Wayne Rooney is out for four weeks with a nasty chunk taken out of his left leg – news that would have been a body blow to United fans just a matter of months ago. With the arrival of Robin Van Persie, Shinji Kagawa however, along with Rooney’s own middling form and fitness issues, its been suggested that this early lay-off could well be a positive for both the Englishman and Manchester United’s season.
When he first burst onto the scene in 2002, the Croxteth wonderkid looked to be one of the most explosive talents around. His play style was electric and immediate, full of enthusiasm, energy and prodigious skill. He was raw, unpredictable and at times unplayable; running, nay, charging at opponents and loose balls with equal aplomb.
After ten seasons of senior top-flight football, the player Rooney has become is a something of a disappointment to those whose hopes were built on those early, breakthrough season. They remember his goal that slayed Arsenal’s Invincibles while still at Everton; his Champions League debut against Fenerbache; and his integral role in Manchester United’s 5-2 comeback against Tottenham Hotspur and the 7-1 demolition of AS Roma. He may have won four league titles, three cups and a Champions League with Manchester United, but along the way – playing as a support striker, target man, attacking midfielder and utility forward – something seems to have been lost. At times he looks jaded, constrained – perhaps even disinterested – rather than voracious and unbound.
Excuses for his poor form have ranged from claims that the forward is a slow starter, a purple patch player – that Rooney is hindered by the lack of other world-class players in the team and often takes on too much work to the detriment of his own performances. He regularly looks off the pace and worryingly rusty, with a shocking first touch that seems to deteriorate within a matter of weeks. His showings in recent summer international tournaments have been more reminiscent of a bloated former pro playing his first competitive game after a long retirement than of a supposedly top level player returning to action after a month off.
Is this the dulling effects of maturity, the death of Rooney’s enthusiasm or the repercussions of an unsustainable lifestyle off the pitch?
The answer is probably a combination of all three, especially considering that as United’s marquee player up until this summer, Rooney appeared to be undroppable – a situation bound to breed complacency.
With Van Persie’s shock arrival, Kagawa’s instant integration and the continued improvement of Danny Welbeck, Sir Alex Ferguson no longer needs to rely on the former Evertonian to be the team’s match winner regardless of form.
Against Everton, Rooney looked unable to work at the level demanded by the inter-play and technique of his peers. Cleverley and co appeared to glide past him as if he was struggling through an early morning shift, dazed with a hangover. His cameo on Saturday was better but still below-par. The degeneration and blunting of his abilities during the off-season is maddening and frustrating – imagine if he took care of himself like Giggs and the reduced amount of down time required at the start of each season to shed the pounds and snap him out of his malaise.
Rooney needs to cut the burgers, booze and fags and find his hunger and appetite on the pitch rather than off it. Regaining his position within the team will be a struggle. It’s time to enjoy the view from the stands and take stock of the selection battle ahead.
Will some time out and serious competition for playing time reinvigorate Wayne Rooney?