When I began writing my column for Stretty News, the great dictator Alex Ferguson had abdicated his throne and handed power to permanently puzzled Scotsman/deep cover gonzo journalist D***d M***s. Part of this handover involved Ferguson handing over an almighty mess to a man not up to the job of sorting it all out. Top of the pile was the breakdown of relations between the club and Wayne Rooney, one time bridesmaid to Ronaldo, then the main man around the time standards began to drop under Ferguson (and the owners).
Ferguson got tired of Rooney’s patchy form, inconsistent fitness record and what he saw as a not wholly professional approach to the game. The lad liked a drink and smoke as much as he allegedly used to like ladies of the night. Wayne spat his dummy out and tried to engineer a move to Chelsea, who wanted him but apparently not enough to stump up more than £20 million for him. For a supposedly world class operator this was less than what they paid for Diego Costa: A talented man no doubt but a man with only one strong goalscoring season to his name, a permanently dicky hamstring and a weather-beaten face substantially and suspiciously older than his official age.
Not exactly a ringing endorsement from the sulking, insufferable Iberian arse down at Stamford Bridge. My own thoughts at the time echoed that and then some. I advocated for Rooney to be moved out of the club, to anybody who would have him or at least have his prominence in the team reduced tremendously and build around another player/s. The one time Roy of the Rovers, who once struck fear into opposition and lit the blue touch paper with moments so spectacular and visceral you thought your head would explode just watching them, had shot his bolt. The lad was finished as a top level player. His pace had gone, the fear banished and the enthusiasm barely above the level of George Best in the mid 70’s with the added beer gut to boot.
He still had his moments of course, a 50 yarder against West Ham, but even that was eclipsed several weeks later by an outrageous, turning half volley by Jonjo Shelvey down in South Wales. However, I felt United’s rebuilding involved moving on from a man who was at one point the most exciting prospect gracing the green grass of the beautiful game.
Last season gave me hope of a renaissance for a brief period though. It was a different Rooney but one with a great role to play. Playing intelligently not spectacularly, operating in the channels upfront and creating space for diminutive players such as Herrera and Mata and blundering, big haired, bulldozers like Marouane Fellaini. What’s more he stopped shouting expletives and “erm” at other players and blaming them for his cock-ups. That glorious few weeks of form where if you went away on holiday before beating Spurs 3-0 and returned to the defeat to Chelsea you would think nothing had changed. What a few weeks of promise they were before Michael Carrick got himself crocked by playing too many games as 105 year old.
The summer promised us a continuation. A leaner, meaner Wayne Rooney. Van Gaal finally succumbing to the media clamour to play him as a striker. “It’s his best position!” Many an ill-informed, idiotic ex-pro picking up the cheque told us. Evidently they hadn’t watched football in the last few years as that wasn’t the case, as the beginning of the season has demonstrated to us with harrowing clarity.
Rooney can’t realistically play as a centre forward long term, he’s a number 10, a goalscoring number 10. He has neither the patience, consistency nor the technique for being a number 9. A good first touch is the pre-requisite for any top centre forward, whether they be a permanently offside poacher or a barely contained nuclear fusion reactor like the superb Sergio Aguero. Rooney’s first touch has always been on a par with that of a member of the House of Lords in a children’s care home as we saw many times against Villa on Friday night.
Worse still though was that all his positive traits have declined. His energy, his pace, his power, his decisiveness and ability to be able to cleanly strike a ball better than anyone around. Against “Lad’s it’s” Tottenham, even Kyle Walker got bored and frustrated with Wayne’s dithering over a simple chance and decided to put the ball in the net for him. Like Brian Clough showing off his striking skills to his players in training. “See that Wayne! That’s how it’s bloody done! Just like this is how you effectively cover your thinning hairline!”
Even with the brief Italian striker like renaissance last season Wayne’s star has been on the wane (see what I did there) for some time. His pace dribbles away, his strength and power seems to decay and his explosiveness is crumbling. Going into this season without an additional attacker was sheer foolishness by Van Gaal anyway, unfortunately it now appears totally ludicrous as his captain seems to be in terminal decline.