A time machine would come in handy right about now, wouldn’t it?
If such technological wonders were available, it would be ideal to rewind to say, a little more than six months ago.
At that time, Wayne Rooney was in the form of his life, and United were well-positioned to take home multiple trophies once again.
Then came an ankle injury that started an avalanche. Since Rooney went down in the waning moments in Munich on March 30, nothing has been the same for Rooney or for United.
A week later, United were out of the Champions League and to boot, Chelsea had come into Old Trafford and left with an advantage in the title race that they wouldn’t relinquish. And after scoring 34 goals in his first 40 appearances and looking every bit like threatening the 40-goal mark, a hobbled Rooney failed to hit the mark in four post-Munich appearances.
There was still a World Cup to look forward to, but after Rooney had been built up to the stratosphere as the man who could lead England to glory in South Africa, he and England promptly fell flat.
And instead of weathering the firestorm of criticism and avoiding talk of a World Cup hangover with a fast start, the new season has only brought negative headlines for Rooney. Not only has he been unable to find his form, but his struggles on the pitch have only been highlighted all the more by alleged indiscretions off of it.
After the 2-2 draw at Bolton, Sir Alex stated that Rooney had picked up an ankle injury that would keep him out for a few weeks. Now, the validity of the news was instantly a question mark, but valid or not, the timing, with an international break coming up, was perfect. Let Rooney have some non-football time and let him come back reffeshed and ready to go.
Alas, instead of sitting these last couple of weeks, Rooney played – and once again, with minimal impact – in England’s goalless draw with Montenegro on Tuesday.
Now, in the midst of preparing for West Brom’s weekend visit, we have our latest twist, which involves Rooney coming out and telling us what we knew already – that he, in fact, had no ankle injury to speak of.
And in saying such, no matter the intent, the comments will be portrayed as him branding his boss a liar. Oh. No. He. Didn’t.
So then, what now that the can of worms has apparently been opened?
To be honest, I’ve attempted to avoid this whole mess like the plague, quietly hoping that Rooney would just start scoring and divert everyone’s attention back to his scoring prowess on the pitch. But as he has continued to misfire, the whole…kerfuffle has become The Story That Just Won’t Go Away, it’s now become unavoidable.
Should Fergie have been up front and confronted the issue of Rooney’s mental unfitness instead of chalking it up to physical unfitness?
If he said it with the intent to pull one over on the masses, it wasn’t ever going to work. Not with the press, and certainly not with the supporters.
But it’s an unenviable position to be in as a manager of a coach when you have to openly deal with your most important and most recognizable player’s loss of form, but when you add in supposed self-made turmoil in his personal life, it only puts you in even more of a corner.
All the media boycotts and utterances of ‘no comment’ and ‘next question’ will only do so much when dealing with The Story That Just Won’t Go Away, and venturing to comment in one direction or another is often a lose-lose situation.
There’s something to be said for trying to protect his player and protect his trust, for being exasperated about having to repatedly deal with something publicly that you have no doubt have privately, and for hoping that he’d take his rest, come back, do what he’s paid to do, and the storm would subside.
So while it’d have been ideal for Fergie to speak the truth for better or worse, it’s easy to understand why he took that route to try to nip it.
But if there is someone who needs to make admissions about what is and what isn’t – and more to himself than to the media, to us – it’s #10 himself. And from all that it appears, he isn’t quite ready to confront the fact that his head isn’t the right place, that he isn’t playing remotely near the level he should, and that if anything, he should welcome rest.
One can only imagine the kind of pressure there is to be Wayne Rooney, with the expectations that have been heaped upon him since he was a teen and the scrutiny that every move he makes on and off the pitch garners. It’s a lot to handle, and to be able to drown it out is no small feat.
Often enough for athletes of his stature, the field, the court, the pitch, the course is they can drown life out, but there are times when it’s the last place they need to be, and honestly, that has been the case for Rooney recently.
And the role that the media plays in perpetuating and exacerbating these kinds of situations isn’t minimal, but my full opinions on that are for another time and another piece.
But knowing the position he’s in, he has to think about the gravity of his actions and decisions, because not only do they affect him, they affect his employer, they affect those who look up to him and spend hard-earned money to watch him and expect to get that 100% effort that’s been a hallmark of his game, and more than anything, they affect his family.
Is is time to be concerned about his future at United? Frankly, the last thing he needs to be thinking about is ironing out the specifics of a new contract, so I’m not reading anything into rumors about contract negotiations stalling.
And if there is any sort of rift between he and the manager and anyremote delusions that he’d be better off somewhere else, it would be wise for him to think where he would be without the guidance that Fergie has no doubt provided, with the patience and care he’s had in helping him grow as a player and as a person, to deal with his temperament, to take him from promising youngster to superstar.
It goes without saying that the sooner this is all in yesterday’s papers, the better. And no, it’s not just about him being able to recapture the scoring touch that we know is in there somewhere, but for both he and United, that’d be a nice place to start.
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