Even the average fan can see that Wayne Rooney has not been the same player this season for Manchester United as he was last season.
One has to look no further then his goal total to figure that one out: The man who scored 34 goals last season has scored just seven this season.
This past weekend, Wayne Rooney said what everyone already knew, that this season has been by far the worst of his career. If you don't look farther then his goal numbers then it is easy to agree with that statement.
However, if you look at everything else, you will see that Rooney is still what he has always been for Manchester United; he is their most important player.
United's 2007/8 campaign is remembered for winning both the Premier League and the Champions League. Individually, it is remembered for Cristiano Ronaldo scoring 42 goals in all competitions that season.
But despite all the goals that season, it was Rooney, not Ronaldo, who was the heart and sole of that team. First of all, it was Rooney's willingness to step out of the spotlight and play more down the left that season, allowing Ronaldo to roam into the middle and score as many goals as he did.
Besides that, it was Rooney that made the engines of the team go.
When Ronaldo missed a match that season, United found a way to win. When Rooney had to miss time, United struggled. It started on the first day of the season, when Rooney had to come off at halftime against Reading. United failed to score drawing 0-0, then drew their next match against Portsmouth before losing to Manchester City.
Who Is Manchester United's Most Important Player?
It took them three Rooney-less matches before they were able to pick up a win.
Later in the season, Rooney went down again in November. United lost their next match 1-0 to Bolton, their first league loss since the Manchester City match without Rooney. After Rooney picked up a knock in a 4-0 win over Sunderland, he missed United's next match, a 2-1 loss to West Ham, United's third of the season.
After picking up a booking against Tottenham in February, Rooney was suspended for the next match against City, a 2-1 loss. It was United's fourth loss of the season, all without Rooney.
United would lose just five matches that season, four of them without Rooney, the fifth, against Chelsea, saw Rooney get replaced by Ronaldo after 63 minutes, despite Rooney scoring United's only goal.
Despite the success of Ronaldo that season, United struggled without Rooney. Fast-forward to last season and it was more of the same. It is quite obvious Rooney's 34 goals made him the most important player for United, but it was United's inability to pick up wins without him in the team that ended up costing them the title.
This season, Rooney has endured the worst goal-scoaring form of his life. But instead of sitting and sulking, he has found other ways to contribute.
One of the reasons Rooney's goals are down this season is because he has turned himself into more of a provider this season. Despite many people believing that he is getting his game back, there are still many times that Rooney passes up a shot that the old Wayne Rooney would have fired, in favor of trying to set up a teammate.
The results have been positive, but low key for Rooney. He sits just one assist behind Nani this season with 11, but his impact goes well beyond that.
Despite Rooney scoring only seven goals in all competitions this season, United are still top of the table. One of the biggest reasons for that is because Dimitar Berbatov has picked up Rooney's weight and has 19 league goals this season.
However, this is not just the work of Berbatov, the engine behind Berbatov's goals this season, has been Wayne Rooney.
While Rooney hasn't assisted on all 19 of Berbatov's goals, he has been on the field for all but two of them. After scoring six goals in United's first five matches, it looked like Berbatov would be able to carry United through the upcoming six week absence of Rooney. Instead the exact opposite happened.
Berbatov scored three goals in Rooney's final game before his six week absence. While Rooney was out, Berbatov did not score once. In their first game back together, Berbatov scored five times.
Playing a 4-4-2 with Rooney up front has allowed Rooney to open up the field for Berbatov, allowing the Bulgarian to fully show off his talents for the first time in his Old Trafford career. Last week, when United had Rooney wide on the left against Marseille, Berbatov looked lost and struggled to get involved in the game.
Despite his lack of goals, there is no argument that Rooney is just as talented as he always was. The most glaring evidence for this came in the recent Manchester Derby. After doing nothing for most of the match, the author of this article was calling for Rooney to be replaced by Javier Hernandez.
Instead, Rooney reminded everyone what he is capable of, unleashing a stunning bicycle kick in the 78th minute to beat City 2-1.
Rooney may be in the middle of his lowest scoring season ever, but his on the field play is showing that if United want to win the title they will need to have Rooney on the field. He is the engine that keeps this team running and he has spent this season making every one of his teammates better.
Well, except Jonny Evans, of course.
This article, as well as several others by Pauly Kwestel, also appears on manchesterunitedlive.com. Check it out at ManchesterUnitedLive.com.