I have a concern regarding Wayne Rooney; a concern that if he continues his career at Old Trafford, he will not fulfil his true potential.

Wayne Rooney's move Man Utd was his chance to be one of the world’s best, and at times in his career he has been simply unplayable. This past season has been arguably his best ever, however I have a concern regarding Wayne Rooney; a concern that if he continues his career at Old Trafford, he will not fulfil his true potential. 

Wayne Rooney arrived onto the football stage in October 2002 when he scored a sublime goal against Arsenal at Goodison Park. Of course he was already being touted as the best thing of his generation, yet that goal alerted everyone that this kid was special. We were told to “remember the name” and in the past decade he has never been out of the spotlight enough to forget it. 

For good and for bad, Rooney has been a constant in the media, we have effectively seen him grow up, get married and have a family, all while watching him play for the biggest side in England, and one of the best in the world. Yet the team that he joined at United, is not as good as the one he plays in now, it was by all accounts, the most average United side for twenty years, playing in arguably the worst Premier League for a long time also. Based on this, the question is, is Rooney being held back by United and by the English game?
 
Problems in England

There is a problem with English players with a certain unwillingness to take their career abroad. In the past decades there have been players such as Keegan, Platt, Gasgoine, Linekar, Waddle, Wilkins and Hoddle who have ventured across the Isles to the continent in order to further their careers and learn new things. You could argue that these players were some of the best that England have produced and the question there is, were they the best because they played abroad or did they become the best by playing abroad? An interesting question perhaps, yet it shows that at one time, English players moved abroad to develop as footballers.

In the past fifteen years however there are only a few top level players who have made the decision to move abroad; Ince, McManaman, Beckham and Owen are players who all moved abroad when in the prime of their careers. Arguably each one had different experiences, whereas McManmanan had real moments of class in Madrid, Beckham had his fair share of troubles. Yet, what all these players got was a new experience; Paul Ince spoke recently about how moving to Italy furthered him a player, made him understand the game more and changed his approach to how he played it. Is there a correlation between the lack of top quality English players moving abroad and England's lack of success in international football? 

The Golden Generation

Of the English players with genuine quality from the "Golden Generation (players like Ferdinand, Terry, Ashley and Joe Cole, Gerrard, Lampard, Scholes, Owen and Beckham) players who possessed the qualities and the abilities to challenge for the top prizes, failed to achieve more with their international careers. In my opinion, the reason why these players have not won as much as perhaps they should, especially in international football, is because they never played anywhere but England. 

Would Rio or Terry have improved their game if they had moved to Italy, Spain or Germany? I believe so. Although we have seen Beckham, Owen and Joe Cole move abroad, the three players who I believe would have become genuine world class players if they had played abroad would have been Gerrard, Lampard and Scholes. The way top quality players like Xavi and Zidane talk about Scholes, tells you how great he has been, yet perhaps he was never given that kind of respect in England. Imagine if Scholes had moved to a Juve or Barcelona, imagine what he could have done in one of these countries. 

Gerrard is a  frustrating player, he appears to have everything, except for perhaps the most important attribute, football intelligence. Does he have a football brain? Of course, yet has it been developed, nurtured and educated? No. And this is because he has restricted his own development by choosing to stay at Liverpool. He chose to be the best player in average side instead of furthering himself at another club, surrounding himself with better quality. 

For me, Gerrard epitomizes the typical English player; hard working and strong tackling, with the ability to score vital goals, the stereotypical Roy of the Rovers hero. Yet, it is no surprise why Gerrard has not won more in his career; he lacks the discipline and understanding of what a successful side requires. His belief is that the more he runs, the harder he tackles and the further he passes the ball, the more he is helping his side. Yet in football, that is not always the case, especially in the top levels of the game. If Gerrard had moved to Europe between 2005-2009 I believe he would have become one of the best in the world, instead he stayed at Anfield, where has continued to be the star at the expense of his own development as top level footballer. 

All three of these players are unquestionably gifted and all have been successful, yet all have had their doubters, why is that? For me it comes down to the style of the English game. In my opinion the English style does not complement or prepare players for international football or competitions. And many around the world, those who vote for the World's best player and those who apparently are "against" England, are correct in their belief that the English game is behind and lacking compared to other nations, and which is why not one player has won the World's best player award since it's inception in 1991.

The English leagues limitations

Although the English league has become the self professed "best league in the world", England are getting nowhere near winning international tournaments, in fact, they are getting further away. For me, the style of play in Italy, Spain and Germany suits the international level, all in different ways. In Spain, the slow build up style allows for players to retain their energy and requires their players to be masters technicians, which allows them to keep possession better and break through defences. In Italy, their understanding of the art of defending, mastering it, instead of just butchering it with the high octane, headless chicken approach of England, has allowed them to progress in tournaments. And in Germany there is a nation which has always been very well organised, which England have not. It is different standing in positions than actually knowing what to do in them as a unit. And now we see a modern Germany, built on strong foundations, producing creative talent which we could only dream of.

Why would moving abroad benefit a English player? Simply a change of style and culture would be ideal for a player to develop. When Spanish players in particular come to England people ask them what is different here than in Spain. Their answer is always the same, Spain is more tactical. Now we always assume they will say it’s more technical in Spain, yet we forget that we our game is the product of our culture, and our culture wants to see all out attacking football. 

What our culture allows is excitement and goals, this not because of great attackers but because many sides do not know how to defend, they do not have the understanding of tactics and the ability to implement them. It is no surprise that the top sides in England bar United have foreign managers, because they understand more of what is required in the modern game. We assume our league is the best because it contains the most goals, this is ludicrous. If this is the case then surely we have a problem defensively; when I see scorelines like 8-2, 1-6 and 3-5 between the top sides in England, I worry that perhaps there is a problem. We complain that Italy is boring, because the tempo is slower and less goals are scored. Yet the Italians understand football, understand tactics, and is why their national team has achieved much more success than England. 

Tactical lessons

Barcelona are regarded as the world’s best, with the English media in particular stating that it is because of the quality of the players. Yet little credit was really given to Guardiola in his time at Camp Nou, as what he did was the key to their success. Simply, he made them the most tactically astute side in world football. Watch Barcelona and you will see a complete unit of players implementing their managers tactics to perfection, in both defence and attack. How many sides in England can we say this applies to? 

When Cesc Fabregas arrived back at Camp Nou this past season, he frustrated Guardiola with his lack of understanding, his lack of discipline, Fabregas had simply being “English-ized”; he played like a schoolboy, running all over, seeking the ball, similar to that of Gerrard for Liverpool. Yet he did not suit the tactics of Barcelona, as flowing as their play was, it was all about tactics, where players should be and when. Fabregas obstructed others and Guardiola knew it. 

Can it be argued that Fabregas’ development in England was actually detrimental on him? Whereas when we see David Silva or Aguero arrive here, they appear to have time and space, of which we are amazed, what they have actually have is a knowledge of the game and the understanding of spatial awareness which was taught to them away from England. In England, there appears more space because teams allow it much more than abroad. By playing against harder tactics and more astute coaches and players, English players could improve their game intelligence, which would improve their performance in the upper echelons of world football.

The bullies of Europe?

The English game is famed and prided on its physicality, the fans appear to class this as its number one asset. Yet the term physical always seems to be an excuse for lacking intelligence and technical ability. I would say that the English league represents a bully, who compensates for its lacking in finesse and smarts with an extra intensity and fight. However, when it comes up against the quicker and smarter sides and countries, the bully is simply out thought and out played. 

A change is certainly needed in this country culturally to improve our standards, the influx of foreign players of genuine class has improved the quality, yet there are too many mediocre ones taking up the opportunities of our English players development. It appears as a country changes are coming, yet it is happening too slowly to influence the current generation of players and for a player like Rooney, a time for a change appears nigh. 

Rooney being held back

United, as I have said before were on their way to being one of the world's best in 2008 when Carlos Quieroz was the coach; they played a modern style and understood their roles, they were evolving into a big player on the European stage. However, in his absence they have reverted back to their rigid English style, which has no influence on the European game and importantly, does not reflect international football. This has important repercussions for Rooney.

Rooney is the best player of his generation in England and thus a player who has the hopes of his nation on his shoulders. Yet in the past decade has Rooney really fulfilled his potential? I would argue not. Abroad Rooney is considered one of the best, an artist say some. Yet how do we see him? As a one dimensional centre forward? Many have criticised Rooney for his performances, yet does anyone step back and wonder if perhaps he is just too good for the teams he plays in? Both domestically and internationally? 

For me, Rooney is the English version of Zidane, or could be, if he looks to move away from United in the coming years. His intelligence and movement added to his technical ability makes him one of the best forwards in world football, and yet he can play in almost any position, a truly universal player. 

However, I worry that at United he has stropped progressing; he was right when he said in Oct 2010 that he was not surrounded by the right quality. The best players play with the best, they understand each others movement, position and timing.  For me, the support cast at United is not giving Rooney what he requires, and as England fans, we should be worried. The final against Barcelona in 2011 showed the gulf in quality between the sides, and made Rooney look like an island in a sea of mediocrity with what was around him. 

A necessary move?

In England only Man City can further Rooney, with the quality of Silva, Aguero, Nasri and Toure to provide and challenge Rooney to exceed his levels he could progress further with them. Yet, if Rooney really wants to be the best, he should look to move to the continent. Moving abroad will not only improve his development due to the improved quality around him, it will also develop his intelligence; learning systems, styles and tactics more complex than the English game provides. It will also develop him culturally, and this kind of experience cannot be underestimated, he will learn new languages and cultures and further himself as a man too.  

For me, there have been too few English players who have given themselves this opportunity. Whether for reasons of contentment or fear, players have decided to stay in England and see out their careers. I believe Gerrard, Lampard and Scholes would have become better had they moved in their prime, Rooney has the opportunity to make that decision, for the good of him and his country. He would not be short of takers, any one of Barca, Real or Bayern would be desperate to have him, perhaps he could even be the new Del Piero at Juve and follow Zidane’s footsteps, though the Italian league is not what is once was, it is getting back there. What is important for him is to move on in order to learn new things and surround himself with the quality of players which will further him.

Rooney still has much more potential to unlock, potential which will not be developed if he stays with United. The world of football is a big place and there is much to learn beyond the isles of Britain. Rooney and others would do well to travel abroad in order to further their footballing careers, a move which could perhaps improve the quality of English players which ultimately would improve the success of the national side. 

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