What is wrong with Manchester United captain Wayne Rooney?


Wayne Rooney has long been a scapegoat. He can always be counted on to eventually let us all down. There are certainly millions, if not billions, of words written about Wayne Rooney since he first began playing. It’s easy to forget that Rooney is still only 29 years old. It’s even easier to forget that he has been playing in the Premier League for well over a decade now, following his debut at just 16 all the way back in 2002. This is supposed to be the peak of his career by anybody else’s standards, but this is Rooney that we are talking about.

Not only did he break into the Premier League early, but he also became England’s youngest capped player and youngest goal scorer at 17 years of age. He has already featured in three World Cups and two UEFA Euro Championships.

This is a player that has been hyped up for so long that anything less than being at the very top means he is a failure. I can’t help but think of the Star Wars III line when Obi Wan Kenobi (played by the incomparable Ewan McGregor) screams at Anakin Skywalker, “You were supposed to be the chosen one!”

Through all of this Rooney has copped the brunt of criticism from fans and journalists alike. Certainly there has been plenty of criticism that has been warranted considering some of his actions and poor play over the years, and yet he continues on and has done very well to largely ignore the critics.

I do believe that the biggest problem with Rooney has been the expectations placed upon him. Since he first came up with Everton everyone has expected him to become a world-class superstar. The expectation was for him to become the next Bobby Charlton (not just break his records) or Alan Shearer and be in the running for the Ballon d’Or. Instead he has become a very good, high quality player who does whatever is needed for his team.

Say what you want about Rooney and his ability or his desire, but he has always been a player who wants to play. Even last season he was willing to play in a deeper role for Louis van Gaal, despite this limiting much of his ability to be an attacking threat. He has gone so far as to push himself to play for England, despite barely recovering from injury. He has always wanted to play soccer and will continue to want this.

He’s certainly at the tail end of his career and won’t be the kind of player challenging for the Ballon d’Or anymore, but this is the reason for my previous Star Wars III reference. England and Manchester United fans still have this mindset that he was supposed to be “the chosen one”. He was supposed to be the one to break all of the records and lead his team to the promised land. He was supposed to win England’s first World Cup since 1966. He was supposed to be the loyal servant to Manchester United without ever complaining. Instead what we have is what has always made for a great movie, but never seems to work in real life.

He is our flawed hero seeking redemption.

The progression of his career is the thing of great stories. The glory of being the young hero, the climax of winning the Champions League, followed by the injuries and the falling out with the United supporters and even Sir Alex Ferguson. What we have reached now is the redemption story.

Last season he was given the captain’s armband with all new expectations have been set for him. While this role did not begin well, he has since proven that he can be a leader with this team. Yes, there are still problems, but every hero has adversity to overcome.

This season he has already set his sights high and there is no way to know what his true motivations are. Does he want to disprove everyone and exceed those expectations placed on him by others or is he working to meet his own high standards? He still has the desire to play and wants to prove himself as a world-class striker and exceed his previous goal scoring tally of 34 goals.

No matter how you look at his career Rooney is a player who has spent a very long time playing soccer. He is no longer as quick as he once was and it has been several seasons since he was last played as a striker, let alone as the main striker in any attacking formation.

He has spent at least the past four seasons being played in about five different positions across a myriad of formations. Sure, he’s a professional, but anyone who has played a sport knows that the more you are put in a specific role, the more accustomed to it you become.

In addition to his role being shifted he is now being used in a formation that relies on pragmatism and slow build up with possession and passing being a key. One can only assume that if he is not making runs in behind the defense, then this is by design.

Van Gaal may believe he is a tactical genius, but he does not always seem to be getting the most out of the players that he has, Rooney included. He is stubborn and far too often waits to make a change that we fans believe should have been made three matches previous (i.e. playing Mata in the middle with Januzaj and Depay on the wings).

Now, don’t get me wrong, he still has much to prove and I have also been one to believe that he has not fulfilled his potential to his fullest. His first touch has been poor for years now and he doesn’t seem to be able to find space to get in good shooting positions. Perhaps he needs a partner to truly excel or maybe he needs to adjust to the new formation and the players around, either way, he’s not getting much in the way of service and has done even less with the little bit he has gotten.

Against Aston Villa he managed 43 touches which resulted in loss of possession five times, zero shots, and zero dribbles. The positive side is that he had 37 passes with two key passes, but 20 of those passes came in the middle third.

It is ever more apparent that he is dropping deeper to pick up the ball rather than making runs forward. The question is whether this is intentional on van Gaal’s part, or is it Rooney’s decision in an attempt to involve himself more in the play. While he may be saying that he will score goals again, the fact remains that he has not scored since April 4. The good news is that Manchester United face Newcastle United this weekend – a team which Rooney has scored 12 goals against in his career.

In closing, I find myself wishing more and more that he had never been given the captain’s armband. With this bit of cloth strapped to his arm he has now become indispensable to the team regardless of how poorly he is playing or if he fits into van Gaal’s system or now. The system will now be required to fit him in, even if he is becoming more and more of a square peg in a round hole.


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  1. Dang Ky M88 October 20, 2015
  2. Tuan Anh October 29, 2015

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