TFN’s Hugo Greenhalgh thinks Wayne Rooney should be revered rather than ridiculed…
There was something reassuring about Manchester United’s comfortable 3-0 victory over Tottenham last Sunday. The ease at which United blitzed past Spurs was reminiscent of a Sir Alex Ferguson performance; the kind of game Fergie used to prepare for by telling the dressing room, “Lads, it’s Tottenham”, as Roy Keane revealed in his autobiography.
What will have been particularly pleasing for United fans was the display of Wayne Rooney. The England captain put in one of his best performances of the season, capping it off with a goal at the end of the first half. Picking up Nabil Bentaleb’s stray pass, Rooney danced past the remaining Spurs defenders and stuck it past Hugo Lloris with a nonchalance that recalled a player in his pomp.
The celebration that followed was a wonderful touch of self-awareness. There were shades of Robbie Fowler and Paul Gascoigne as Rooney showed the ability to laugh at himself – as well as the morning papers. It also served as a massive release for a player who has endured a significant amount of criticism over his career.
There’s a reluctance to induct Rooney into the pantheon of the Premier League’s great goalscorers, despite the fact he currently sits third in the all-time list, only three goals behind Andy Cole in second. Daniel Storey wrote an excellent piece for Football 365 on Alan Shearer and why he is overlooked as the great Premier League striker, in favour of ‘sexier’ footballers like Thierry Henry. The tabloids have continually portrayed Rooney as a stroppy lout and this counts against his reputation in the same way that Shearer’s perceived monotony does too.
He is in his tenth season at United now and has never failed to reach double figure in League goals – not even Shearer managed that. As captain for club and country, he has to be the first name on the teamsheet for Louis van Gaal and Roy Hodgson. Yet the flipside of this is that Rooney is the perennial fall guy. When England flop in major tournaments, it’s his fault. As United become less competitive, he is the underperformer.
Another shot aimed at Rooney is that of unfulfilled potential. It’s seen as something of a national tragedy that he never capitalised on the precocious talent he exhibited in his youth, of that Everton goal against Arsenal in 2002 and the ‘raw’ England performances in Euro 2004. However, as Rob Brown wrote on this website last year, he was never all that in the first place. If anything, Rooney should be lauded for the fact “he has scored over 200 goals for Manchester United without ever possessing something as basic as a reliable first touch”, as Rob puts it.
It’s worth reflecting on that Everton goal for a moment. On a personal level, I think of all the things that have happened in my life since and it’s really quite remarkable that Rooney has managed to stay relevant for such a length of time. 13 years since Clive Tyldesley commanded us to “Remember the name”, the moment Rooney burst onto the scene has been used as a benchmark for emerging players. The likes of David Bentley, James Vaughan and Federico Macheda will come and go; Rooney has maintained his level, winning titles and accolades in the process.
There’s been some tough moments throughout that time. His boxing escapade with Phil Bardsley wasn’t the first time Rooney’s personal life has made the front pages, while the instances of swearing at the camera in South Africa and later on against West Ham were both unnecessary and unprofessional. As such, his teammates and manager were keen to stress his maturity of late. To Rooney’s credit, he looked like one of the few players capable of causing Arsenal any problems in United’s limp FA Cup exit; his equaliser, a well-taken diving header, was evidence of one of Rooney’s enduring attributes – an ability to score a variety of goals.
Wayne Rooney is a lot of things to many people but he really does encapsulate some of the big contradictions our generation have had to deal with. He is boom and bust, public and private, unashamed and nuanced all in one bald bundle of brilliance. Whether you appreciate him or not, he remains a box office player and one who is still able to produce moments as jaw-dropping as that Everton goal in 2002.