Yo, ESPN! I got a problem with some of the lies you been spreadin!
So when was it, a million years ago that Manchester United played Man City, why am I still hearing about this stupid Rooney goal?
Yeah, it was impressive. More impressive even than most bicycle kick goals. It was exceptionally well-timed, and the speed it came in on allowed for a cracker of a finish, as they say. But seriously, we are a month on and folks both in studio and on their couches are still drooling over this thing.
This goal was all the excuse the media needed to spew out enough praise and rhetorical questions about greatness to make Freddy Adu want to hang himself with his laces.
Why am I, someone who does know a little bit about soccer, supposed to get worked up about something that Hugo Sanchez used to do on the reg?
When Rooney came onto the scene in 2004, he was hailed as a phenom—the future savior of English soccer (much like Adu was for American soccer). But unlike Adu, fans—particularly American fans—have failed to recognize Rooney's failure to live up to those expectations.
Numbers don't lie and, by all accounts, Rooney's stats are hardly that of one of the very best in world football. In seven seasons with at least 40 total club appearances, Rooney has only reached 20 goals three times. This is on one of the best teams in Europe, year in and year out, at a position where the sole responsibility of the player is to put the ball in the back of the net.
Rooney is only 25 years old. He still has several potentially good years ahead of him and could still become the great player many hope him to be. However, it is time to stop pretending this guy is one of the three best footballers in the world.
Compare Rooney's stats to another player who was a young phenom: Raul Gonazalez.
By the time Raul was 25, seven of the eight seasons he played he had at least 40 apps resulting in no less than 22 goals. Raul also played on some of the very best teams of his day and was a striker—but his results are unquestionably superior.
So why all the irrational love for Rooney? I have a theory: the English language.
Now, I'm willing to give most English folks a pass on their gushing over Rooney. Soccer is the No. 1, 2 and 3 sports across the pond. At some level, they just need to believe that Rooney is this great player who can get them everything they've always wanted in sports—even if he hasn't gotten them there yet.
I'm less willing to be kind to my American bros.
Ever since the 2006 World Cup, the American media, and ESPN in particular, has been trying to push soccer into the mainstream of American sports.
Whether that means montages of World Cup footage set to U2 songs, airing random MLS games no one really cares about on ESPN2, more montages of people dancing in stadiums set to more U2 songs (at least it's not vuvuzelas)—ESPN has tried it all. None of it has yet to really capture most Americans' imagination, though.
ESPN needed to find something both entertaining and easily relatable for Americans. Enter the Red Devils and Mr. Rooney.
Manchester United is by far the most well-known soccer club in America; more well-known even than any American clubs. They're flashy, successful, relatively physical, English speaking—just about everything a marketing exec could hope for. They're even sometimes referred to as the Yankees of English soccer (which is true if based only on recognizability).
Wayne Rooney is the most recognizable character on ManU. He's not as good of a catch as someone like David Beckham—who was much better looking, loved the spotlight and offered more quality moments—but you could do worse.
He falls into that uber-talented but devoid of personality realm of many non-mainstream sports stars (a la Roger Federer or the old Tiger Woods). Actually, I don't think I've ever heard a sound byte of Rooney saying anything, ever.
In America, all you really get of Rooney is a talking head with an English accent, saying how "spectacular" he is on the "pitch" and a highlight once every few months when he actually scores a goal.
Americans don't get to see the whole picture of English (much less European) football. It is like trying to find both sides of the truth when all you have is one state-run news source. That is why moments like Rooney's bicycle kick get blown out of proportion.
ESPN wants American fans to like Rooney (or at least be intrigued by him), and Americans are more than willing to oblige.
In a series of polls on ESPN.com, Rooney's goal routinely and overwhelmingly defeated each play contender—for the title of "best play." Now, a grain of salt must be taken with this because it was frequently pitted against vanilla college highlights and plays featuring the Miami Heat (who aren't exactly the most popular kids in school).
Still, I think the more likely case is that Americans, with their limited understanding of soccer, saw the play and thought, "Wow, gosh dang! That was magical! How'd that little Shrek-looking guy do that?"
Americans see a Blake Griffin dunk and a half court shot at the buzzer more than once a week but a bicycle kick? Well, that just makes us all scratch our Space Odyssey monkey craniums in confusion and disbelief—giving birth to ridiculous articles such as this.
Again, the goal was impressive. I couldn't score a goal like that. Although, once I did see an infomerical for a soccer training video in which a bunch of 12-year-olds all lined up and served up one perfectly struck bicycle kick goal after another.
It was a great goal, but was it really that much better than these? Or these? Or this one? I don't know. I'm just some stupid American. Your customs and slang are strange to me. I don't understand what you mean when you say fortnight or anti-clockwise or labour. So maybe I'm wrong.
But, I really don't think I am.