Wayne Rooney Expectations Must Be Tempered

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Wayne Rooney Expectations Must Be Tempered
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Many writers of English football generally don't need too much ammunition to exalt Wayne Rooney into the echelon of elite practitioners in their sport.

Before each season, pieces invariably surface with angles conjecturing just how and why this year will be different than every other when similar claims were also made.

After scoring twice against AC Milan midweek, his name was omnipresent in editorials on and offline making arguments for his graduation.

However, the United gunner tends to succumb to inconsistency with only patches of good form interspersed between drawn-out periods of varying averageness on the field.

So it's all just a big, fat lie, then?

While always being projected as one of footballing's elite, Rooney has rarely shown enough consistency over the years to gain any credible foothold for individual awards or world-class status.

And similarly, while being vaunted as the next incarnation of Christ prior to—and throughout—this season, the young Scouser was patchy in its first half and particularly nauseating in December.

He's only been rested for two United matches all season. So he's bagged the goals commensurate with such playing time, regardless of how well he played at the time, which was never exceptional.

Many of his goals were examples of profiting from his teammates' endeavours, finishing after defenses were exploited.

Only now, in mid-February, after six months of overstated prophecy, Rooney has finally begun to fulfill all the hopes and dreams of his Anglo-centrist promoters and worldly well-wishers.

From mid-January—when he attacked confidently in a losing effort against Man City—the Shrek look-alike has been reliably positive and occasionally brilliant for a month on the trot.

This is exceptional because, throughout his United career, rich veins of form for the young Englishman usually haven't lasted more than a couple weeks.

At least on the field; of course they last much longer in print.

Another "Beckham effect"

To be fair, even when he is at his best, Rooney is not the most obvious of great strikers.

Didier Drogba turns and fires inside and outside of the box with aplomb during veins of fine form. Lionel Messi's dribbles are masterfully balanced, passing multiple defenders. Ronaldo chops and bursts his way towards the net before booming shots from all angles.

These players do so with flashes of skill apparent to fans of all cores and ages. However, indications of Rooney on song aren't always as evident.

He doesn't dribble past or generally overwhelm defenders. His dependence on his right foot is telegraphed. When he does fire in front of defenders, his shots are often deflected or go through the opponents legs by chance. He doesn't use tricks and isn't particularly two-footed, especially when controlling the ball.

When he's playing well, he does little things. He makes more runs behind defenses. He hustles and harries, but stays in a forward position. He gets off shots from range with both feet. He niggles into the right space to head home from close. But he's rarely flashy.

Like United fan-boy David Beckham, a lot of Rooney's virtues stem from his indefatigable engine and vague platitudes about his "desire", "heart", or "dedication".

And like his former clubmate and current English teammate, Rooney's false reputation as a glamorous, dominant player often precedes him with casual fans.

They tune in expecting either to be a world-beater, when both Becks and Wazza can aesthetically appear average, even in form.

Sycophantism breeds complacency

The hollow nature of many plaudits regarding Rooney can stifle the growth of the sport in America and elsewhere. Casuals tune in with unrealistic expectations only to be let down by reality.

But furthermore, constantly projecting a player's greatness not only fosters casual fans' over-expectations, but it can also stunt the player's growth.

Not only do overrated or over-marketed players have more pressure on them, but they're more liable to lull into complacency when they're constantly being proclaimed world-class too soon.

Complacency can be cited as a reason Rooney has not grown at nearly the same rate as another former United teammate—now at Madrid.

Nor much at all. Over the last four or five years is there any facet of his game that he's clearly improved? Beyond controlling his temper more, or heading better this season?

There is little excuse for a player in his early twenties to add virtually nothing to his game after training with one of the world's best clubs and managers for several years.

Theoretically, criticism is equally as useful as reinforcement when motivating sportsmen. It becomes even more necessary when players are put on pedestals early in their careers as they suddenly grow rich and powerful.

If his form so far this year becomes the norm—not the exception—into and through the World Cup, than he may climb the final rung into the rightful elite of the sport.

Consistency shows final maturation

Not only will he join an imaginary group of pound-for-pound best players in the world, but if England can conquer all this summer at the World Cup, Rooney would be a shoe-in for individual end-of-the-year honors.

In fact, FIFA's World Player of the Year award has only gone to World Cup winners in years involving the famous tournament.

Whether or not the swarthy Englishman ultimately deserves such hype, pressure, and accolade, he would at least be more deserving than in seasons' past.

But only if he managed to continue his current form; finally establishing the consistency his better play has otherwise been lacking.

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