Wayne Rooney had what can only be described as a pretty lame six months from the end of the 2009/10 season. His World Cup disappointment mirrored that of England as a whole and then after a sluggish start to the current domestic season there came the bombshell of that transfer request following some unfortunate reports about his personal life. A genuinely shaken Sir Alex Ferguson gave a press conference wearing a crestfallen look that may or may not have been for the camera. Rooney is made to look like an ungrateful oaf and relents, but not before getting himself an improved contract and assurances of United’s ambition to spend big this summer.
Rooney returned in November to a mixed reception from the Old Trafford support and, initially, the touch and vision that were part of his game continued to desert him. All of this is relevant only because some rumours have emerged of a new breakdown in the Ferguson-Rooney axis. The forward is said to be still unhappy at the lack of top-class personnel around him, and unconvinced by the promise of funds to the manager in the close season. Ferguson has reportedly told Rooney to have a good look in the mirror before finding faults in those around him.
This is interesting because a look at Rooney’s goal return since the start of February indicates a return to some consistent form: two goals against Aston Villa; that superb overhead kick in the Manchester derby that won the game no less; and a late strike in a good performance at Wigan marred by an elbowing incident. Yes, Rooney’s short fuse also appears intact. He also scored the opener in the 2-1 defeat at Chelsea and added the second with a classy finish against Arsenal at the weekend. Moreover, he appears to be enjoying playing football far more than was the case early in the season.
Energy and drive are central parts of the game of a player who strives to start and finish attacking moves, and so the difference between a motivated Rooney and the troubled soul of a few months ago is a marked one. It is not just goals that highlight it. He appears to be doing the simple things well again and, in addition to six goals in his last eight starts, his contribution to the team effort is much closer to that of the Wayne Rooney we know.
There is of course an argument that questioning the ability of team-mates in the dressing room, particularly younger players, is not good for the team ethic. Nor does it help the development of those who still have something to learn, for they need an experienced professional to serve as an inspiration, not a walking, talking kick in the teeth. This lack of faith in Old Trafford personnel was of course implicit in Rooney’s transfer request and if, as has been rumoured, he has repeated it, then a lesson clearly has not been learned.
It will be interesting to see if Ferguson gets the funds to strengthen his side in a meaningful way and if he acquires, for instance the dynamic midfielder that many -presumably Rooney is among them – feel United need. Regardless, if anyone were looking for weak links in the Old Trafford side right now, any analysis that Rooney is part of the problem would appear to be profoundly flawed. The statistics do not lie, and while the whole United team, Rooney included, appeared to malfunction at Anfield, he has been one of their shining lights again in recent weeks.