Time Has Arrived For This Manchester United Striker To Take This World By Storm

There’s something strangely disappointing and unrequited about Wayne  Rooney’s overall career for both club and country. Yet, here is a player who is destined to eclipse Sir Bobby Charlton’s goal scoring records for both Manchester United and England. And although there is little doubt that he will achieve both benchmarks, Rooney’s critics have never shied away from pointing out that he has failed to produce on the big occasion.

Rooney and Sir Alex Ferguson
Rooney and Sir Alex Ferguson

Anyone who was witness to Rooney’s long range goal from the half way line away at Upton Park earlier this season will agree that this guy has something special about him, a rare talent that only a few are blessed with. Not many players have the vision to even sense the opportunity, let alone the confidence and the technique to execute it. Rooney, at this best, is as good as it gets, as good as anything the British have churned out since good ‘ol George Best in his prime.

When he scored that screamer of a volley for Everton against Arsenal in 2002, the world stood up and took notice. There was an unanimous feeling that a real star was born. And when he came bursting through against Croatia in the summer of 2004 at the Euros in Portugal, announcing himself on the global stage with four goals in two matches against Switzerland and Croatia, the hopes were raised. Rooney was still a raw gem, but there was little doubt that he would go on to become a diamond, a sparkling one at that. But that brilliant burst of teenage energy, has so often, particularly in major tournaments, proved to be somewhat of a false dawn for the gifted striker when it comes to strutting his stuff in the white of England.

Rooney was undoubtedly one of the most gifted, yet idiosyncratic talents to come out of England for decades. It is aggression and flair, which when effectively channeled, can make supporters fall in love with the players the most. But they hardly complement each other, rarely cohabiting in the same head space. Rooney and Manchester United seemed to be a match made in Heaven. Not only did he have the ability and the talent to put on a Manchester United shirt, but he had a certain swagger about him. And only Manchester United can boast of having a long history of such necessary evils. Take Mark Hughes for example – a man capable of scoring some of the best goals you’re likely to see, yet perfectly capable of losing his temper, and booting someone in the genitals the very next moment. Something which Rooney has already accomplished in the ’06 World Cup by ‘stamping’ his mark on Ricardo Carvalho. Yet, Rooney was a player who wore his heart on his sleeve and with Rooney around, you just knew you’d get nothing but commitment. You still do.

Rooney was like Roy Keane without the sadism, battle ready at all times. He wasn’t yet the complete player back then. His balance and touch left something to be desired, but he had time on his side. And more importantly, an incredible work ethic and dedication towards the game. The start to his Manchester United journey was nothing short of astonishing, a fitting start for a player, whom many felt wasn’t worth the vast sum of money Manchester United had to cough up in the summer of 2004. But all the talk had dissipated soon after as an 18-year old teenager smashed a hattrick against a hapless Fernerbahce outfit, looking comfortably the best player in red. United’s investment seemed more like a bargain now. The English media, the public, finally had somebody to pin their hopes on. There was a sense of expectation around Wayne Rooney, an optimism that only a player of his caliber could provoke. The Guardian’s Rob Smyth, a lifelong United fan, had this to say after Rooney’s debut blitz – “The hairs on the back of my neck are going ballistic.. we all knew he was good, but this was frightening.”

There was more to come from Rooney in his debut season. He made a mockery of Jerzy Dudek with a belter of a strike that beat the Liverpool keeper at his near post to give United a rare win at Anfield, scored a late winner against Pompey and thrilled United fans with another spectacular volley, this time against Newcastle. He seemed to be capable of executing them for fun, merely applying his sensational technique combined with a sense of disdain. The trajectory merely fell into place, much like Rooney himself became an integral part of United in his very first campaign. But it seemed to be one of United’s own that proved to be an obstruction in Rooney’s rise at United.

Cristiano Ronaldo was carving his own niche while Rooney was attracting the attention of the world, and soon, all of Ronaldo’s showboating and cockiness appeared to be backed up by an incredible technique and an unrelenting desire to be the world’s best, a quest that would drive United to a Champions League crown among several league titles, all in a fanatical pursuit of personal glory at all costs. Ronaldo was taller, faster, stronger and had girls swooning over him, while Rooney’s hunger and determination and his commitment to United’s cause were often rewarded with a defensive responsibility down United’s left wing. Recall the ’09 UCL final in Rome.

Rooney’s inherent nature to sacrifice himself for the team’s cause, his selfless attitude in dropping into midfield and performing his defensive duties, had ironically started to go against Rooney. Rooney had slowly started to become Sir Alex Ferguson’s “workhorse”, his man for a crisis, and without the presence of a Roy Keane like figure to plug the holes in United’s midfield, it’s a role that has been increasingly foisted on him by Ferguson. But to Rooney’s credit, he never complained, instead got on with the job. The UCL final in Rome was one of many such instances in which Rooney sacrificed personal glory for the team’s cause. Other players of Rooney’s caliber would undoubtedly sulk at the prospect of having to play second fiddle to someone else, but Rooney chose to be the bigger man. This apparent lack of ego is one of his finer points. Working hard for the team is something that is embedded in Rooney’s system, something he has never shied away from, and never will.

Ronaldo’s lust for success took him to the Bernabeu as he renewed his rivalry with Lionel Messi from closer quarters, the added spice of the Clasico added to the mix. The best player in the world was replaced by the best player at Wigan, but Rooney seemed to thrive at the opportunity of being United’s main man, banging in goals left right and center. His performance against AC Milan in the Round of 16 stage of the Champions League was vintage Rooney, causing Allesandro Nesta to concede Rooney was the best striker he had faced in his career. Soon, Mario Gomez would trod on his foot at the Allianz, and Manchester United’s season threatened to fall into pieces. Arjen Robben played spoilsport in the second leg, as an injured Rooney was taken off for John O’Shea. Rooney’s most prolific campaign till date, which had seen him smash 34 goals in 44 appearances, eventually ended in disappointment as United conceded the little to Chelsea on goal difference.

Off-field issues affected Rooney’s game heading into the World Cup in 2010, and a wretched showing from arguably the world’s best center forward at that point resulted in Capello’s team crashing out at the first knock out hurdle against bitter rivals Germany, Rooney’s biggest contribution at the Cup proving to be lambasting the England fans on camera after a drab goalless draw against Algeria, of all nations. So, while it was that horrendous tackle from Paulo Ferreira that curtailed his contribution in Germany in 2006, it was a sequence of off-field issues, including Rooney’s dislike of England’s Rustenburg training base, that ensured the star striker flopped for the second consecutive time at the biggest stage. It is these World Cup flops that have most damaged Wayne Rooney’s chances of being labelled in the same league as Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo as the best of his generation. There’s little doubt that Messi and Ronaldo are the very best, but neither have taken the World Cup by storm. Rooney undoubtedly has the talent to join Messi and Ronaldo on that elite platform at the doorstep of football utopia. It is the desire and drive that remains in question.

Wayne Rooney will know very well that the World Cup in Brazil remains his last chance to shine in a major international tournament while he is still at his peak. There are still many who doubt that Rooney is world-class quality. There is only one man who can prove them wrong. For England’s sake, let’s hope Roy Hodgson doesn’t stick him in a 4-4-2 and ask him to run the channels. Here is a lad who just loves to play football, and is mighty good at it. England needs a smiling Rooney at the top of his game, not the frustrated figure he cut in previous major tournaments. Rooney’s career has been about continual reinvention in the face of setbacks – it is time now for one last roll of the dice.

Written by Dinesh V

Co-founder of Soccersouls. Living a start-up life 24/7
Follow @dineshintwit

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