The amount of pressure, criticism and expectation Wayne Rooney has had to put up with in this short career is almost unparalleled. The Manchester United and England superstar has the hopes and dreams of an entire country resting on his ample shoulders as he is ear-marked to lead England to glory in South Africa at the end of the season.
He is 23 years of age.
I think most people forget this as he has been around for so long—he was 16 when he first set the world alight at Everton. I would be reluctant to call him a man yet. Perhaps a young adult is more appropriate.
I would like to put you in his shoes for just a moment. How would you deal with 51 million people both urging you to win and yet waiting for you to, inevitably in their eyes, fail?
Rooney has, in the past, had issues with his temper. He famously got sent off in the Champions League for sarcastically clapping a referee's decision to show him a yellow card. He had to be hauled off in a 'friendly' against Spain a few years ago because of over-aggression...in a contact sport!
And perhaps the most poignant is when he got sent off against Portugal in the last World Cup for stamping on Ricardo Carvalho amid the "Winker" incident with Cristiano Ronaldo.
Despite all this, he has only been sent off seven times in his career, and does not have a particularly bad disciplinary record. Not great. But not bad. Recently, people have noted he is more focused. Even the way he goes about his business on the pitch seems more controlled, more mature.
There was a time when defenders braced themselves for a two-footed, knee-high challenge every time they robbed him of possession with a few profanities thrown in for afters.
Now though, although they still must deal with the tenacity of Rooney: He will still track back the length of the pitch to regain the ball, Rooney will now try to get the ball and just the ball, not the man and perhaps the ball if he is lucky.
In his personal life too he seems to have mellowed: He is now married and has a child on the way. Congratulations Wayne.
Question marks though, still arise as the whether he scores enough goals. Well to be fair, without him, Manchester United would not score half as many as they presently do—his support play really is second to none.
This opinion also, could be construed as a minor over-exaggeration as Rooney scored over 20 goals last season and has matched that milestone is three of the last four years. Not bad for a striker who apparently can't score.
There has never been any doubt though,as to the pure potential of the man. He has all the ability in the world. I would be hard to find many who would argue that he is the most gifted English player in recent memory. He certainly has the potential to be the best in the world. The question is: Can he reach such potential?
He can dribble. He's fast, very fast. His first touch is sublime. His shooting is devastating and his finishing is improving. His heading ability is even getting better. Rooney is a total footballer. He always has been, and until his body begins to slow down, he always will be.
Sir Alex Ferguson famously said that if Paul Gascoigne, a similar English footballing prodigy, were under his watch, he would not have had the problems which in the end ruined his career. So who better to be Rooney's mentor now?
The departure of Cristiano Ronaldo may not spell good news for Manchester United admirers, but should for Wayne Rooney and England fans. In this, a World Cup year, Rooney has been promised a central attacking role after previously been sacrificed on the wing to do Ronaldo's dirty work.
This position is the one Fabio Capello will have Rooney in next summer and therefore the more time Rooney has to play and perfect it, logically the better chance England have of lifting the elusive trophy for a second time.
Even if there was not a World Cup on the horizon, I think it is around the time that Rooney will show what everyone knows and fears he is capable of.
With the departure of Ronaldo, the stage is set.
He has all the tools at his disposal.
Perhaps this will be the year Wayne the boy, becomes Rooney the man.
What do you think?
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