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Manchester United

No longer the White Pele. Just the Devil in Red.

Wayne Rooney. Liverpool born, but playing for Manchester United. The talisman for his country, but also one of the most hated. A man who will get banned for swearing into a camera, but also a man that organizations will be willing to go through all obstacles for to let him play just one game. Wayne Rooney is a Manchester United player, and all the things above make him that. Everyone have their own opinion of him, from being a money-chasing ego with the first touch of a elephant, to being a gift from the footballing Gods, rescuing his team at every opportunity given to him. Call him what you want, but with 160 goals for United, countless of them crucial, he has written his name into the history books of Manchester United. Calling him a legend may be taking it too far, but he is not far from reaching that summit either.

This is Wayne’s 8th season in a Manchester United shirt, which seem unbelievable. At the age of 26, it seems like he has been here forever, and he still looks like a young lad. He has had some great seasons since arriving at United in 2004, none more memorable than his 34-goal season in 2009/10. Despite starting this season in amazing form, scoring 9 goals in his first 5 games, Rooney had had to face heavy criticism. He has had trouble with injuries, and a spell in midfield has not helped him either. People talk about what position fits him the best, and which strike partner brings out his inner beast. Pundits seem to think Rooney has a future in midfield, but it is hard to see. Placing him there removes his biggest assets, which is his directness and determination. He is a good passer, but he is far from elegant enough to be a playmaker and ghost past oppositions. It just is not Wayne. He is not your ordinary striker either, as his main strengths rely outside, and on the edge of the box. It is hard to give him a position, as his strengths differ from any footballer you are going to see. He himself has said that he will be happy to play wherever on the pitch, as long as he is playing, but is that really true? As an attacking force he is vital, but his mindset and courage makes him play all over the pitch. We are seeing a very different Wayne to who joined our club at the raw age of 18. So, exactly who is Wayne Rooney?

Despite having his best ever goal tally in 2010, playing as a lone striker, it was not the Rooney we are used to see. All his 34 goals came inside the box, 25 of them with his first touch. Using his brain to get into clever positions has always been a part of Wayne, but never his main asset. It seemed to hinder the rest of his game. Despite looking like the best striker in the world, he did not seem to relish the fact that he was our sole threat up front. Whether it was because he could not handle the pressure or just because he does not think of himself that highly is up for discussion, but he never looked fulfilled as a player. In his first 5 years at United he had been more of a supplier for the likes of Ruud, Saha, Tevez, and Ronaldo, and despite the latter’s departure bringing out the true goalscorer in him, he seemed more static and reduced. Of course, every striker gains confidence from scoring goals, but Wayne has always been one to score in spells. In 2008 he got 10 goals in 9 games for club and country, and in 2006 he scored 8 in 9 for United. Even in his amazing 2009/10 season, it was a spell of 21 goals between January and March that got him his breathtaking amount of goals. As for success on the pitch, United only won the Carling Cup that season thanks to a Wayne Rooney header in the final. His ankle problem ruined a lot for United against Bayern and Chelsea that season, but then Rooney had also been injured for the Champions League semi-final against Barcelona in 2008 without it making much of a difference. Of course we had blind linesmen and injuries forcing us to play a defence consisting of Carrick and Fletcher, but overall it was not an impressive season by United, and Rooney himself looked displeased.

His talk of ambition later that year kind of points this out. After a poor World Cup campaign, the blame was solely placed on young Wazza’s shoulders. He does not always perform when playing for England, and It may have to do with his pleasure. Being the main man in the National team does not really seem to make him happy, as Rooney always seems to do better when focus is put on other players. As a footballer earning £200,000 a week, fans have a right to question a player’s attitude if he seems to not care on the pitch. But he is a human being himself, and despite being someone who thrives on pressure he does not seem to enjoy the limelight. People like Beckham and Ronaldo relished being known, doing everything they could to enhance their reputation. But Wayne has always been a shy lad who seems to enjoy having big people around him, and his talk about ambition really makes you think. Other than Nani, this club does not have many match winners who could turn a game on its head in an instant. Not even Wazza can do that, and he knows. He is not the person to ghost past a whole team, or produce the kind of trick that makes the whole ground go wet. As soon as attention is switched to others, he gets more space, and it is then we see the real and joyful Wayne Rooney. Simply said, he needs someone else to be a star for him to shine brightly.

As a character, he is a Manchester United player. There are incidents during his career that point to exactly that. His determination to prove others wrong fits perfectly with the Manchester United attitude, and his need to prove things to himself is just as vital. Sometimes it can go a bit overboard, like when he kissed the United-badge in the middle of Goodison Park or applauded the referee for giving him a booking against Villareal. But more often than not, things like that bring out the best in him. In such a controversy ridden career, Wayne has experienced many setbacks. His hat-trick against West Ham, and winner away to Chelsea just 3 days after, came during a week when Wayne was being criticized for not performing and swearing at cameras. Before the 2009/10 season, people doubted whether he could take the next step and replace Ronaldo. He proved that he could, but there is one incident that stands out during that campaign which marks the change of Wayne. 27th December, 2009. United face Hull at the home of the Tigers, with Wayne Rooney giving the Red Devils a first half lead. But then suddenly in the second half, all hell breaks loose for Wayne. Standing close to the mid-circle with the ball at his feet, he decides to play it back to Kuszcack, but misjudges his pass. Hull get a penalty, and suddenly it is 1-1. As Wayne looks in horror as it all unfolds, hand on his heads and a distraught look on his face, something happens inside him. Wayne Rooney goes on to have one of his best games of the season, notching up two vital assists in a 3-1 win. Up to this point, Rooney had a disappointing campaign. Despite scoring 13 goals up to this point, rarely had he performed to a level demanded at United. 5 of his goals had been penalties, and after his hat-trick against Portsmouth SkySports said “It is the first time I have seen someone play so poorly but still score 3 goals”. After the Hull game, Rooney went on to score 21 goals in 3 months, with two headers against City and Villa giving United the Carling Cup.

Looking at stats from that season, it is interesting to see whether the claim that Rooney plays better as a lone striker is correct. He played 43 games that season, scoring 34 goals, and people will remember him as the lone front man, banging in goals. But was he best with a partner?

Lone Front Man With Berbatov/Owen
Games: 17 Games: 26
Goals: 13(5 pen) Goals: 21
Average 0,76 Average 0,81

The stats say otherwise. Rooney was more prolific when playing with a strike partner, although it must be said that he was still the player furthest up the pitch. Some people may point out that some of the games he played up front on his own were against Milan and Bayern, but then he scored 5 goals in the 4 games he played against them. He also played alone up front in both the games against Arsenal, scoring twice, as well as in three games against Manchester City, scoring once. Even in his most prolific season, Wayne Rooney performed better with a strike partner than when played on his own up front. It is good that he performs well in both positions though, as it gives our manager a great advantage.

When it comes to who his strike partner should be, the stats are quite intriguing. Despite not being in top form for the first 6 months, he did not play badly and missed many easy chances which affected his confidence. His penalty miss against Arsenal shows how low he must have been. Looking at his stats for last season, it seems obvious as to who his strike partner should be as the difference is huge.

With Berbatov With Chicharito(2011/12 season included)
Games: 19 Games: 21
Goals: 6(2 pen) Goals: 18(3 pen)
Average 0,32 Average 0,86

Despite being the popular choice for many fans, Rooney and Chicharito were not paired together until February 26th against Wigan at the DW Stadium. Rooney scored once in that game, with Chicharito hitting the net twice. Now let us look at how Rooney’s strike partners do when paired with him.

Berbatov with Rooney Chicharito with Rooney
Games: 19 Games: 21
Goals: 17 Goals: 12
Rooney assists: 4 Rooney assists: 4

Berbatov is the winner concerned goal-to-games ratio for his strike partner, but paired together the Rooney-Chicharito partnership produces more goals than when the Englishman plays with Berba. Do not forget that 11 of those 17 Berbatov goals came in just 3 matches as well.

Concerning positions on the pitch, it is obvious that for Rooney’s ego to remain intact he should not be played on his own up front. He is not much of an attacking midfielder either, as his technique and creativity lets him down in those areas. Rooney has played all different attacking roles for United during his 7 years here, from a lone front man, to a winger, even in midfield for the past few weeks. He may have it in him to be a midfielder a long way into the future, but I do not want to see that Wayne as he must have lost everything he is associated with. The Wayne Rooney we all love is powerful, direct, fearless, hard-working, and uncompromising. He is the complete package for a front man, as he consists pace, power, good finishing and a decent header of the ball (scoring 8 headers in a row in 2009/10), but to keep him happy you need him to play deeper. A deep lying forward with freedom to roam is where he excels, and when he has players around him that can steal his limelight, that is when he is at his best and most satisfied. Chicharito’s ability to drag people with him, opening up more space for others, is something which seems to suit Rooney’s playing style. Berbatov, trying to get others into play, is one who feeds from Rooney’s game but does not add much value to it. Whenever Wayne plays with Welbeck they seem to interchange positions a lot, with one coming deep to collect while the other focuses more on stretching the defence and opening up space for others. They take turn doing this, which makes our play more flexible. It is Chicharito that brings the best out of Rooney tough. His playing style adds a lot to Wayne’s game, as he seems better as the supplier rather than the main goal threat.

Rooney assists 2009/10: 6 Rooney assists 2010/11: 12
Goals from outside the area January 2008 – February 2011: 2
Goals from outside the area March 2011 – December 2011: 7

What we understand from the stats above is that Wayne spends way more time outside the penalty box with Chicharito around than he did before. This seems to be a tactical approach which suits Rooney, as his overall contribution grows bigger. One thing to notice is that, with Chicharito around, Wayne gets an awful lot of space. It is not like he plays in midfield, but he, along with the whole team, is dragged further and further up the pitch. Something to notice is the way Rooney has scored his goals. They are all very similar, in the sense that he always finds room just in front of the defenders. You look at his goals against Wolves, Chelsea and Bolton this season, along with Barca at Wembley and his second against West Ham last April, and they are all very similar in the sense that Wayne positions himself in the “rebound area”. Chicharito’s ability to drag defenders closer to goals really benefits Rooney as space on the edge of the 18-yard box becomes bigger. It is similar to the Rooney from 2004-2007, who’s game I based more on instinct than intelligence.

Players with most assists to Rooney since 2009
Nani: 12
Valencia: 9
Giggs: 8

The Wayne Rooney that arrived at Old Trafford in 2004 was one with great skill and confidence, but with little maturity. In the last 7 years we have seen a big transition, from the boy who wanted to dribble himself past a whole team to one who now tries to do the safe thing and play it 50 yards up the pitch instead. His determination is still there, but with a mature approach that was hard to imagine when you saw his early-age temperament.
The 2009/10 season was a breakthrough year for Wayne, not only in the sense of goalscoring, but on the fact that he managed to change his game from someone who relied so heavily on passion and teamwork to a grown man who focused on his brain rather than his feet to win a football match. But seemingly that will not keep him happy, as his love for football and courageous approach means that we are holding back a beast when he plays on his own up front. Despite having all the skill in the world to do it, the only way to keep him happy is to let him play football his way which is as a shining supplier. No longer a White Pele, but a Red Devil in all its might.

RedDevilEddy (@Eddy93Ram)