Manchester United: Wayne Rooney Report Card for 2012

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Manchester United: Wayne Rooney Report Card for 2012
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Wayne Rooney 2012 Fans' Player of the Year

Today is an unfortunate day to be writing the 2012 report card for Manchester United's Wayne Rooney after yesterday's disappointing performance.

Last week he looked back to his best but couldn't hit a barn door. This week he probably couldn't pass water, let alone the ball.

One thing has become clear, however, in 2012 and it is that Wayne will arguably be Manchester United's key player for at least the next five years, whether or not Sir Alex Ferguson retires.

One of the reasons is because he is likely to progressively move towards a midfield role. Some people seem to have forgotten that Paul Scholes started his career mainly as a No. 10 with a penchant for scoring goals. He then progressively played deeper as he got older.

For at least three years people have been talking about Scholes retiring. The obvious sequitur, then, is who's going to be the new Paul Scholes. Which is a bit like saying who's going to be the new Nelson Mandela.

The answer is that there never can be. At the end of the day, when you look at the success that Sir Alex has achieved, the fundamental consistent factor has been teamwork.

As City have shown at times, you can fill a squad with talent but if they don't gel as a team you won't get their potential from them. And its always about building for the long term as well as this season and the next.

Sir Alex was planning for the future when he bought Wayne Rooney and if the manager has his way he would spend the rest of his career at Old Trafford.

That in itself makes him pivotal. He polarises opinions among football supporters, especially for England. But in his own way he is every bit as significant for United now as Scholes has been in the past.

Claudio Villa/Getty Images
Wesley Sneijder

So then if it is suggested he could play as a creative midfielder, some people see that as a stop-gap and say they should be buying somebody else. No doubt Sir Alex probably once saw Wesley Sneijder as a Scholes replacement, but he never arrived.

And when there are suggestions that Lewandowski will arrive next summer, people ask why United need a fifth striker. They don't, but if he did arrive can you imagine the power of having Robin van Persie and Robert Lewandowski ahead of Rooney?

Going forward from now, therefore, we should be judging Wayne Rooney on the following criteria: his age, seniority, experience and the array of competencies he can bring to the team.

We have also previously suggested that he might be a future United captain. That is one reason why he will sometimes be put under a harsh microscope as he was yesterday. 

Like Paul Scholes, Wayne Rooney may well be the best English player of his generation. It is not unreasonable to expect great things of him; nor to be objectively critical of him from time to time.

There seems no doubt that both Sir Alex and Wayne himself will be no less critical. Although he has occasionally let himself down with his extra-curricular behaviour, he almost certainly sets himself the highest standards on the football pitch.

Claudio Villa/Getty Images
Cristiano Ronaldo

It is a pity that Wayne is playing in the same era as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Like David Beckham before him, Wayne and indeed Cristiano can be tireless in practice.

Sir Alex has talked in the past of Wayne being at the training ground gates waiting to be let in. He has frequently alluded to him wanting to play every minute of every game.

So it is fair to review Wayne against the highest footballing standards, because in another era he could have been world footballer of the year.

Sir Alex has often also referred to strikers peaking in their late 20s. Wayne has been playing in the Premier League for over ten years now. He has extraordinary experience for a 27-year-old. He is a consummate goalscorer and can turn a game on a sixpence when he is on song.

So what has 2012 been like for Wayne?

 

Wayne's world

People get exasperated when footballers on £200,000 a week or more complain about intrusion into their privacy. It somehow doesn't seem reasonable to them if the media is full of their infidelity or whatever.

And it is fair to say that the media is far more intrusive in the UK than almost any other country on the planet.

The tabloid press in particular seems to delight in putting top sports people on a pedestal only to smash them off at the first available opportunity.

Among non-footballing sports fans and indeed the British public in general, Wayne Rooney is the one person most people seem to hate above all. They also characterise him as "thick," when in fact he is intelligent and articulate. He is certainly an intelligent footballer.

Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
Wayne before the new arrival...his hair transplant...

From a family perspective 2012 has been a very significant year for Wayne. He seems to have settled happily into fatherhood and the responsibilities that brings. This year his Christmas will be celebrated by the news that Coleen is expecting a second son next May.

That added responsibility is no bad thing for Wayne as he plans for growing demands at his football club. With Fletcher's condition still needing careful management, Wayne seems a strong candidate to succeed Nemanja Vidic as captain in due course.

Irrespective of that, he is now one of the most senior players, by virtue of both his age and experience. He has been at United for eight years. As Scholes, Giggs, Ferdinand and then Evra, Vidic and Carrick retire or move on in the next few years, Rooney must come to the fore more and more.

It is often said that you need more than one leader on the pitch. While Vidic is captain, David de Gea needs to boss his penalty area and other players need to motivate the team all across the pitch. In the modern era, self-leadership and "emotional intelligence" are the watchwords in a team environment.

Rooney is one of the more vocal of the players in the squad. He also has the technical ability and physical presence to drive the team forward. How many times have we seen him selflessly and tirelessly driving the attack one minute and the next moment back reinforcing the defence?

This is just one reason why he should end up in midfield

He recognises that himself and relishes the challenge. One thing you may have noticed in 2012, for example, is how many more "Scholes-like" passes he attempts.

Jasper Juinen/Getty Images
Wayne and mentor

As we have alluded to above, unfortunately Wayne occasionally lets himself and his team-mates down. We're not just talking about an "off-day" like yesterday or last Saturday. We're talking about him being grossly unfit well after the season started.

Last season, Sir Alex had to send him to the Nike centre in the U.S. for a week because he was so badly out of condition. The manager occasionally makes excuses for him, implying that he will always have problems because of his physique.

What is he implying, that Wayne would go to lard if he didn't train violently all the time? However he is heavier than Grant Holt, for example, at 82.5kg. Compare that to Shinji Kagawa at 62kg or even David de Gea at 76kg. Ryan Giggs is an inch taller than Wayne but 10 kilos lighter.

It does somehow seem that he has more difficulty than some of his team-mates in achieving and sustaining peak fitness. Mind you, it could be fairly said that Robin van Persie wasn't fully fit until well into the season, after his hiatus in the summer while his future was sorted out between Wenger and Ferguson.

It's an acknowledged fact that, whether after the summer break or an injury lay-off, professional footballers can take weeks to get back to match fitness. Otherwise they run the risk of injuring themselves with the pace of the modern game.

So Wayne has, occasionally this year, let himself down by not being fully fit. You can see it in his face. Earlier this season he was sweating profusely, blowing and looking distinctly "jowly."

 

Footballing performance

Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Batman and Robin

At least he is fit now, and despite yesterday's hiccup, his partnership with Robin van Persie is beginning to thrive.

Wayne will always score goals and all strikers go through occasional droughts. Despite Wayne playing deeper than in the year after Cristiano Ronaldo left, for example, it is not unreasonable for Sir Alex to expect at least 20 a season from him.

Last season, with Hernandez and Welbeck still developing, he scored 34 in all competitions, which matched the post CR7 season. This season he has eight goals from 19 matches.

Leaving aside Buttner, who has only had one start, Rooney is United's second most effective player this season, behind van Persie. Rooney has seven goals and seven assists and between them the pair have 19 and 14 in the Premier League alone in just 18 matches.

However as another website shows, his performances have been inconsistent and that is what will continue to frustrate supporters from time to time.

Michael Regan/Getty Images
RVP Carrick Rooney

As you can see Michael Carrick, who is the most consistent and Robin van Persie the second best, put in much more consistency than Rooney.

One of the other things people still say about Rooney is that he's a dirty player. Once again the statistics show a different picture. In 2011/12 he went 35 straight games without being carded and had only two yellow cards the whole season. He hasn't had a red card for United in more than three and a half years.

 

In conclusion

Because of his ability and notoriety, Rooney will always attract both praise and criticism. Not surprising when he may be on as much as £300,000 a week.

He may not have always been consistent this year but he will always be taken seriously by opposing coaches. Let's assume that his misses last week and his woeful passing yesterday were a temporary aberration.

He may have more of a fight as his years advance to retain his basic fitness but there is no denying his commitment and determination. OK, so he finally got fit this season, but how much of that is down to his manager?

Jasper Juinen/Getty Images
The original Ronaldo

It was a tragedy towards the end of the original Ronaldo to see him lose his fight with the flab. Let's hope our Wayne continues to win that particular battle. He can't afford ever again to start a season unfit. It's an insult to his team-mates and the fans to whom he owes a debt after he previously threatened to leave.

There is absolutely no reason why in 2013 he cannot be Manchester United's key player, whether or not he finishes up in midfield.

To cap his year of 2012, however, he was voted number one player in the Premier League by a Barclays global poll, receiving 20% of the votes.

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