Back in 2002, whilst most 16 year olds were sitting their exams and playing snake on their old school Nokia’s, Wayne Rooney’s wonder goal against Arsenal was quickly carving his legendary status overnight. Fast forward 14 years and there’s a new kid on the block, 18 year old Marcus Rashford has emerged from Uniteds youth team with a flurry of goals that earned him a call up to the Euro’s with England in the summer. Yet whilst Rashfords stock is rising, Rooneys is falling fast as the calls for him to be axed from both sides continues to grow. So what lies ahead for the respective United and England team mates?
After a glittering career complete with numerous domestic trophies and a European cup under his belt, Rooney now finds himself just 3 goals shy of equalling Sir Bobby Charlton’s record as Man United’s all time leading goal scorer. Not only that, following his debut at 17 he has gone on to become England’s most capped outfield player as well as the country’s leading goal scorer of all time. By rights we should be holding him in the same regard as the great legends of the game, but it seems nobody really knows what to do with Rooney anymore.
Having been deployed in a central midfield role for United to the end of last season, Rooney felt that it was the next natural step for him. His performances against Russia and Wales in that position at the Euro’s certainly supported those claims. Since then though, United manager Jose Mourinho has said Rooney will not play as a midfielder, whilst England boss Sam Allardyce has passed the buck and said it “wasn’t for him to say where Rooney played”. Erm…..Sam, you are the manager now mate.
Rooney was left at home for United’s midweek trip to Holland for their Europa League tie, and this is perhaps indicative of the way that he will be handled over the coming season. The sad truth is that Rooney’s once exhilarating, swashbuckling displays are no more. Rooney will be 31 next month – the wrong side of thirty for a top flight striker. History shows us that some of the great strikers of our game start to lose their touch by this point. Andy Cole, Michael Owen and Robbie Fowler were nowhere near as prolific in their thirties as they were as youngsters. Rooney’s goal tally is a particular cause for concern. Considering he’s made his name as a striker, he only notched 8 times in the premier league last season for the Red Devils in 28 matches. Supporters will point to the fact that he hit 7 goals in qualifying for England, but 4 of them were from the spot, whilst the other 3 came against Estonia, Lithuania and Slovenia.
No longer does Rooney drive at defenders and through the opposition like he once did so well. Instead he uses his sublime technique and experience to pick passes and attempt to pull the strings for his side. Which can be a valuable asset as he has showed in some games over the years. Yet it is also not the type of killer instinct that strikes fear into defenders. The emergence of Marcus Rashford has been enjoyable to watch. At times he looks clumsy and a bit rough round the edges, but he’s fearless – characteristics once evident in Rooney back in Euro 2004 when he dominated games for England.
Many people were shocked at Rashfords call up to the Euro’s, lack of experience and simply raw talent cited as reasons. Yet at nearly 19 he is 2 years older than Rooney when he first made his mark and 2 older than Michael Owen when he burst on to the scenes. The youngster hit 8 goals in the last 19 matches last year. That’s the same as Rooney in fewer games. His sublime cameo off the bench against Hull two weeks ago showed his ability to change the game and make things happen, and his hat-trick for the England under 21’s showed Big Sam what he’s missing. He had a similar impact at the Euro’s, helping to create Daniel Sturridge’s winner against Wales and was even arguably England’s best player against Iceland, and he was only on for 7 minutes. In that same match Rooney was probably our worst performer.
When you also consider the brilliance of fellow Englishman Delli Alli last season, you can understand why Rooneys position is under threat, and it’s about time Big Sam had the balls to drop his captain for some of the lesser matches. In all seriousness, what would Rooney get from playing a home qualifier to Malta? Very little. Whereas we would certainly learn more from starting both Alli and Rashford, and they’d earn valuable experience. Rashford is at a key stage in his career where he needs regular games. Youngsters like Alli, Raheem Sterling, Luke Shaw and John Stones are all getting that, and it’s Marcus’ turn at United.
Rooney can feel somewhat fortunate that many teams no longer play with 2 out and out strikers. His versatility and ability in playing in the role behind the striker give him more chance of a starting berth, but he’s considered lower down in the pecking order than he’d like. Ibrahimovic is an almost automatic starter for United at the moment, whilst Mourinho said he made a mistake in not starting Rashford for the Manchester derby at the weekend. So who gets left out? On current form Rashford should be an automatic pick for both sides. And with Harry Kane, Daniel Sturridge and Jamie Vardy vying for the number 9 role for the three lions, it’s possible we will never see Rooney play as a frontman again.
Sir Alex Ferguson has claimed previously that Rooney won’t be the sort of player that plays at the top till his mid-thirties. Very few players hang around long enough at Old Trafford to get a farewell send off. Fergie had a talent for shipping out players before they reached their sell by date, which makes you wonder whether Wayne would be around much longer if Fergie were still in charge. With United throwing the sort of money round like they did at Pogba, what’s stopping Mourinho doing the same to replace his ageing skipper? If United want to dominate at home and in Europe, they need the best players around. There have been links with Antoine Griezmann, and Jose’s not exactly the type for sentimentality – Frank Lampard will tell you that.
Eric Cantona retired at 31 as he wanted to ‘go out on top’, seemingly aware that his performances may suffer and his place in the starting line up could soon be under threat. Maybe Rooney’s recent advanced retirement announcement from International duty is his way of aiming to do something similar. He’s probably got a couple of seasons left at a big club and he can have an impact this season and next. That gives him time to lift a trophy as United skipper, deliver on the international tournament stage at the next World Cup like we’ve been waiting for, and then end his career with a trip across the pond to America where he can light up the MLS like he used to the Premiership. He’s a special player, one that’s dazzled us, shocked us, taken our breath away. But the beginning of the end starts here for Wayne. It’s time for him to plan his grand finale to bow out of England as the legend he is, before it’s too late.
By Darren Wells