Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Can Rooney Recapture The Glory Days?

It seems incredible that it was 11 years ago when Wayne Rooney announced his arrival on both Manchester United and European stage with a hat-trick to help swat Fenerbahce aside. At 18 years old, he seemed poised to take on the world, having already threatened to make Euro 2004 his own.

Fast forward to 2015, and as Rooney approaches his 30th birthday, he tonight spearheads his and his club's grand return to European competition. Perhaps as a marker of how both have fallen on the world stage, it is not yet September and this is not a group game. Club Brugge stand in the way of that and Rooney will be looking for a serious spark. Now is the time for another hat-trick, or at least a goal, to silence the growing band of naysayers.

Many previous dry spells have been blamed on injury or fatigue, such as a European Championship or World Cup campaign, but with a relatively bare summer, this season has seen an undeniably ring-rusty Rooney. Ironically, it was his own lack of sharpness that probably caused Kyle Walker to put past his own keeper on the opening day, with Walker throwing himself in front of a shot that never came. Aston Villa are a club that Rooney historically loves - an unlucky 13 have flown past their keepers from his boot. We all know the "lies, damn lies, and statistics" quote, but it is impossible to resist the connection. He was, to put it kindly, below-par at Villa Park on Friday night.

An admittedly key element of recent times in Rooney's career has been the growing frequency with which he has been deployed either on the wing or central midfield. For someone who burst onto the scene with such energy, that should not necessarily pose much problem, but it is true that this may have hampered him. Robin Van Persie and Cristiano Ronaldo have both been his positional scourges over the years, leading to teams that are not built to serve Rooney. Now that that time has belatedly come, could it be that the fire has long since burnt out?

It was a long-levelled accusation towards Sir Alex Ferguson that he had dulled the sharpness of the Rooney blade in favour of a more defensively-minded selfless team player. Rooney being Rooney, he has (mostly) done whatever is asked of him, and would probably have played right-back if Fergie had convinced him so.

Unquestionably, in terms of end-of-season statistics, Rooney is a relentlessly consistent performer, and can surely have Fergie to thank for some of this. Last season, he became the first player in the Premier League era to score 10+ goals in 11 consecutive campaigns. In only two of these did he breach the 30 mark, and in only one further did he pass 20, Probably most galling of all for him, his most productive scoring campaign was followed by Fergie's Van Persie trophy signing, which admittedly won him his swansong campaign. Even last season, Rooney ended as not only United's top scorer but also leading assist-maker.

He now has the chance to further cement his unquestionable legacy. Yet, the one niggling question remains - did he move to Old Trafford too soon? Did his explosive early promise ever really get fulfilled? Yes, he has scored many goals, and many spectacular ones at that, such as THAT overhead against Man City. But remember the way he ran at and terrorized those defences at Euro 2004. Was it coached out of him? Was his body type and tendency to easily put on weight always going to sand those jagged edges away? Or is it all rubbish? Could it be that he has in fact fulfilled whatever potential he had? His could remain a cautionary tale for the likes of Ross Barkley to stay where you are developing, and not to reach for the stars so soon.

Or tonight may yet be the start of Rooney's late career golden era. The scene is set. European midweek floodlights will be on. He will be central striker for that same team he, lest we forget, is the 3rd top scorer ever for. Perhaps his career trajectory is a lesson for football hacks everywhere to avoid comparisons with the absolute greats of the game, and simply appreciate him for what he is, a solid striker who guarantees goals. Only, he doesn't right this moment. Step forward, Wayne.

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