Contrary to popular opinion, Wayne Rooney, England & Man United Captain, is not finished. With maturity comes it own magnificence and the creative, attacking powers he possesses are unique in the England squad.
He is a different footballer now, true, to the effervescent, world-beating 17 year-old who burst onto the scene for first Everton yet he still has a hell of lot to offer at the top table of both club and international football.
Famously, Sir Alex Ferguson, coaxed the best out of his Red Devils veterans, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs, in their twilight years to extend their careers and his and the challenge for Jose Mourinho at Old Trafford and Gareth Southgate at St. Georges’ Park is to do the same for Rooney for the good of their sides.
In what is yet another season of great transition for both England and Man United, Rooney has borne more than his fair share of criticism – even sole blame at times – for the stuttering form of both football teams while he should be seen as an integral part of the solution for both.
What he may now lack in raw pace & power, he makes up with experience, game intelligence, creativity &, as he demonstrated in Turkey with the following wonderful strike against Fenerbahce, that awesome shooting power:
After a period out of the Manchester United side, he has returned to the starting line-up with a vengeance, angrily scoring a late defiant strike in The Europa League before having a hand in all three goals from the left-wing against Swansea in The Premier League that may well prove a turning point in the season.
As Paul Scholes on BT Sports seemed visibly in pain discussing the decline of The Red Devils echoing the wincing Sir Alex Ferguson at Stamford Bridge as a Rooney-less side were thrashed 4-0, Wayne Rooney can still do something about it and arrest the decline of club and country.
“Your people will need your strength and leadership – for duty calls.” The Crown
With The Auld Enemy, Scotland, up next for England tonight, its up to interim manager Gareth Southgate to integrate Rooney successfully into his best starting XI if not indeed build the entire team around him in what is a key fixture for The Three Lions amid PoppyGate.
In the last pair of international fixtures, Rooney was, apparently, disgracefully booed by some England ‘fans’ after playing an influential role in the 2-1 win against Malta before the manager then mistakenly dropped him for the next match against Slovenia.
Without their natural leader and true lion on the pitch, England looked little boys lost as the crown of the national Captaincy weighed heavily on Jordan Henderson, who almost give the game away with a hospital ball back pass to Joe Hart. Pressure at the top level, some can deal with it, others can’t.
A player of a colossal 118 Caps and record-breaking 53 goals for his country should not be discarded or his importance overlooked. International football is different again to the club game with less preparation time so leadership and composure must come from the field itself.
Disgraced arch-prgamatist Sam Allardyce recognised the importance of Rooney to the England side, imbued him with what was effectively a free role and was rewarded with a debut win:
“Wayne played wherever he wanted to,” said Allardyce. “He did play a little deeper than I thought he’d play, but I was pleased with his performance.”
The debate continue as to what Rooney’s best position is now – Mourinho emphatically stated he saw the 31 year-old front man as a goalscorer on his arrival at Old Trafford:
” In football there are many jobs on the field,” said Mourinho. “The one that is more difficult to find is the one that puts the ball in the net. Players change during the years of course, their qualities change, so it is normal that a player at his [Wayne’s] age changes a little bit.
“However, something that will never change is the natural appetite to put the ball in the net. Maybe he is not a striker anymore…but there aren’t as many players who can put the ball in the net. For me he will be a [number] 9, a 10, or a 9-and-a-half, but not a 6 or even an 8.”
Yet after a goal-scoring start to the season at Bournemouth and the start of a promising attacking partnership with Zlatan Ibrahimovich, Rooney has been shunted around the pitch and unceremoniously dropped by a Special One in need of some instant polish for his slightly tarnished reputation.
In many ways, Rooney’s predicament is similar to that of Alan Shearer’s at Newcastle under Ruud Gullit before Mourinho’s great mentor Sir Bobby Robson, reinvigorated the Geordie striker’s goal-scoring career after restoring his confidence and telling him to get back in the box.
The results were instant and spectacular with Shearer scoring 5 goals on Sir Bobby Robson’s first game as Newcastle boss after a barren spell:
With his own rocket shot like Shearer’s and instincts, setting natural born goalscorer Rooney up with shooting chances in the box and around the edge of the area could prove highly effective.
Yet equally with Rooney’s versatility, creativity & vision, his situation is comparable to the way Sir Alex adapted Ryan Giggs game from a flying winger capable of beating three men & the keeper to score to a mature midfield performer who would set up teammates and lead by example as Rooney did on Sunday.
With Harry Kane back in the England squad and raring to go after a goal-scoring return with Spurs against Arsenal at the weekend, Rooney could be the key to unlocking the Scotland defence and setting up the bullets for Kane to fire especially in the absence of injured Spurs clubmate Dele Alli.
Rooney’s presence in the England team is worth a goal start especially at Wembley in such qualifiers – the players look up to a man who has been there, seen it and done it all for club and country for well over a decade and he fazes opponents before they step onto the field.
The bigger the occasion, the bigger the need for Rooney for both club and country as he proved at Wembley in The FA Cup Final against Crystal Palace with a barnstorming performance that won Manchester United the trophy.
Come Friday night against Scotland and Gareth Southgate and England will need a similar Captain’s performance from Rooney to show his young compatriots the way forward – they might have the legs and youth but he has the nous and knows how to handle the situation. Cometh the hour, cometh the main man and Wayne Rooney is set to prove himself once again in a Three Lions shirt just like one of his heroes, Gazza did so spectacularly.