When you think of the best football players in the world you do not rattle off many names before you get to Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney. It would be hard to argue that Rooney is not one of the most talented goal scorers in the world, after-all, he has 206 goals in all competitions with Manchester United and Everton, as well as 32 more for England. Over his 11 year career, Rooney has shown his ability to score all different types of goals, whether it be a clinical finish, deadly shot, great header, or just a downright spectacular “how-did-he-do-that” finish. But despite being one of the greatest English goal scorers to ever play the game, the summer arrival of former Arsenal striker Robin van Persie to Old Trafford has left Rooney playing the role of sidekick, rather than team leader. For anyone with an ego, which is almost every footballer on the planet, this would usually not end well, but for Rooney, playing van Persie’s sidekick has become his favorite role of his career.
Many people have described Rooney as a player who would be completely happy playing any position on the pitch as long as he gets to kick a ball around for 90 minutes. This could not be a more true statement to describe Rooney, who has quietly developed a reputation of being one of the most team-first footballers in an era where almost everyone is me-first.
Over his nine-year career at Old Trafford, Rooney has lined up next to some of the best goal scorers in the world; whether it was Ruud van Nistelrooy, Cristiano Ronaldo, Carlos Tevez, or most recently Robin van Persie. However, no matter United’s main goal-scorer has been, one thing has never changed. Wayne Rooney has always been the heart and sole of the team.
Despite all the goals United score, the team has always struggled in the games immediately following an injury to Rooney. This season United have lost three matches, the most recent two both had one thing in common, Rooney was absent from the starting XI. In addition to that, their loss against Everton featured a very out of shape Rooney, who it was later admitted he shouldn’t have been playing as he was not Wayne Rooney out on the pitch.
There is a major difference between being the engine that makes a team run and being the guy that needs to lead the team in goals. In fact, Rooney is far more valuable to United when he isn’t the man scoring goals, a role that Rooney has realized and accepted.
If Rooney wanted to score all the goals and compete for Player of the Year awards he knows he is more then capable of doing so. Instead though, he would rather win trophy’s, and in order to that, he needs to play second fiddle. Since the 2006/2007 season, United have won every Premier League title except for two. In the two non-title winning seasons Rooney has scored a combined 56 goals and added 7 assists in the league. During the four title winning seasons Rooney scored just 49 goals in the league, but added an astonishing 42 assists.
The 2010/2011 season got off to a tumultuous start for Wayne Rooney, with stories in the tabloids about his personal life, an ankle injury, a contract dispute that led to a transfer request, and the perception of a complete lack of form. While it did take Rooney 11 games just to score his first league goal from open play, he once again spent the first half of the season demonstrating how he is the key to the United team. The 2010/2011 season was the year that another Manchester United striker, Dimitar Berbatov, won the Premier League’s Golden Boot by scoring 20 goals during the season. When Rooney was out in October and November with an ankle injury, pundits were praising Berbatov’s great season for keeping United afloat. However this wasn’t the case, as 18 of Berbatov’s 20 goals were scored with Rooney on the pitch, and Berbatov failed to score even once during Rooney’s early season absence. Meanwhile, while he was struggling to score in the first half of the season, Rooney picked up six of his 11 league assists during the first half of the season that year.
Wayne Rooney has realized long ago that the best way for his team to have success is for him to be the provider rather then the finisher. This season has seen Rooney begin to play a new role of an attacking midfielder rather then as a striker, a role that Rooney has publicly said he is really enjoying. While Robin van Persie may be currently stealing all the headlines with his plethora of late goals and winners, Rooney has already racked up seven assists, and United are six points clear at the top of the table.
If Manchester United will remain at the top of the table, Wayne Rooney will gladly sign up to play the part of van Persie’s sidekick, year after year after year.