Tuesday 27 June 2017

Off The Ball: Wayne Rooney's records are undermined by what might have been

Rooney's best years for Manchester United were spent on the left-wing, playing second-fiddle to Cristiano Ronaldo. It never felt like the appropriate high point for the 16-year-old who once whipped a ball past David Seaman after a first touch which promised everything (Getty Images)
Rooney's best years for Manchester United were spent on the left-wing, playing second-fiddle to Cristiano Ronaldo. It never felt like the appropriate high point for the 16-year-old who once whipped a ball past David Seaman after a first touch which promised everything (Getty Images)

Joe Molloy

Wayne Rooney has arrived at that sweet spot in his career where the foundations have been laid and every new goal seems to herald another record.

His latest strike against Liverpool moved him ahead of Thierry Henry for most Premier League goals at a single club. Aged 30, he is now just seven behind Bobby Charlton's Manchester United mark of 249. Already this season, he beat Charlton's England record of 49 goals, one of the great institutions of British football. We might have expected this period to be a coronation of sorts, a celebration of his brilliance, akin to the mood music which surrounded Ryan Giggs' final years.

Instead, this past year has felt like a sort of rubber-stamping of Rooney's premature demise, a realisation that his lifestyle and body-type have combined to bring the curtain down early on a career full of contradictions.

Rooney, great in so many respects, never achieved greatness. Even this record-breaking season has been pockmarked by weeks without a goal or an assist. At times his first touch has been unacceptably erratic. This has been a bizarrely regular issue for him over the years. Being dropped against Stoke has sparked some kind of revival, but one wonders why it came to that.

It is hard to know what a realistic expectation for Wayne Rooney ever was, given that his introduction to top-level football was so astoundingly exciting. By any standards, he has statistically had a great career, yet Euro 2004 remains his best international tournament to date.

His best years for Manchester United were spent on the left-wing, playing second-fiddle to Cristiano Ronaldo. It never felt like the appropriate high point for the 16-year-old who once whipped a ball past David Seaman after a first touch which promised everything.

Jamie Carragher recently said Rooney is more like a 34-year-old because he has played so many games. Rooney is currently at 611 senior appearances for club and country. The reality is that Ronaldo, also 30, has 648.

Which of the two worked harder at their game? Therein lies the frustration with Rooney.

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