Wayne Rooney is a very special player. For anyone who has seen the newspapers of the last few days must have had a fair idea of Rooney’s achievement in the colours of the Three Lions. Ever since the plucky 16-year-old’s career skyrocketed with that goal against Arsenal, there has been no looking back.
Now England’s top scorer after eclipsing the record of 49 goals set by Manchester United legend Bobby Charlton, Rooney is no longer the flashy, fiery youngster but a more toned-down self with far bigger responsibilities on his shoulder than before. One of those is to lead his club out of a rut.
Manchester United’s predicaments in front of goal this season have been well-documented, and the fact Rooney is the club’s primary striker after the summer sales of Robin van Persie and Javier Hernandez means England’s top scorer has been shouldering much of the blame for his club’s travails.
United have scored only three goals in the league this season. One of those an own goal, another one from a player who is no longer at the club. Rooney has found it impossible thus far to find the back of the net, although he has a Champions League hat-trick against Club Brugge to boot.
Rooney has been rightly lauded and praised across all quarters for his superlative achievement for his country; even Lionel Messi joined the hail-Rooney bandwagon by quoting: “Wayne Rooney is for me a once in a generation player. One of those special players, who is not comparable to any other.”
But does his achievement in the England shirt matter for his club and their manager Louis van Gaal? Van Gaal is under pressure to bring back the free-flowing, cavalier football back at Old Trafford, and he couldn’t care less about the records Rooney breaks for his national team. As a United player this season, Rooney has been unable to meet the demands his club have placed upon him.
There was a sense of conviction in Van Gaal’s words when he said Rooney will be his ‘number 9’ this season; it felt as if Rooney will finally come into his own: playing up front, leading the line. It is true Rooney has been leading the line and playing up front this season, but the fact his goals have dried up doesn’t do justice to his reputation as England’s leading goalscorer.
It isn’t that Rooney is in his worst streak of his career; last season he went eight games without scoring. Add to that the fact he has scored in the Champions League and netted in both of England’s Euro 2016 qualifiers in September. But the longer he remains without a league goal, the more pressure he puts his team-mates under.
Of the current squad, Michael Carrick is the second highest scorer at the club after Rooney, a statistic which makes the departures of established strikers like Van Persie and Hernandez all the more baffling. As it stands, it is Rooney or bust for United and Van Gaal. Whether Rooney enjoys the added pressure remains to be seen, but his first league goal this season is long overdue.
The longer Rooney fails to score, the more pressure his club will be in. With European commitments to contend with this season, things couldn’t have been tighter and margins couldn’t have been finer for Van Gaal. And should the club captain fail to net the goals regularly this season starting this weekend against Liverpool, Rooney’s England record might turn out to be an unwanted celebration in a difficult season for the Red Devils.