10 years since that goal and questions are being asked whether Rooney has fulfilled the potential shown as a 16 year old.
An Evolution of the Player & the Man
October 2002. Wayne Rooney brings the ball down, looks up and curls a shot past Arsenal’s David Seaman. Wayne Rooney was destined to become a top class player, everyone at Everton’s academy knew it. That goal introduced him to the world of football. 10 years since that goal and questions are being asked whether Rooney has fulfilled the potential shown as a 16 year old.
As an 11 year old, Rooney was taking shots at Everton's Neville Southall prior to a game. Rooney was a mascot that day and whereas many usually will take tame shots at the keeper, Rooney was intent on lobbing the giant Southall. And he succeeded. It was an example of a player with confidence and skill, with serious potential.
As soon as Rooney came onto the professional scene he was a sought after by all of England’s top sides. His progression through Everton's academy had alerted many to his potential and his introduction at 16 did not disappoint.
After two season with Everton, where manager David Moyes was very protective of his young star, Rooney would go to Euro 2004 with England and announce himself on the world stage. Rooney scored four goals in the tournament and if it wasn’t for an injury in the game against Portugal, who knows what England could have done in that tournament. Rooney went off and England went out.
At 18 years old Rooney’s potential was clear, England had produced one of their finest players in years. That summer Newcastle United came in for Rooney, forcing the hand of Alex Ferguson, who was certainly desperate to land this potential world class player.
After missing out on players like Gasgoine and Shearer, Ferguson did not want to miss out on another of England’s finest. Ferguson saw so much in Rooney that he was willing to pay £30m for him. Eight years later, after 370 games for United and 182 goals, the question asked by many is, has Rooney fulfilled the potential he showed as a teenager?
Has he truly fulfilled his potential?
It is a difficult question to ask. In the past decade world football has seen players like Ronaldinho, Kaka, Ronaldo and Messi who have lit up the world of football with attacking flair and creativity. Each has brought success to their respective clubs and have put themselves at the top of world football’s best players lists. Throughout the past decade, Rooney has promised to challenge these players, yet he has always fell behind the top players.
When Rooney arrived at United he was very clearly the bright spark of United’s future. Although Ronaldo was already at Old Trafford, Rooney appeared to show much more potential, more quality and more understanding of the game.
Ronaldo appeared nothing but a show man, full of tricks and flicks yet lacking the football brain to be effective in games. Rooney showed a maturity and class beyond his years, he was clearly United’s future.
However, between 2004-2007 Ronaldo progressed from a young naïve player into a top quality forward. For Rooney and for England fans, it was a real disappointment. As Ronaldo improved and progressed, United’s tactics evolved to bring out the best in their star player. It was no longer about Rooney, it was now the Ronaldo show.
Ferguson had two of the brightest young talents in world football, yet in Ronaldo he chose to revolve United's style in order to make him the most effective wingers in Europe. As Ronaldo’s career blossomed, Rooney became a continuity player for United.
Ferguson and Quieroz decided that United would be successful if team revolved around Ronaldo. Rooney therefore stagnated his development. His potential to become a world class forward plateaued for the good of the team. Rooney became a worker, he played a part in the build up of the team, he was asked to play a defensive role for the side. Was it a glamour role? No. Yet for Ferguson it was effective.
Ferguson's decision was vindicated. United would win the Champions League in 2008 and would reach the final again in 2009. Ferguson had produced a world class side, yet it was Ronaldo who was the key, not Rooney. When Rooney arrived In 2004, many would not have believed this would be the case.
Ronaldo leaves, Rooney fills the void
When Ronaldo left in 2009, Rooney became the main man. He took the centre forward role and scored 34 goals. Ferguson played Rooney as a number nine and Rooney improved his goal scoring in the area, improved his heading and became United’s main man. Yet United did not win the league. United had lost some great talent in Ronaldo and Tevez and although Rooney had become the leading star of the side, United struggled.
Rooney's new role was to a switch back to the classic version of English football. Pass out wide, move into the box and look to score. Effective? At times. Yet a model of modern football? Not really. Rooney was moulded to suit the crossing and finishing mentality of English football. United took a step back in terms of their tactics and although Rooney scored goals, one wonders if he became a better player for it.
In the past few years Rooney has become a more vocal part of the team, both on and off the pitch. His outburst in Oct 2010 was not received well. Although he was perhaps correct about United's quality, the way he went about it was very poorly managed. Ferguson's control over Rooney since then has actually become stronger though. Many thought Rooney may be sold because of his actions and variable form. Yet it would appear that Ferguson believes Rooney has a key role in United's future.
A matter of mentality over talent
Since Rooney arrived on the scene, he has become a national icon. His life has been followed, reported on and importantly critically analysed since he was 16. This kind of attention will clearly affect a person's life and happiness. The pressures, expectations and hounding from the an incessant media, especially on a player like Rooney, must be overwhelming. For that reason one can understand his up and down form.
Yet it is easy to blame the media for Rooney’s at times problematic off the field issues. The truth is it is Rooney whose decisions, professionalism and actions have restricted his potential to become the player many believed he could have been 10 years ago.
We all know Rooney’s off the field issues with his eating, smoking and drinking. Rooney portrays the stereotypical Englishman. His weight issues, temperament and lack of professionalism have had a serious consequence on Rooney’s ability to become a world class player.
The cliché “talent is not enough” epitomises Rooney. When he arrived at United his potential to be better than Ronaldo was clear, the future was bright, the foundation was set. And yet, one must ask questions if Rooney has been willing to put in the extra work to become world class.
Ronaldo’s willingness to put in the work to be the best he can be, his physique, athleticism and professional attitude to training and preparation have seen him become the world’s most expensive player. The difference it seems is not a matter of talent or ability but of mentality. Yet, although you can compare Rooney and Ronaldo's mentality, as players they are completely different. Thus comparisons between the two on the pitch are wrong, aren't they?
Comparing Rooney to Messi and Ronaldo is simply wrong
Rooney turns 27 next week. In ten years we have followed the career of Rooney, increased the pressure on his shoulders and expected a lot from him. We have wanted him to become our Messi, our Ronaldo. Yet the truth is, Rooney is not this type of player.
Rooney’s attributes, perhaps because of his physical build, suits him more to a midfield role.
The future of football say many is of “universal” players. Rooney encapsulates this type of player; the ability to attack, defend, pass and score goals. His work rate, movement and ability to play in multiple positions clearly indicates versatility and universality.
One cannot compare Rooney to Messi and Ronaldo. Why? Because for me he is not a forward. Messi and Ronaldo are the modern forward, who drop deep and move between the lines. Similar to Rooney, yet they possess speed, acceleration and importantly the ability beat players 1v1. Amazingly, Rooney does not possess the ability to beat players like the world’s best forwards. Simply he is not a dribbler.
Rooney is actually more akin to players like Andrea Pirlo, Juan Veron and Paul Scholes. For too long Rooney has been compared with the top forwards, he has been played in a forward role, yet all along he was not this type of player. Although he scored goals, Rooney was always going to be a better attacking midfielder.
It was clear, wasn't it, that when he arrived 10 years ago, Rooney was destined to be England’s creative number 10. And yet, his role was moulded to be more of a centre forward. It has meant that his development as a world class midfielder has stalled.
The comparison between Rooney, Messi and Ronaldo is simply incorrect. Rooney’s future lies in a deeper role than these players. It will mean he will become a provider than a finisher. Like Pirlo for Italy, Veron for Argentina and Scholes for United, the game will go through Rooney, he will dictate the tempo and he will set up goals.
For me Pirlo, Veron and Scholes are the world’s best attacking midfielders in the past decade. They played the classictrequartista role to perfection, they created goals, scored goals and dictated play. They possessed quality, vision and flair. It is these players which Rooney should model himself on and which he should be compared.
Rooney's future role
Rooney is much more similar to Wesley Sneijder and Luka Modric then Messi and Ronaldo. His style, influence and position suit the creative 10 than the inside forward or false nine of the world’s top two forwards.
At 27 years old he is finally being played in the position which suits him best. Both club and country are now playing him behind the forwards and his performances are showing this improvement.
Ferguson’s decision to buy Van Persie and Kagawa indicates where he sees Rooney’s future. He sees him as a midfield creator supplying balls for the creative Kagawa and providing goals for Van Persie.
Rooney's future position requires maturity, tactical understanding and discipline. It has taken 10 years to see Rooney develop into this type of player and man. Perhaps his “English” mentality has meant it has taken longer to adapt and become more professional in his approach. Yet what is evident is that his role for both club and country is evolving.
I said before that Rooney may need to move abroad to fulfil his potential. Yet United appear to be configuring their style and moving Rooney into a position which will allow him to fulfil his potential.
Veron struggled at United because he was used to dictating the tempo of the game. for Lazio and Argentina he was used to having the ball all the time and being the sole creator. At United he was not offered this role, instead he was asked to play the United way. It did not work. Berbatov was the same. He wanted the ball and wanted to control the game. Ferguson’s style did not allow it to happen. It would appear that Rooney is being moulded to get the opportunity to become what these players wished they could be at Old Trafford.
Right now United are relying too much on Paul Scholes influence and quality. In Rooney Ferguson has a ready made solution to Scholes. I wonder if he always knew this? I wonder if he saw in Rooney the next Scholes?
An evolution of the player and man
In 10 years Rooney has evolved as a player and a man. He has gone from a carefree youngster, playing with the attitude of that portrayed when trying to lob Neville Southall as an 11 year old, into a more complete footballer. He has matured and learnt to deal with the mass media attention he attracts. He has improved his temperament and has grown into a leader. He now appears ready to lead his club and country, a true mark of his maturity and increased professionalism.
Yet importantly, he has matured into a key player for his side. It seemed clear he was more than a centre forward, his athleticism, passing range and vision indicated more of a midfielder than a forward. Ferguson has moulded Rooney into what he needs, the new Scholes. It is good news for United fans and England too.
Pirlo, Veron and Scholes’ influence and class were not always regarded as highly as deserved. Too often media and fans focus on the goalscorers and not the creators. Yet those who understand football, those who see the game as a whole, understand that these players are essential for team’s success. Rooney has the potential to become as good as these players.
In 10 years time when Rooney is 36, expect to see him playing as deep lying playmaker, marking 20 years of his evolution as a footballer. It seems an ideal progression of Rooney’s development and a way to make him a key player in United's style of play and success.
Rooney has always had the potential to be one of the best players of his generation, it has taken time and patience to improve his professionalism and understanding. The next decade of Rooney’s career has the potential to be better than the last one, Rooney now has the potential to be one of England’s best ever players.