When a sixteen year old Wayne Rooney curled the ball past the outstretched hand of David Seaman the footballing world new a talent had arrived. Now 100 Premier League goals on Rooney seems to be the complete player that had been touted since his earlier introductions at Everton.
For a player labeled as the “white Pele” by the United faithful his performance against Arsenal this weekend suggested that this claim may not be that unfounded. The first thing that should be examined is his goal. It was everything that typifies Rooney the player. Back defending a set piece, it was Rooney who found Nani after the former Everton man picked up Ji Sung Park’s clearance. Not content with alleviating the danger and simply gaining possession, Rooney put himself through a gut busting 60 yard sprint to get into a fantastic position. Once the pin point ball from Nani came the timing of his finish was impeccable. Rooney has been fortunate enough to play with some fantastic strikers during his Old Trafford career such as Ruud van Nistelrooy and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his finish for the goal taken first time early in his stride was in typical Solskjaer fashion. It is testament to the player that he was not simply content with his extreme natural ability. He came to United on the back of wowing world football at Euro 2004 and announced himself with a hat-trick on his debut . He has been constantly learning and developing his game, often playing out of position. It is this ability to constantly learn about his game and adapt it to certain situations why we are now seeing the player that was expected.
Rooney has again received glowing praise from his manager Sir Alex Ferguson in the wake of the Arsenal game with the Scot stating that his number 10 was “unbelievable” and highlighting the fact that Arsenal simply couldn’t handle him. This performance coupled with an a similar display earlier on in the season at White Hart Lane have been master classes in how to play as a lone striker. Much has been said about the way Rooney’s versatility and team ethic may have counted against him when Cristiano Ronaldo was at Old Trafford, with Rooney often marooned on the wing. This may have not always gotten the best out of Rooney’s performance then but it has brought another side to his game when playing as a central striker. Countless times he drifted out to the left hand side to a devastating effect against the Gunners, once again highlighting his ability to learn and develop his game. It is for these reasons why Rooney will continually improve and why United are so desperate to hold onto him.
Rooney again was the key ingredient for United against the Gunners but he was ably assisted by Nani. The former Sporting Lisbon man put in a mesmeric performance in the first half which showcased his obvious natural ability but also a much higher level of maturity. A player seemingly frozen out in the two months leading up to Christmas, the turnaround in his fortunes has been staggering. On current form he looks as likely to have a significant impact playing in the 4-3-3 formation which is proving a real asset especially away from Old Trafford. United face some tough away trips over the next month as they travel to Villa Park, the San Siro and Goodison Park following the home match against Portsmouth this weekend. If Nani can continue in this vain of form then he is likely to be an integral component in what could be a season defining few weeks. One player who will certainly be missed for the Premier League encounters during this difficult period is Rio Ferdinand. Suspended for the trips to Aston Villa and Everton, Ferdinand can play against Milan but whether he will be match fit is certainly in doubt. At times, United looked shaky at the back against Arsenal and were lucky not to have conceded more in the dying stages of the encounter so it is imperative that Ferdinand is in the team.
Whether Sir Alex will take the risk of starting him in the San Siro, however, will depend very much on the form and partnership of Jonny Evans and Wes Brown as United are all too aware of the cost of bringing in defenders who are not match fit into that particular encounter.