Rooney is on the wane. Even at his peak, he was prone to explosive bursts of excellence rather than long term consistency. Now the bursts have gone and we are left with persistent mediocrity. It’s no longer a shock when Rooney doesn’t play well; it’s a shock when he does.
He wouldn’t be the first teenage star to explode onto the scene before beginning to fade seemingly before his time. Physical burnout is a very real thing. But I think the reasons for Rooney’s feckless descent are rooted in the psychological realm.
During his adolescent emergence, Rooney was an instinctive, rebellious and hot-headed street mutant – smashing more senior opponents with heavy shoulders and unyielding fury. He made the same sort of technical mistakes he does now, but the energy he brought more than made up for the short comings of his first touch.
Like many great players before him, Rooney needed to keep those emotional fires burning bright to bring the best out of him. But instead of revelling in a once in a generation footballing free spirit, the media would regularly punctuate his endeavours with negativity.
“He was great today….BUT he really needs to focus his energy more productively.”
“He is always treading a fine line. He needs to learn to control that angry streak.”
And you know what? Rooney did change.
Now we are left with a media trained and media drained student of Zeno -expertly and horribly schooled in Stoicism. Rooney’s inner fire was extinguished by the ink of a million printed criticisms.
The media also helped to plant seeds and delusions of grandeur in Rooney’s mind when Ferguson had the “gall” to start him from a wide position in big European games.
“It’s a shame that Rooney is being utilized like this.”
“Can you imagine another top manager putting his best player on the wing”.
“If I’m a defender, I’m delighted to see Rooney out there”.
“United should build the team around Rooney, not shunt him out wide”.
In reality, Rooney was shifted wide in those games to allow Ronaldo to play more centrally. There is absolutely no shame in playing second fiddle to one of the greatest players of all time. Rooney generally did a fantastic job from a wider position too, helping out defensively while still contributing in more forward areas, but instead of praising his flexibility, Rooney was a “victim of his own selflessness”.
The brain-washing resulted in a Rooney who ran and fought less, a Rooney who began to stroll about the pitch, chest out like the second coming of Cantona. And to be fair, he did produce the goods for a while when thrust centre stage following Ronaldo’s Iberian departure.
But something had irrevocably changed in Rooney’s psyche. Now that he was United’s main man, his ego began to spiral. He believed his own teammates were so inferior that he pushed for an Old Trafford exit. He was convinced to stay, but by Ferguson’s last season, Rooney looked a spent force.
The media Rooney mind-melt continued regardless.
“He isn’t being used properly”.
“He is carrying the worst United team in years. He needs help.”
It’s a spin that has been on repeat through the tenure of three different United managers now, none of whom has been able to get anything out of Rooney.
The media catagorized Rooney as a continental style number ten, a player through which all creativity comes, even when it was apparent that he had neither the positional intelligence nor subtlety of touch to excel there.
But when he failed to influence a series of games from that position, the media switched stances.
“Wayne’s always best as an out and out striker.”
“He needs to be closer to the goal”
“He is a born number 9”
So Wayne would stand around right up top for a while, shorn of the combativeness to give defenders nightmares and lacking the close control to carve out openings………”he really excels as a number 10”…..and the cycle repeats.
Like Frankenstein’s monster, there must have been moments when Rooney would look in the mirror and ask “What am I?”
Rooney’s on field passiveness has helped to drive a wedge between him and the Manchester United support too. United’s captain is on his way to becoming the club’s all time top goal scorer, yet if he hung up his boots tomorrow, there would be apathetic shoulder shrugs all round. Doesn’t that sound crazy? It’s true nonetheless.
Against Arsenal last Sunday, United were turned over convincingly 3-0, but there were a couple of moments where Rooney chased a lost cause, challenged for the ball aggressively and won possession back for his team. Those moments were notable for their rarity, but they did conjure up memories of the Rooney of old – a bottled firework of a footballer, who could win games through sheer force of will.
Fans want to see their players putting it all on the line for their team, they want to see players delirious with joy in victory and equally devastated in defeat. If you give them your all, you will get it all back from them and more.
Rooney used to deliver that in spades, but then he was replaced by this current lobotomized imposter.
So what now? How will it end? You would have to speculate that the end is very fucking nigh (as that graffiti in 28 Days Later so eloquently put it). If Rooney did ship off to the MLS or back to Everton next summer, it wouldn’t come as a major surprise.
And although he will end his career as United and England’s top scorer, it still feels like we have missed out on something even more extraordinary. It’s going to end with a whimper instead of the roar of a working class warrior.
He is a watered down single-malt whiskey. He is badly cut cocaine. He is a rock song in a vaccum. He is Rooney on the wane.