There was a time at Manchester United in the barren seasons between Sir Matt Busby and Sir Alex Ferguson that it was a huge achievement for a front player to hit the 20 league goal mark in one season. In fact there was no a single player between George Best and Brian McClair who achieved that feat. Following on from McClair finally breaking that particular Old Trafford duck we have been witness to such great forwards as Andy Cole, Dwight Yorke, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Cristiano Ronaldo who have not just surpassed that feat but have smashed right through it. What we are currently witnessing, however, is a player who may be on course to surpass the achievements of those aforementioned players.
Wayne Rooney grabbed his 25th Premier League goal this season and his 32nd in total following his brace against Fulham at the weekend. Prior to the match Sir Alex Ferguson had challenged his 24-year-old striker to surpass Ronaldo’s total of 42 in all competitions from two seasons ago and with the England man’s scoring rate for his last 22 games being better than a goal a game it is likely that Rooney can achieve this.
Bettering the achievements of Ronaldo in 2008 will be some feat for Rooney but what the former Everton man brings to the side in the opinion of this writer is already a greater achievement than his Portuguese former teammate. Ronaldo was first and foremost a winger but often in his last two seasons he was playing so far forward that he could have been considered a striker. This meant that the rest of the team had to accommodate him with players such as Rooney being forced to play deeper negating the strongest qualities of his game in order to do a job for the team. Players such as Darren Fletcher when playing in the centre of midfield were often asked to cover whichever side Ronaldo may have been playing on and was consequently unable to get forward and affect the play himself.
What Rooney currently brings to this United side is a constant goal threat and a front player who is the immediate thought of the players behind him but he also brings stability to the rest of the side. Fletcher has been able to get forward and affect the play so much more bringing with it some fantastic performances as a complete central midfielder. Other players such as Antonio Valencia and Ji-Sung Park have been able to play off Rooney high up the pitch and affect the play from wide areas and when coming from deep in the case of Park. The United side currently looks settled, the personal may change from game to game and at times the formation but there are no grumbles about players playing out of position doing a job for the team. Each player going into every match knows their job and currently the performances are flowing from that.
Following the Fulham match Dimitar Berbatov has come out and stated that he feels that Rooney is fast becoming one of the best players in the world – this is clearly down to the current form of the man but what he also gives this United side. If Rooney, is to prove this and that he is in fact more worthwhile to this United side than Ronaldo was he will need to inspire United to both the league and the Champions League. Rooney clearly has this ability in his locker and the temperament to match his new found status.
United have eight games left to Chelsea’s nine, with Arsenal looking extremely dangerous in what is fast becoming the closest title race in years. With United’s next three fixtures bringing home ties against both Liverpool and Chelsea the focus will be directly on the shoulders of Rooney to prove decisive. If Rooney can propel United to success in these fixtures then United will certainly be in pole position for the title.
If Rooney’s goal scoring exploits continue for United and also England in this summer’s World Cup then he could be in line to receive the individual accolades come the end of the year which many feel that his ability deserves. If he can win one or both of the European and World footballer of the year awards then there will be no doubt that he will be alongside the likes of Best and Ronaldo in United history. Considering his current age and desire to remain at the club for the rest of his career it certainly seems he has the potential to become one of the best in the history of one of the famous clubs in world football.