Wayne Rooney had a good season for Manchester United, but it’s hard to define what role he plays for the team. Playing in the deep-lying forward role in United 4-4-1-1 system, he functions as both the main creator and a dangerous goal scorer, but that hasn’t always been his role. In 2011/2012, he was responsible for 35 goals and 4 assists. With these stats, many people think he’s a more dangerous goal scoring threat than creating, but that’d be a mistake. In 2010/2011, he struggled in the early half of the season, before making a good partnership playing behind Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez. In that season, he managed to score 11 goals and contributed another 11 assists, proving that he is as dangerous setting up goals for others as he is scoring them himself. In 2009/2010, he played a different role. He was the main goal scoring threat, scoring 26 goals as his club just missed out on the title.
It’s hard to define exactly what Wayne Rooney is. Many people have tried to define him, but his play at Manchester United has made it a difficult task. Some people try to define him as a classic ‘Number 10’, who’s main job is to create chances for others and playing deep into the midfield. Their ability as a direct goal scoring threat is reduced, as they are responsible for setting up their teammates with clever passing and link-up play. His play in the 2010/2011 season would fit well into this definition.
Others try to describe him as a classic ‘Number 9’, the front man for his side’s attack and the most dangerous goal scoring threat. With most teams playing only 1 striker, that is where you find the team’s ‘Number 9’. These players have some passing abilities, but their main skills are their shooting and ball-control. In 2009/2010, he played as almost a perfect ‘Number 9’. He frequently played alone up front in a 4-2-3-1, or alongside Dimitar Berbatov in a 4-4-2. When he played alongside Berbatov, he typically played as the more advanced striker while Berbatov played deeper as the more creative striker. This past season has made it hard to define what role Wayne Rooney plays, is he a ‘Number 10’ or is he a ‘Number 9’? Perhaps he is something in between.
Nine and a half-
In the last season and a half, Wayne Rooney has made the deep-lying forward position his own. Sir Alex Ferguson has made the 4-4-1-1 his dominate formation. Wayne Rooney plays as the deep-lying forward, with Javier Hernandez or Danny Welbeck working in front of him. This allows Rooney to drop deep into midfield, and spread the ball out to the striker and wingers in front of him, while also remaining an extremely dangerous scoring threat himself. He’s able to be both a creator, and scorer.
Rooney plays a ‘Number 10’ extremely well. He is good with the ball at his feet, and he’s able to play quality short passes. In addition, he has a great tactical sense to pick out the right pass to create openings for others. The only problem is, his goal scoring abilities go to waste as a straight ‘Number 10’. In addition, he’s equally skilled as a ‘Number 9’. He’s got a lethal shot, and the strength and agility to work against defenders in the box. But, again, the problem is that his creative abilities go to waste as a straight ‘Number 9’.
Wayne Rooney is equally dangerous as a goal scorer, and a creator, making it hard to classify him. He is too complete a player to be classified as either a ‘Number 9’ or a ‘Number 10’, which leads him to be classified as something extremely rare: a ‘Nine and a half’.
Wayne Rooney isn’t the first player to be thought of as a ‘Nine and a half’. Marco Van Basten is one of the most common examples, but there are few players who have the skills and abilities to play this role. It’s hard to find a player that can both create chances for others, while also retaining a dangerous goal scoring threat. While these players are extremely rare to come across, they have become slightly more common now. With Dutch ‘Total Football’, and the playing style of the current Barcelona and Spanish National team, players are required to have better all-around skills. They are no longer allowed to just specialize on one typical playing style. Robbie Fowler is an ideal example. He was a dominate goal scorer. He didn’t have good pace, or speed, or agility, or ball control, but he could put the ball in the net. This type of player is no longer used, as Fowler is only 37 and last played for a team in Thailand.
The trend now is towards more complete forwards, in the mould of Wayne Rooney, Carlos Tevez, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Lionel Messi. They all qualify as ‘Nine and a half’s, as well as being world class strikers. They are great goal scoring players, but they are also creative threats. Their creative abilities are great, and that makes them extremely valuable. Having the creativity, vision, passing ability, and tactical awareness necessary to create goal-scoring chances for their teammates, as well as being top notch strikers, makes them the key to their teams attack.
Playing a Nine and a half-
Teams struggle against a ‘Nine and a half’ for many reasons. The main advantage that ‘Nine and a half’s have is how versatile they are, and Wayne Rooney is a perfect example of this. In 2011/2012, he played as the lone striker up front, the deep-lying forward behind the main striker, the left-winger, and as a central midfielder. They are hard to shut down for the defense due to their variety of abilities, and it causes the defense many problems.
Try comparing a ‘Nine and a Half’, like Wayne Rooney, against a typical striker such as Demba Ba. Ba is a potent scoring threat with his strength, and size, and shooting skills inside the box. He can cause any defenses some serious problems, as he showed most of last season for Newcastle United. The first line of defense against a player like this is to play deep defensive line, in an effort to prevent him from getting room to play in behind your defense. You also mark him closely, in the hope that he will have to drop deeper to get the ball.
While this type of defense will do well to minimize the scoring chances for a typical striker such as Demba Ba, it wouldn’t work against a ‘Nine and a half’ like Wayne Rooney. By playing a deep defensive line, you give Rooney space deep to collect the ball and play passes to the wingers coming in. Rooney is as comfortable, and dangerous, playing with the ball from 35 yards out as he is from inside the box. This causes the defense serious problems.
A ‘Nine and a half’ is able to play a variety of positions, and offers a threat in both a chance creation role and a goal scoring role. When playing with an additional ‘Number 10’ or ‘Number 9’, this player causes the defense many problems. A good example of this was at the end of the 2011/2012 season, when Manchester City would have Carlos Tevez play as the deep-lying forward and he was supported by a dangerous ‘Number 9’ threat, Sergio Aguero. Teams had problems closing down the goal scoring threat that both Aguero and Tevez presented, while also dealing with Tevez’ ability to create chances for team-mates.
An interesting setup will be in this upcoming season for Manchester United, as it is expected at some times that Wayne Rooney will play as the lone-striker in front of Shinji Kagawa. How much better will United’s offense operate with two capable creators, while Rooney is also playing closer to the goal to present a more dangerous goal scoring threat? In this past season, Rooney was counted on as the only creative force for most games. Rooney is one of the best examples of a ‘Nine and a half’, and this season should give him plenty of opportunity to show this. He’ll have chances to play as a lone-striker up front in front of Kagawa, or playing a deeper role with Danny Welbeck or Javier Hernandez in front of him. His skills allow him to play both positions extremely well. He’s able to present just as dangerous a scoring threat, and a creative outlet, in both positions which makes it extremely difficult for teams to deal with.
By RangeRooney Follow @RangeRooney
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