This could be Wayne Rooney’s season. No, this will be Wayne Rooney’s season. It has to be. For too long has this prodigious talent stood in the shadow of a certain Portuguese maestro at Manchester United. No, not Nani. Now that this distraction has left, it’s time for Rooney to show why Sir Alex Ferguson made him the world’s most expensive teenager in world football back in 2004.
Rooney burst onto the scene at Everton – who could forget that goal against Arsenal? – having broken goalscoring records at every age group level. At the time, he scored more goals than matches he played in. Scoring a hat-trick on his United debut only cemented his place as a legend in the making. But Rooney never seemed to match the progress that Cristiano Ronaldo was making on the pitch.
The Englishman played at the 2006 World Cup without fully recovering from a metatarsal injury. Such was the hype and pressure placed on this young man’s shoulders that some British journalists would have you believe that he could walk on water and juggle a ball at the same time. They were right about the latter. Indeed, many blame Ronaldo for Rooney not being able to realise his true potential. It started with the famous winking incident in the World Cup quarter-final that led to Ronaldo contributing to Rooney’s red card. The Scouser may have stamped on Ricardo Carvalho but there’s no denying that Ronaldo’s protests to the referee had an effect.
While United did everything to appease Ronaldo after this debacle in order to get him to return to England, not many in Rooney’s shoes, as big as they may be, would have forgiven the Portugese player’s actions that night. But that’s Rooney for you, always putting team before self. These concessions have carried onto the pitch as well because Rooney has been wasted on the wings in the past few seasons at the tactical expense of Ronaldo’s floating role up front. Rooney said nothing in public because the team was winning.
Rooney’s work ethic and selfless play has meant that fans have not seen the player in his favoured forward position as much as we should, especially in the biggest matches. It was desperately frustrating to watch Rooney in the Champions League final against Barcelona last season, out of place and out of touch with the game. Rooney certainly has the class and ability to be mentioned alongside the likes of Lionel Messi, Kaká and Fernando Torres. But this will only happen if the team is built around him. The good news is that for the first time in Rooney’s United career, Sir Alex Ferguson has decided to do just that this season. At least that’s what he says.
Rooney enjoys dropping deep into midfield to pick up the ball and be involved in build-up play. Alongside Dimitar Berbatov, playing along the shoulder of the last defender and holding up the ball like glue as he always does, Rooney will be given a free license to feed off the Bulgarian. Berbatov is capable of finding space for others where few can, allowing the former Tottenham man to play Rooney into areas where he can do the most damage. It’s a defender’s worst nightmare to see Rooney running at them.
How Rooney links up with Michael Owen will also be crucial, not just for United but England as well. Rooney, barring injury, is guaranteed a starting place for his country at the World Cup next year. Meanwhile, Owen will spend this season proving to Fabio Capello that he deserves the place alongside his new teammate. With Rooney playing to show he can be United’s new main man and Owen finally joining a team that can create chances for him, this season be a turning point in their respective careers. Each has had their fair share of bad luck with injuries. Owen’s problems are well-documented, while Rooney has picked up knocks just as he starts to hit form. That he has missed 19 league games in the past two seasons is testament to this. They both have something to prove.
We’ve seen Rooney score some breathtaking goals, now it’s time for the player to add some scruffy tap-ins to his repertoire. In Ronaldo, United has lost a 30 goals-a-season player. In Rooney, playing through the middle, the team has that and more. Rooney has the potential to be a better player than the Portuguese ‘winker’. Averaging 20 goals in each season with United so far, imagine what Rooney could do playing up front for the majority of games?
Wayne, be selfish, run more with the ball, shoot more, and be the player you’re meant to be. Advice like that can only be given to a handful of players in world football, and Wayne Rooney certainly falls in that category. This will be his season.