UEFA Champions League Final: Can Wayne Rooney Upstage Barcelona's Lionel Messi?
Rightfully, much of the best-striker-in-the-world debate has began with Barcelona's Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo and—also rightfully—ended with Messi.
Messi will undoubtedly be the man who all will want to watch when Barcelona and Manchester Untied face each other in Saturday's UEFA Champions League final.
But perhaps the most important man on the pitch will not be the diminutive Argentine, but the bullish oft-forgotten English striker Wayne Rooney. OK, not forgotten, but he's certainly fallen off certain elite radars after a middling performance in last summer's World Cup and an oft-brilliant, oft-mediocre domestic season with United.
He didn't have poor season by any standards, but compared to the previous season dipped at times dramatically. In recent years, Messi and Ronaldo have separated themselves from Rooney in the world's elite striker conversation.
Were Rooney's heightened expectations the result of the British hype machine? After all, the then-16-year-old Rooney scored a wondergoal against the "Invincibles" of Arsenal in 2004 as a member of Everton to burst on the scene at a rapid rate.
Most are quick to anoint a freakishly talented youngster as "the next big thing"—American football/soccer fans, see: Adu, Freddy—so Rooney had an immediate burden placed upon him.
Rooney, however, has the talent to fulfill those expectations. Even if his lavish goal-scoring numbers dipped this season, he formed an immediate and fruitful partnership up top with Mexican sensation Javier Hernandez and his late-season form picked up and he, at times, showed brilliant vision and precision with his passing.
If Rooney can lead Manchester United to a second Champions League triumph in four years, certainly, he'd have to start nudging himself back into the same conversation as Messi and Ronaldo.
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