Wayne Rooney is truly one of the biggest names in world football and has been for many years. A player revered by fans and journalists alike from England and abroad for the last fourteen years, ever since he broke onto the scene as a sixteen year old scoring a wonder goal past David Seaman for his boyhood club Everton.
He is England’s all-time top goal scorer, passing Sir Bobby Charlton’s record of forty-nine international goals last September.
Not only is Rooney England’s top scorer, he is now (as at 26th Aug 16) only three goals behind Sir Bobby Charlton’s Man United goal scoring record. So it would seem bizarre that a player with such high regard and goal scoring ability would be at the centre of one of the biggest debates in English football for both club and country.
Should this be Wayne Rooney’s final season in top flight football? Is it time for him to move over for the next generation, or does he still have much to offer the English game?
Wayne Rooney’s name is already in the history books as one of the brightest stars ever to grace the England national team and Premier league, currently second in the all-time Premier League goal scoring charts behind only Alan Shearer. He has also scored consecutively for the past 15 seasons.
He was the youngest player to play for England making his debut at seventeen years old (and 111 days), coming on as a sub in a friendly defeat to Australia under the tutelage of Sven-Goran Eriksson in 2003. Not only was Wayne Rooney the youngest player to pull on an England shirt he was also the youngest goal scorer, bagging an equaliser against Macedonia in a Euro 2004 qualifier.
After making it to Euro 2004, Wayne Rooney became the tournament’s youngest goal scorer when he scored a brace against Switzerland. The record was only short lived as Swiss born midfielder Johan Vonlanthen broke his record four days later. However this is widely regarded as Rooney’s best tournament in an England shirt when he was young, brave and fearless.
It has to be said Wayne Rooney’s medal haul is quite impressive. He’s won five Premier League titles, four Community shields, two League cups, and one FIFA World Club Cup, F.A Cup and Champions League.
Aside from team honours, Rooney has accumulated an impressive amount of individual awards including a PFA player’s player of the year award, two PFA young player of the year awards, BBC young sports personality of the year award, and I could go on. He is also of course the Manchester United and England captain, an honour not seen by many players. In short the Wayne Rooney imprint on the game is for all to see.
So in Wayne Rooney we have England’s top goal scorer, one of Man United’s and Premier league’s best ever players. So why are so many fans frustrated that he is still selected for both Man United and England? Why is there so much anti-Rooney propaganda on social media? Is it that the mainstream press and ex pros (Paul Parker aside) are overlooking the flaws that have entered his game in recent years, and that is adding to fans frustrations, or is it genuinely the right time at only 31 years old (at the end of the season) for Wayne Rooney to lay the famous number ten shirt to down to rest, and allow the new generation of young strikers such as Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford to lead the line for England and Man United respectively?
If the common consensus amongst a wide range of fans is that Wayne Rooney no longer fits the bill to play up top, is there any truth in this sentiment?
As mentioned earlier, Wayne Rooney is only three goals off Sir Bobby Charlton’s goal scoring record for Man United, scoring goals in all competitions for the past twelve years since joining for the football giants.
His best goal scoring return came in the 2009-10 and 2011-12 seasons where he bagged thirty-four goals in all competitions with twenty-seven and twenty-six in the Premier league respectively. This is the trademark of a great goal scorer scoring every 1.3 games. The problem with Rooney however is perhaps his inconsistency in such prolific form. Wedged between these two seasons saw Rooney only bag sixteen goals in all comps and only eleven in the league. That is an average of one goal every 2.5 games nearly twice that of the season either side. That’s not the record you would expect for a world class prolific goal scorer.
In actual fact, during Wayne’s twelve year United career he has only averaged over twenty goals in all competitions just four times, and only twice averaged over twenty in the league. This means over his United career, Wayne has averaged over twenty goals in the league for less than 18% of the total seasons he’s played.
And this is a trend that seems to be getting worse. His last over twenty goal season was back in 2011-12, four seasons ago.
When comparing the past three seasons, Wayne’s stats do look ominous adding weight to the naysayers who believe he should now move on.
The goals scored per game stat is truly damming with half of the goals per game average as two years prior. You can argue systems, nine’s, ten’s and false nine’s etc., but the fact is Wayne Rooney is Man United’s goal getter. Regardless of where Rooney plays towards the top end of the pitch you expect goals. Not only has his goals per game decreased over the past three seasons but also his shot accuracy is now below 50%.
Wayne’s total attack score is a meagrely low 22.29, more than 13 points off where he was three seasons ago.
With that said, you could argue, that over the past two seasons under the Louis Van Gaal dictatorship Man United were a shadow of their former attacking self, with most players regressing in an attacking sense. LVG had turned players like Angel Di Maria into mere shells of the attacking players they once were. For Wayne, it meant a third of last season playing in a deeper midfield role, coupled with the prominence of Marcus Rashford, it’s no wonder Rooney’s goals per game ratio was so low.
Interestingly, when looking at stats more aimed at midfielders, you see that Rooney’s total pass average per game was just over forty, fifteen lower than that of the previous two seasons and pass completion 5% lower than the season prior. This shows that even when looking at stats geared towards midfielders, Rooney still underachieved in comparison to the previous two seasons where he had been playing further up the park.
This suggest that his effectiveness on the field has diminished, regardless of whether he was playing up front, or deeper in midfield.
Over his entire United career, Rooney has averaged 15 Premier league goals per season and 20 for all competitions. (This average was increased by two high scoring seasons, mentioned above). This takes his games per goal ratio to 2.1. It seems therefore, that whilst it sounds inexplicable to say a man who is England’s all time goal scorer isn’t particularly prolific, it is his longevity in the game that has helped to amass such records.
If you look at Wayne Rooney in isolation, you could be forgiven for thinking his goal scoring records actually aren’t that bad, especially as he has averaged this over the course of the past 12 seasons. However when comparing him to another Premier League top striker in Sergio Aguero you can see a stark contrast. In Aguero’s five seasons at City, he averages 20 league goals per season compared to Rooney’s 15 and an impressive average of 27 in all competitions to Wayne’s 20. In his five seasons, he has broken the 20 goal barrier in all competitions four times, the same that Rooney has achieved in his 12 seasons.
His games per goal ratio is also far superior scoring a goal every 1.48 games to Rooney’s 2.1. Aguero is regarded as one of the world’s top strikers, no doubt he is prolific, and whilst some would say he is an out and out striker, whilst Rooney likes to drop off in the number 10 role, you should still expect a player such as Rooney, who is held in such high regard, to be more comparable.
However as always with the Wayne Rooney story, things are never as black and white as the stats may show. We all know that Rooney has been a player who likes to drop deeper and get on the ball more than traditional number 9’s, and this is a trait that has crept into his game more and more as the years have gone by.
But there is also something else we must consider, that is Wayne’s importance off the field. It’s very easy as fans to look at stats and performances on the field and draw conclusions as to Rooney’s worth in the team, however none of us actually know his true importance behind the scenes. You don’t become captain for Manchester United and England if you don’t offer something special in the dressing room. Wayne’s rise to stardom at such a young age and his longevity in the top flight of English football means he has gained copious amounts of experience along the way, something that he has always professed to be keen to share with the younger players. A guy that has been there and bought the t-shirt, a fountain of knowledge for the next generation.
It is known that Rooney isn’t shy when giving his players a well needed dressing down, or airing the team’s frustrations with management, something that he takes in his stride. This intangible benefit Rooney gives, adds to the justification of his inclusion in both the United and England set up.
Another aspect for Man United that must be considered given the business model they have, with a high proportion of Commercial partners, is that Rooney, regardless of his on field regression is still a massive global brand in himself, and by far the largest marketable player United have had since David Beckham. It seems this is being addressed with the signing of Paul Pogba, but Wayne Rooney is still the face of United at the moment. He is used to market most products for commercial partners from oil, to watches, and was even the star of the cringe worthy Fox movie trailers making a cameo in the recent X-Men and Independence Day trailers. This is something that many fans forget. Whilst Rooney is on an absurdly high wage of £260,000 per week given his diminishing returns on the pitch (some rumour it closer to £300,000), he has an off the field value, which is even higher than that on the pitch, so it is no surprise to me that the United cash cow for many years has kept his place in the team.
For me, Wayne Rooney is a tremendous player and has scored some amazing goals over his illustrious career which is very easy to forget. But at only thirty years old, he has already had a fourteen year top flight career, something that you would normally associate with a player at the age of thirty-five. It is therefore inevitable that he will slow down, not take as many risks, and not have the same fire in his belly of yesteryear. But there does come a point where you look around the United team and say Zlatan Ibrahimovic is currently the best centre forward, Henrikh Mkhitaryan is probably now United’s best number ten (when settled), and with Paul Pogba in the middle of the park, I can’t see a transition into that position as I may have done a year or two ago.
In summary, Wayne Rooney is no longer the best player at United in any of his positions anymore. That’s not to say he doesn’t still have uses, and a part to play in the team.
However when all is said and done, I wouldn’t be surprised if this is Wayne’s last season in English football once he breaks Sir Bobby Charltons United goal scoring record, what else is there left for him to achieve? Either way he will leave the game with a great footprint.
I will leave you however with a quote from one of the greatest strikers in Premier League history Thierry Henry, who puts it better than I ever could:
“You will only truly appreciate Rooney when he has retired. It’s a shame but it’s always like that.
To play well for six months or a season in football is nothing. To do so for over a decade like Rooney is extraordinary. I know what it takes and it isn’t easy.
Trust me, people talk about him outside of this country. In Spain and France, he is appreciated as a top, top player.”