Is the versatility of Wayne Rooney the cause of his apparent downfall?

“Man is not the creature of circumstances. Circumstances are the creatures of man.” – Isaac Disraeli

How aptly does this quote apply for Wayne Rooney, the Manchester United, and England frontman! He, who once was the crown jewel in the eyes of every football fan is now usually bashed up every now and then by his own fan base. Experts have labeled him as well past his “best”, even if statistics suggest otherwise. A string of circumstances forced the world class poacher to turn into what he is today, and here we try to examine those exact circumstances which made Wayne Rooney-less of a threat up front and more of an ever- reliable team-man.

The upbringing of Wayne Rooney

Rooney was born and brought up at Merseyside. He made his first-team debut for the Blues of Everton in 2002 and announced his arrival to the world by scoring a sensational goal in a home game against the mighty Arsenal, one that set up a 2-1 win for the Toffees and thus ended a record unbeaten streak for the Gunners. In 2004, Sir Alex Ferguson brought him to Old Trafford for a record 25 million pounds, which at that time made him the most valuable teenager in world football. His debut, versus Fenerbahce in the Champions League, is one that you will never ever forget: the 18-year old ran the Turkish club ragged, and ended up scoring a sensational debut. The Stretford End faithful knew then that their boss had unearthed a precocious talent, once again.

Over the years Rooney has repaid that price tag over and over again, be it in the form of that stunning volley against Newcastle United in 2005 or that wonderful bicycle kick winner against Manchester City in 2011 or even that brilliant half-volley goal from the centre line against West Ham United in 2014. However, the number of goals that he has scored can never be a parameter for measuring the Englishman’s real greatness, for it is only a part of his game. As he grew older, as the young, moody, aggressive Evertonian calmed down and matured, it also started reflecting on his game. In his later years, Sir Alex Ferguson was hell bent on creating a team that could get the better of Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea domestically, who had won two back-to-back league titles as well as conquer Europe again. He had Cristiano Ronaldo, Carlos Tevez, and Wayne Rooney as his frontmen, all three young but already top class strikers back then. Fergie realized that in order for the 3 to click, however, he could not afford to have an ego battle up front, so he decided to shift Rooney out on the right and put Ronaldo through the middle. Although the formation clicked and United became the Champions Of Europe in 2008, although Rooney continued scoring impressive goals although the campaign, yet that tactical shift was almost a foreboding of things to come: that because Wayne is so technically gifted and immensely versatile, he can be shifted to almost any position up and down the pitch to suit a manager’s need, and because Rooney is, in fact, a perfect team man, he will accept the shift without any fuss.

The journey to the center

After Ronaldo left for greener pastures in 2009 and Tevez was sold off under controversial circumstances, Rooney was required to play centrally once again. In his biography, Rooney jokes that he asked the boss “if he had to now get on the end of his own crosses” when he was told of this latest positional change in the preseason of the 2009-10 campaign. However, that didn’t really affect the man, as he went on to score a record 34 goals that season until an injury made him sit on the bench and ended his dream of breaking Ronaldo’s record of 43 goals in a single season. United ended up winning the League Cup that season, and in the process, became the only English team to have won the Cup in two successive seasons.

Fergie was never a man who would rest on his past laurels, and Manchester City was an upcoming threat with all the Qatar money pumping their funds all of a sudden. Over the next few years till his retirement in 2013, he bought Dimitar Berbatov, the Bulgarian no. 9 Javier Hernandez, the Mexican forward and Robin van Persie, the Arsenal striker to help him cope with the growing threat of Manchester City and Chelsea domestically and Barcelona and Bayern Munich in Europe. Although both these players were excellent on song and contributed heavily to United winning the league in 2011 and 2013 as well making it to the Champions League final in 2011, yet none of them had the skill set Rooney possessed: the ability to play as a false no. 10, to play off the striker or out wide occasionally, and still influence the course of the game with one incredible diagonal pass or a clever little reverse ball. It is because of this reason that eventually all of them were sold, but Rooney stayed back at Old Trafford, despite a thousand different controversies.

Currently, Wayne Rooney is a 30-year-old who has scored 239 goals for the club he terms his, second home and is their 2nd highest goal scorer of all time and only 11 goals shy of breaking Sir Bobby Charlton’s haul of 249 goals. Incidentally, he also broke the same man’s record of 49 goals for the English national team last year, and has 52 goals to his credit for the Three Lions, the same achievement which probably saw him pocket England’s Best Footballer Award over the likes of Harry Kane. So how does he keep doing it, despite all the negativity he has had to deal with?

The Captain, The Leader

Probably, it comes from the simple belief in the fact that no matter what anyone says, he goes out there to put in a shift for his team and the fans. Rooney comes from a tough neighborhood, and as a kid, he had to deal with a lot as his family wasn’t exactly well-off and he had to grind for everything in his life. As such, it doesn’t matter to him what position he plays in, he believes that it is his duty to give it his all there on the pitch. Under David Moyes, Rooney was even slotted in as a central midfielder to plug the holes in midfield, and despite what people say, he did a fairly decent job there, given how poorly most of the team fared that season. Even under van Gaal, Rooney has been rotated between the no. 10 and no. 9 positions continuously, and like a true Red Devils’ captain, he has given it his best. One has seen him clearing corners off the goal line, slotting in as a fullback in the case of injury to a player, or going back to tackle an opposition midfielder deep in United’s half right after scoring a goal. The fact that he has a 100 assists is probably a fair reflection of the fact that Rooney places the requirements of his team over individual glory. As a fan, the passion and commitment Wayne brings to the game is deeply satisfying to see in this day and age of professionalism and melodrama.

Sure enough, he has had his fair share of controversies and sure enough, he has held the club hostage for an improved contract on at least one occasion, but I think at the end he does feel sorry for his hot-headedness back then, as his interviews will probably tell you now. The Old Trafford faithful love him now, and although he had been off-color for a few months this season, he seems to be slowly building up a partnership with Anthony Martial, United’s new wonder kid, and has now scored in two successive games versus Swansea City and Sheffield United. One hopes, that for once, his versatility and work rate will help the team to improve on what has been painstakingly slow progress, and that fans worldwide will finally start appreciating Rooney for the wonderful servant he has been to the club, and that he is still not past his expiry date.

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