Manchester United: Why the Decline of Wayne Rooney Is a Complete Myth

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Manchester United: Why the Decline of Wayne Rooney Is a Complete Myth
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Manchester United's title-clinching 3-0 win over Aston Villa was a near-perfect allegory of the club's season.

The Red Devils were ruthless, punishing their opponents' sloppy play and forging ahead to an insurmountable lead. Sir Alex Ferguson and Co. may have started spraying the champagne in the dressing room at half-time.

This has been Robin van Persie's season, and Monday night was his as well.

As the game approached its end, Wayne Rooney was subbed. His assist for Van Persie's second was magnificent, but his influence on the game was ultimately overshadowed by his teammate's hat-trick.

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

He trudged off the field disconsolate, frustrated not to play the full 90 minutes.

His reaction provoked yet more ink in the British dailies, with critics capitalising on the moment to portray near-apocalyptic doom and gloom at Old Trafford.

Martin Samuel of the Daily Mail wrote:

"Rooney is not the same player as he was at the start of the season, not the same player as in previous campaigns.

He could need a break, a change, a fresh start. Perhaps Paris Saint-Germain can provide it."

Here's why Mr. Samuel and the countless others who have claimed the forward is in decline are wrong.

 

Undiminished Quality

Robin van Persie's debut season at Old Trafford this term has been sensational—perhaps even eclipsing Eric Cantona's first year in a United shirt.

Following the Villa win, Sir Alex said, "In terms of impact, Robin has made as big an impact as any player I can imagine" (via The Telegraph).

"Cantona made an incredible impact as a player here and I’ve had some great strikers, but van Persie has been unbelievable and I think that he has to take a lot of the credit [for the title]."

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

For the past four years, it's Rooney who has been United's No.1 wrecking ball—the man whose peaks and troughs of form coincided with the team's fortunes.

If Wayne played well, the Red Devils played well. Cristiano Ronaldo's departure in 2009 put this burden on the forward, but it was one he seemed to relish.

He is one of the elite strikers in world football—a season playing in midfield has not changed that fact.

His attacking qualities are unquestioned, but this term he has been asked to showcase his more creative side.

Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

In perspective, it seems a tad unfair that he was shifted into an attacking midfield role in the peak of his career just to accommodate van Persie, but his pure desire to win and his team spirit made the transition possible.

His passing—as witnessed around the 12-minute mark on Monday—can be almost Paul Scholes-esque in its pinpoint accuracy.

It's clear he's been taking lessons from the ginger wizard.

He may have off games—take the 2-2 draw with West Ham last week, for example—but no player is perfect, especially one still adapting to a change of position.

There isn't a Manchester United player who hasn't had a few stinkers this season.

 

The Numbers

Last season Wayne Rooney scored a tremendous 34 goals in 44 appearances in all competitions—to date, Van Persie has scored six less goals in the same number of games.

Nothing, in my mind, has changed since then in terms of his abilities as a pure finisher in front of goal. His strike against Norwich City showed that he can still hit the ball with as much venom as the best of them.

He has scored 12 times in the Premier League this term, one more than he did in the 2010/11 season, and in fewer games.

Rooney has also provided his teammates with 10 assists in England's top flight, second overall behind Chelsea's Juan Mata (12).

But the Spaniard has scored two fewer goals than Rooney—does that not suggest the two have been equally productive?

Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

According to WhoScored.com, a football website that tracks game statistics, Rooney has a higher average EPL match rating (7.34) than Mata...and Michu, Carlos Tevez and Yaya Toure.

He hasn't needed to score 25 this term to lead the Red Devils to glory, but that doesn't mean his more understated role hasn't been appreciated.

The Manchester United man's England form is also worth mentioning. Since the beginning of the season, Rooney has scored six goals on international duty, a far cry from his less recent struggles for the Three Lions.

 

Every week a new story seems to emerge in the British tabloids linking Rooney with a move to Paris.

Earlier this month, a former adviser to the French club and current owner of media outlet Le Sport 10 claimed "He will be at PSG next season" (h/t Daily Mail).

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

It is currently the hot transfer rumour—there is no coincidence that Michel Moulin chose to make his announcement on his own network.

"Rooney to Leave Old Trafford" stories will sell newspapers and bring readers to websites, but that doesn't mean there is any truth to them.

Last month, Sir Alex said "He'll be here next year, you can have my word on that" (via BBC).

It cannot be denied that his position at United has diminished in terms of the team's reliance on him, but his quality and production have not.

Robin van Persie's arrival has transformed the Red Devils into a clinical, well-disciplined winning machine.

One that wouldn't be the same without Wayne Rooney.

 

Do you believe this season has seen a decline in Wayne Rooney's quality? What does the future hold for the 27-year-old?

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