Over the course of the last few years, the all-round footballing game of Wayne Rooney has undergone quite a transformation, through various phases to where he is now. No doubt it will continue to develop in other directions in the years to come, with Rooney only 24. Here, guest writer Salim Said (@awatercarrier) takes a look at the progression of Wayne Rooney to date.
Modern Street Footballer
“One of the last street footballers, part of a dying breed,” David Moyes remarked when Wayne Rooney burst onto the scene at Everton in 2003.
That’s the word to describe Rooney. He is a rare breed in the English game. He is rare in the sense that he is one of the select few English footballers who can see space. Football can be described as a battle for space, the team which can unlock spaces offensively and restrict spaces when defending usually wins.
Signing schoolboy forms with Everton when he was 9, Rooney hasn’t ever been a street-footballer in the true sense. An example street footballer was Zlatan Ibrahimovic when he first arrived at Ajax. When Ibrahimovic first arrived at Ajax they discovered that he was slow, didn’t know where to run, gave passes at the wrong moment and took shots at the wrong moment.
He was raw. Rooney at 16 – whilst also being raw – knew when to run, when to drop off and when to take shots to a reasonable level.
Indeed, Eric Harrison, the ex Manchester United youth coach who coached the famous class of 1992, remarked: “Rooney is a throwback to the street players who used to come out of places like inner-city Glasgow. He’s an old-fashioned footballer with modern sensibilities.”
In one of his first training sessions with England he beat six players before placing the ball in the net… There was silence before his fellow players showed their appreciation by applauding him.
“You look into his eyes and he looks 17, but if you look at him from behind and at the way he plays, you’d think he was 32,” David Moyes observed.
It was this maturity that convinced Moyes to give Rooney his debut for Everton scoring the now famous thunderbolt past a helpless David Seaman, ending Arsenal’s 30-match unbeaten run in the process. From there, he formed a partnership with childhood hero Duncan Ferguson, playing as a support striker.
His style of player was characterised with his powerful running, close control, movement off the ball as well as a work-rate that endeared him to the Everton faithful.
Rooney was never going to stay long at Everton after his impressive performances for them in the Premiership and his exploits for England at Euro 2004, sealing a move to Manchester United.
At Old Trafford, his ability, technique and reading of the game convinced Sir Alex Ferguson to firstly utilise him as the link from the midfield to Ruud Van Nistelrooy in a 4-4-1-1 system and then Louis Saha later on.
In this position we saw Rooney make a sensational run rampaging beating three players from midfield before teeing up Van Nistelrooy against Charlton with a delicate outside-of-the-boot chip.
Advanced left-winger/Wide Player/Inside Forward
There was the Rooney who played as a roving wide player in a 4-3-3 formation with Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez for company whereby they rotated positions at will.
Playing in this wide position, Rooney was heavily involved in the attacking play due to Manchester United’s tendency to attack from the wings, but also had to contribute to the defensive duties.
Out-and-Out Number 9
When Ronaldo and Tevez left Manchester United it was widely regarded that their departure, especially of the former, would finally allow Wayne Rooney to fulfil his potential.
Rooney was now deployed as the focal point of attack and the onus was on him to provide the goals. He noted his weakness in heading and improved on it which saw him score an incredible 15 goals (out of the 44 goals he scored) with his head during the 2009-2010 season.
Much of that was thanks to the fantastic delivery provided by Antonio Valencia, but it was a testament to his hardwork on the training ground that he scored different types of headers.
Complete Attacking Player
Loss of form, off-the-field problems and the emergence of Javier Hernandez during the 2010-2011 season saw Rooney eventually being played ‘in the hole’.
With the benefit of hindsight, this proved to be a masterstroke by Sir Alex Ferguson as it took the goal-scoring pressure away from Rooney and allowed him to showcase the range of skills in his repertoire – different range of passing, awareness of space, dictation of tempo further up the pitch.
Responsibility to be the chief goal-getter had restricted the creative element and the extent to which he – Manchester United’s most creative player – could influence games against opposition, especially top class opposition.
A classic example was the Manchester derby in which will be remembered for Rooney’s overheard kick. However, that aside, Vincent Kompany had man-marked Rooney out of the game, tightly-marking him and not allowing him the freedom to turn.
The introduction of Hernandez into the team allowed Rooney to influence games ‘in the hole’ in a 4-2-3-1 formation where he played in the middle of the threesome with the license to roam.
Hernandez’s manner to play on the shoulder of the last defender kept the centre-backs occupied, freeing up the space between the midfield and defence for Rooney to take advantage of – usually having enough room to turn to goal. Of course, simply ‘getting his head right’ and the return from injury of Valencia also can’t be underestimated as key factors in his return to form.
Due to Rooney’s tendency and willingness to drop deeper to help the team we often see glimpses of his passing and defensive work deeper downfield.
In the final 10 minutes of the 2011 CL quarter-final 2nd leg against Chelsea at Old Trafford we saw Rooney dropping deep and retaining possession.
He showcased that he can control the tempo with a wide array of passing in a crucial match deeper down the field, this has convinced some that he could end up playing in the role of a central midfielder in the future.
Paul Scholes has said Rooney could fill the central midfield role he has left, but Sir Alex Ferguson isn’t fully convinced: “Wayne could play centre midfield but not the way that Scholesy played it. They are too different.
“The way that Wayne would play as opposed to Scholesy is that he would be more dynamic and all over the place, using his energy to run everywhere, challenge and hit those crossfield passes that he’s terrific at.
“But, Scholes was more calculated and he always had that control about him, controlling the speed and pace of a game, which is pretty difficult to do.”
Wayne Rooney has truly evolved as a player. The varying roles he has played have all been successful to some extent (due to his impressive work-rate) and have contributed to the footballer that he is today.
Yes, consequently his dribbling isn’t as good as it used to be when he was a ‘modern street footballer’. Yes, his pace has receded nearly as fast as his hairline season-by-season. As a result, we don’t see him running at several defenders and going past them like he did in his days at Everton and early days at Manchester United.
However, his range of passing has improved to unimaginable levels. Moreover, his decision-making has also improved – the runs he makes are calculated and not as raw compared to when he was a essentially a young, ‘modern street footballer.’
Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are two of the best players to watch in the world. Wayne Rooney may not be as exciting to watch to the masses – due to not having their trickery and dribbling skills – but he is beautiful to watch in other ways.
He is a complete attacking footballer, as we have seen with the different type of goals he has scored thus far this season for club and country. The Wayne Rooney we’re seeing at the moment is one who has combined all the excellent aspects of his career. Watching him this season will be an absolute pleasure.
There are some Manchester United fans who understandably have issues with him after his contract saga, but even those fans would struggle not to acknowledge just what a superb player he is.
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