What’s wrong with Rooney?

He hasn’t scored for Manchester United in the Champions League since September 2004. He hasn’t scored for England in a competitive match since Euro 2004.

The tongues are wagging – what’s wrong with Wayne Rooney?

On the surface, there isn’t much wrong. If you watch his game closely you’d realise that he’s putting in lot of effort and is still the same player, more or less, that he was 3 years ago. Critics have pointed to his temper and poor attitude, but harsh temper is not Rooney’s domain solely, and there are (and have been) plenty of hot-headed, talented players.

The second claim is that Rooney is being ‘found out’ at the top level – that he cannot score against quality opposition because he lacks the technical skills to do so. That, fortunately for Manchester United, is not true either – Rooney’s talents are obvious to anyone who has watched him playing for Manchester United. Where Rooney may lack is in the ball skills, shooting accuracy and trickery that Ronaldo has, but he makes up for it by matching him for pace, an amazing ability to keep the ball and a never-say-die attitude that often gives him the extra edge against the opposition.

So what really is wrong with Rooney? Why can’t he score for England? And why can’t he score for Manchester United in the Champions League, or put 20-30 goals away in a season?

Sidenote: Azar and I have a bet on Rooney scoring 30+ goals in a single Prem season in his career – Azar says he can’t do it, I’m pretty sure he can. The stakes? 🙂

I’d like to hear your thoughts on why Rooney isn’t scoring freely, but I have a few ideas of my own as well that I’d like to put forward:

Plays too deep

Because of his ball-winning abilities, Wayne Rooney has been unfairly pigeon-holed as a support striker. It’s a role that he plays well because he can hold the ball up and lay it forward for the front man to score, but it’s a waste of his talents – it denies him use of his pace and shooting skills, which are absolutely phenomenal if he’s given the chance.

Rooney has consistently been paired up with hit men whose job is to sit up front and wait for the final ball (Ruud van Nistelrooy for Manchester United and Michael Owen for England). When Ruud moved on and Saha took his place at United, Rooney was again pushed into the second striker role. The fact that United have survived Saha’s profligacy and that Saha has scored so many goals is testament to the sheer volume of chances United have created.

For England, Crouch and Defoe are often pushed into the front man role, leaving Rooney behind to “link up” play. It’s an embarrassment for a finisher of Rooney’s ability to be playing as a shadow striker, especially when the midfield lacks the quality to bring the ball forward and wing-play is non-existant (talking about England).

Expectations are too high

Great things were expected from Rooney when he broke through, with most people not realising that they were asking too much from him to score 30+ goals a season from the start. Those expectations, coupled with unfair comparisons with Ronaldo (Ronaldo truly has had a remarkable, unheralded season), mean that quite often Rooney is criticised for failing to live up to unrealistic expectations.

Just excuses?

Some might say that the above reasons are just excuses that take away from the reality that Rooney doesn’t have what it takes. To that, I’ll just say this – Rooney has talent, yes, but he also has to prove it. It’s up to him to prove himself, and its up to Alex Ferguson and Steve McClaren to help him get there.

Personally, I think that Rooney needs more time, and a more forward role, to really succeed. As long as he is pushed out left (as he often is in the Champions League) or back in midfield as the second striker (as he is for England and for Manchester United when Saha or Ole is playing), he’s not going to score as many goals.

And Rooney will always be judged by the number of goals he scores. No one will look at the amazing, picture-perfect crosses he floats in from the left wing, or the audacious chips he plays for his goals. It’s the goals counter that matters, and for that Rooney has to play the lead striker.

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