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The Wayne Rooney Debate

In an attempt to move on from the Ronaldo saga, I want to go back to the topic that was getting most “blog inches” (if that’s a phrase) before we descended into the current quagmire. What’s the deal with Wayne Rooney?

I’ve tried to phrase that as openly as possible, because the spectrum of opinion is broad. To some, Rooney is a maestro who had a bad season. To others, he’s a good player who hasn’t quite lived up to his billing or his potential. I know that after a sub-par performance in the CL final, most of you were leaning towards the latter — decent player, great to have him in the side, but not as stand-out amazing as we had hoped. I disagree, and here’s my take on things.

The ultimate team player

Rooney, to me, is team spirit embodied. There are two things that make him enjoy his football — playing in the team, and the team winning. Contrast to Ronaldo, who (whatever he said in post-match interviews) is all about his own performance first, and the team second. He will play wherever he is asked to, for as long as he is asked to, without sulking or whining. The only time you’ll find him sulking is if he is substituted when he still feels he has something to offer the team.

This stat doesn’t show up in any tables. It’s not quantifiable in assists, tackles, metres run, shots on target, or any other stat. It just is — he is prepared to subjugate his own desires and achievements for the good of the team, and has done so from the moment he walked in the door.

That’s why he’ll be at United for life, driving the team forward long after any of our continental imports have moved on. And if you don’t appreciate him for that, especially after the hullaballoo of the last few weeks, then you should damn well start.

Out of position

This is a subset of the above, but the most important one. Let there be no doubt, Rooney’s best position is just off the front man, with a roaming brief. He should be allowed to drop off into midfield to pick up the ball, or move out onto either wing when he sees space, or to push past the front man when he sees an opportunity. Teams should (Fabio Capello take note) be built around him.

But at Old Trafford, for one reason and another, they haven’t been. Last season’s team was as close as I’ve ever seen Fergie go to building the team around a single player — admittedly it was around one of the best players we’ve ever seen playing at the peak of his powers — but it usually doesn’t work like that. Prior to that, Ruud was the key man, and Rooney had to play second fiddle.

Set against that, look at where Rooney played last season:

1. up top, as a lone striker — he’s not tall enough for that role, and does his best work facing goal. Still, he worked hard and made life as tough a possible for defences, in turn creating spaces and gaps for a certain other player.

2. on the left — often he and Tevez alternated, but it was clear that they should be where Ronaldo was not, thereby stretching defences as much as possible.

3. as a wing back — remember the first Barcelona game? I don’t know of many other players of Rooney’s status and talent who would not only accept that role but really take to it.

There was only a short period where he played as part of a traditional front two, and if you buy a season review DVD (which I am currently glorying in) you will remember some of the sublime interplay between Rooney and Tevez through the centre.

Finishing

Another criticism levelled against Rooney is that he doesn’t score enough goals. Well, I agree that his finishing isn’t as lethal as it could be — certainly not good enough to be our main striker. But then who said he was our main striker? He certainly hasn’t been very often yet. Nor does he loiter around the six yard box for tap ins, and he isn’t even in the area for corners.

Rooney should be compared, in the grand scheme of things, to the likes of Cantona and Sheringham. That’s the sort of player he is. Le God never banged in 40 goals in a season, but he scored crucial goals in crucial games, went on hot streaks, and had that aura which generally improved the performance of everyone around him. Sheringham was the ultimate dictator-from-deep, gaining a yard with his brain rather than his pace, and chipping in with occasional but important goals. There are even shades of the strength and combative nature of Mark Hughes, with the same ability to score stunning goals from distance.

I am honestly not exaggerating when I say that Rooney has the best bits of all these legends rolled into one, and so to judge him on the number of goals he has scored alone is laughable. How dare anyone condense the contribution of one of our best team players into an analysis of the most crude stat? Most people here know more about football than that, and should know better.

Loyalty

I’ll keep this short, because I’ve covered it in a previous article. Rooney is even more valuable to us because he will be with us for the rest of his career, unless we choose to sell him. There’s a good reason why British players come at a premium (Carrick for £18m, Rooney for £25m, Rio for £30m) — that’s because if you’re United, you’re buying that guy with a view to keeping him until he retires. I was variously called narrow-minded and a racist back then, but I reckon a few more people see my point now.

Nowhere in the various Ronaldo threads have I seen the comment “don’t worry, we have Rooney”. Well, I’m making it now. Build a team around Rooney, and we won’t regret it.