Saturday 10 December 2016

Mr Angry still on the wane despite memorable strike

Published 13/02/2011 | 05:00

They'll probably give Rooney goal of the season for that. They gave him man of the match for it even though he'd had another poor performance.

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They are always seduced by the one-off spectacular. A ball is cleared, comes to a player 25 yards out, he lets fly, back of the net, and everyone is in raptures about it. But these are simple goals. There's nothing as complicated as teamwork involved, stringing a necklace of passes between four or five players to find the opening that creates the goal. It's so much harder to do. At each point the move can break down if one of those passes is imprecise, a mere inch or two away from the intended target.

Wayne Rooney's goal yesterday was a one-off spectacular. In fairness, it was not in itself easy to execute. The chances of it coming off were low. The execution was tremendous: timing, balance, agility and eyes locked on the ball. But it came from nothing. It was an isolated, self-contained moment.

It wouldn't have happened had Nani's attempted cross not deflected off the back of the Manchester City defender Zabaleta. The ball spiralled into the air, wrong-footing Vincent Kompany, who had dominated Rooney all game. It fell, as they say, invitingly for the forward. And you could tell, before he hit it, that he was going to attempt the bicycle kick. He had no other option. Take a touch and Richards is going to close him down. One would've expected any decent forward to attempt the same. He'd have had nothing to lose, no one would've criticised him for trying.

What we didn't expect was that Rooney would connect so perfectly. If a lot of forwards would've tried it, not many would have delivered. Zabaleta didn't expect it either; he could be seen jogging back, watching without any alarm the flight of the ball. And then it flies into the net and he stands there, stopped dead in his tracks by the shock.

By this point last season Rooney had scored 21 goals. Yesterday's was his fifth of this season. He has been so out of sorts for so long that whispers about a player in irreversible decline had been getting louder.

Manchester United had lost for the first time all season last weekend, against Wolves. Rooney had had another rotten day. And it was shaping up the same way yesterday, with Kompany haunting his shadow all afternoon. In the 18th minute, the Belgian came through the back of Rooney and dumped him on the ground. Rooney complained to the referee, who booked Kompany. Seven minutes later, Giggs, who was just about masterful yesterday, stroked a lovely ball into Rooney's path. Kompany read it superbly and once again left his opponent standing. "Has him in his pocket," said Alan Smith on commentary. "Rooney's not happy," agreed his colleague Martin Tyler, "he was Mister Angry at Molineux wasn't he?"

Rooney is frequently Mr Angry. And anyone who came out of the sink estate from which he emerged would probably be angry a lot of the time too. The pure, raw talent makes him a cut above all other British footballers but he's similar to them too in his appetite for the battle and willingness to graft. If anger is part of his attitude, the rest of it is fine. For that reason alone, you wouldn't want to see his formidable powers waning prematurely.

The gushers in Sky Sports couldn't help themselves afterwards, declaring that the man was back to his best yesterday. But he wasn't. Far from it. He admitted himself that he hadn't been pleased with his performance. Maybe that goal will get his confidence flowing again.

It was certainly an iconic moment and it might well be seen in hindsight as a pivotal goal in United's drive for the title this season. Someone called it "a moment of pure genius" but it doesn't qualify for that accolade, unless the bar for genius has been lowered. Overhead kicks, even ones as good as this, are part of the repertoire after all, while genius belongs in another dimension altogether.

Alex Ferguson was invited in the post-match interview to surrender to the hyperbole, being asked if this was the greatest goal he'd ever seen scored at Old Trafford, or maybe anywhere, any time, ever. But he was quick

to point out that Rooney's goal would mean that Nani's first-half goal would be forgotten. And he was right too because it had required work of the highest class.

And it involved a modicum of team play too, even if the second assist belonged to Edwin van der Sar at the other end of the pitch. The goalkeeper just walloped the ball downfield and Rooney did enough in the air against Lescott, the weak-minded City defender, to force a deflection. Which broke to Giggs. His first-time flick had his trademark cunning, curling it into the path of Nani who produced a killer touch to bring the ball under control, at high speed and under pressure from Zabaleta. A second touch and then the rolled finished. Lethal precision from Giggs and Nani. And much harder to execute than Rooney's goal.

Still, they don't call it the theatre of dreams for nothing. (Voices off: they call it the theatre of dreams for the money.) And Rooney's goal will go straight into the annals, a freshly-minted moment of magic for United's never-ending mythology.

thecouch@independent.ie

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