkboards are okay, but could really do with something showing players movement and what they did without the ball. The Times do an average position chart which is useful, but not perfect.
Oh, and also recommend Football Further (www.tomwfootball.com), he has some great links on the site as well to some other tactics blogs.
But yeah hoping to do some really in depth ones soon, but haven’t got time at the moment. Will definitely be easier when there’s a United match on Sky as well so I can Sky+ it!
Good article, well reasoned. I think, however, that Rooney’s mental state presents a formidable obstacle to the implementation of your plan. He seems to see being moved out to the left as a slight of some kind, and in that frame of mind, is unlikely to deliver his best.
What’s with the constant Park bashing on this site? It’s the kind of opinion idiots in pubs come up with
+1 Park has been a good servant to the club. Show some respect.
Not idiots. You’re getting confused with people who actually watch football and see the muppet fall over time and time again – which is essentially what he excels at, and little else.
His touch is shit, he can’t dribble for toffee, he’s hardly a brilliant crosser of the ball and he rarely scores.
Try watching a United game. Tit.
Reckon Park’s decent form is because he knows he might be out in summer/Jan
bollocks Sheesh and you know it.
could be but if that motivates him to deliver consistently with the odd goal here and there and an assist and generally confusing the fuck out of the opposition
and more importantly keeping Gibson and O’Shea out of OT, then that is good enought
you just need to ask yourself what is the alternative, O’Shea and Gibson? No fucking chance.
if you had Cleverly, then yep, drop Park but we don;’t not until Jan, and not do we have mondric, fabregras, wilshere, iniesta or any other alternative
in that case, I’ll take a bungling Park his assists and his goals, thank you very much and wait until the summer until (and if ) a better alternative is around.
I don’t think Park is in any danger of being sold, Fergie values him highly, and he’s been showing his worth lately. His goal against Blackburn was very well placed, and helped kill them off and turn it into a rout. I don’t understand why people can’t see how useful a player he is to have in the squad.
A lot of fans and the refs don’t seem to have noticed that Park gets targeted for rough attention a lot these days; many of the sides we face clearly go out to rough him up, which shows that opposition managers recognise that he can actually be a very dangerous player. He’s got great positioning and movement on and off the ball, he really unsettles defences. If he made more of a meal of those fouls people would recognise that he’s not that bad; he falls over because he gets fouled constantly.
Thats bollocks Bman. He does’nt get roughed up at all. He just has no strength on the ball what so ever. An empty crisp bag blowing across the pitch has jimmy panicing.
He’s industrious and thats it, he gives a bit of nuisance value, thats as much as he offers. Not a United player, and never will be.
no one gives a fuck if anyone is a “united player” (whatever that means is mongo land) or not