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Wayne Rooney - Wasted Talent?

“Remember the name…”

Ever since Clive Tyldesley uttered those words ten years ago as a 16-year old kid plucked the ball out of the air and unleashed a thunderbolt that swerved and dipped into the top corner past David Season, Wayne Rooney has carried the hopes of a nation on his broad shoulders.

Ten years later, with 32 goals in 78 appearances for England and 180 goals in 370 matches for Manchester United, it begs the question of whether he has lived up to the potential that he showed as a precocious 16-year old?

Rooney is the most technically gifted English player of his generation

His career has been a rollercoaster ride at times, punctuated by joyous highs and crushing lows. He made a stunning entrance onto the international scene, scoring four goals as England moved into the quarter-finals of Euro 2004. Had he not been injured in that match, who knows how far England could have progressed?

However, since then, he has scored one goal in three tournaments, and even that was a simple tap-in against Ukraine last summer. He came into the 2006 and 2010 World Cups with injury concerns and missed the first two Euro 2012 matches after his petulance against Montenegro. Despite that, there is no doubt that he has underachieved on the international stage.

The potential that he showed early in his career suggested that he could be heading straight to the very top of the game. Zidane, Ronaldinho, Kaka, and now Messi and Ronaldo have stood at the pinnacle of the beautiful game, bringing joy to fans worldwide. However, Wayne Rooney is yet to join this illustrious list.

Rooney burst onto the scene with a stunning goal against Arsenal

In the early days at Manchester United, following his £30m move from Everton, he formed a devastating partnership with the young Portuguese winger, Cristiano Ronaldo. However, early impressions suggested that it would be Rooney that would go on to reach the pinnacle. Time has since proved those impressions wrong – Ronaldo is now arguably the best player on the planet, while Rooney languishes in that group of world class players that have not quite made the final step.

Since Ronaldo left Old Trafford in the summer of 2009, Wayne Rooney has found himself as the star. And his performances have hardly been disappointing. In the season following Ronaldo’s departure, he scored 26 goals in 32 appearances in the Premiership. Last season, he scored 34 goals in all competitions. They are excellent strike-rates by anyone’s standard.

Yet still questions remain…

However, it would appear that Sir Alex Ferguson has now found a new role for his talisman – possibly the role that Rooney was always born to play. Rather than employing him as the centre-forward, he has found himself being dropped further back and playing as an attacking midfield playmaker.

Messi and Ronaldo are different players to Rooney. Comparing him to those two is not quite as stark as comparing apples to oranges, but it is unfair. Messi and Ronaldo drop deep to find the space, then use their pace and dribbling ability to slice through defences and create the opportunities. This is not Rooney’s style. He does not have electrifying pace. And despite his natural technical brilliance, he has never been one to run and beat players with the ball.

Rooney has been taking up a different role for United this season

Ferguson’s decision to sign Robin van Persie this summer hints that he has realised this. In the Dutchman, he does have a natural forward that he can count on to score goals. Rather than looking to play the two of them up front together, he has dropped Wayne Rooney back into the advanced playmaker role.

Many of Rooney’s disciplinary problems have been born out of frustration at the lack of the ball. Stranded up front on his own, he has to fight against his natural game not to drop back looking for the ball. Finding himself isolated, he becomes frustrated, and lets those frustrations get the better of him.

This deeper position allows him to become more involved and dictate the game. He has the defensive skills to play in the midfield, his work rate is second-to-none in the United team and his technical ability will allow him to create chances for the likes of van Persie.

So while his club form has been good, it has not quite reached the world-class levels that one might have expected. However, employed in what would appear to be his most natural role, there is still plenty of time for him to push on and reach that next level.

Internationally, there is still plenty for him to work on. He is almost cursed in being England’s standout attacking player – there are precious few other English players close to his level. Rarely does a standout player play to his ability internationally – Zlatan Ibrahimovic has struggled to find his club form for Sweden, Roberto Baggio almost always disappointed for Italy, while Raul was unable to have the same impact for Spain as he did for Real Madrid.

His record at club level is far superior to that at international level

The pressure of a nation on the shoulders of one player is a difficult burden for any player. And that player is always judged by different standards to the rest of his teammates. Instead of having an off-day, or carrying an injury, Rooney is dismissed an uninterested and representing everything that is wrong with football in England.

Internationally, unless we can find another talent to share the workload, it seems unlikely that Wayne Rooney will ever fulfil his potential.

Up to now, Wayne Rooney has had an excellent career. He has four Premiership winner medals, one Champions League medal, as well as two other final appearances. He has won the Young Player of the Year award twice and he is a former Premiership Player of the Year.

The final step is always the hardest. However, it is hard to remember that he is still only 26-years old. He potentially has another decade at the top level.

Will he become the world’s best striker? Almost certainly not. He is not a natural striker. Will he become the world’s best attacking midfielder? It is certainly a possibility.

Paul Scholes is arguably the best attacking midfielder that has graced the Premiership. He is one of the best attacking midfielders of his generation. And his position is the one that Wayne Rooney will occupy in the coming years.

Rooney has always possessed the natural talent to become one of the best players of his generation. His lack of discipline and professionalism has held him back to some extent, as has his role over the past decade. Now he has matured and found his natural position, he could go on to fulfil that potential. We may never see it for England, but it would be no surprise if Rooney ends his career as one of the standout names of his generation.

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