Tuesday 20 February 2018

A goal every 220 minutes – Using Rooney as a sub is practically pointless

Statistics prove that under-fire United skipper is not a man to make an impact off the bench

In 31 previous appearances as a Premier League substitute for United, Rooney has managed just two goals. Photo credit: Mike Egerton/PA Wire
In 31 previous appearances as a Premier League substitute for United, Rooney has managed just two goals. Photo credit: Mike Egerton/PA Wire
Aidan O'Hara

Aidan O'Hara

In the phenomenal tally of 263 goals which Wayne Rooney has scored at club level, the anniversary for arguably his most famous takes place this week.

On Wednesday, it will be 14 years to the day since Rooney's stunning strike ended Arsenal's 30-game unbeaten record with a goal and a cameo appearance which led Arsene Wenger to deadpan: "He's supposed to be 16."

It's a measure of how long Rooney has been on the scene that Wenger was a sprightly 52-year-old on that day at Goodison, while his current team-mate Marcus Rashford had yet to reach his fifth birthday.

It was Rooney's first Premier League goal, and just like the first four goals of his career, it came when he started on the bench.

In that 2002/03 season, Rooney was introduced as a substitute 20 times, but in the 14 seasons since, he has never hit double figures in appearances as a sub.

This, obviously, is because he has been one of the Premier League's elite players for most of that period but, more worryingly for his current predicament, England's leading international scorer has been almost pointless when it comes to scoring a goal off the bench.


In his two seasons at Everton, Rooney netted seven times in 29 games off the bench. Figures from the ESPN website give him a tally - excluding injury-time - of 1,351 minutes for those seven goals. This equates to one goal per 193 minutes.

Amazingly, despite being there for 13 seasons, Rooney's minutes as a substitute at Manchester United is actually less than it was at Everton, although his record in terms of scoring goals is similarly poor.

In 1,318 minutes across 50 appearances - again excluding injury time - Rooney has found the net just six times as a substitute in his United career, at an average of roughly 220 minutes for every goal. Tonight against Liverpool, he may well again start on the bench, but in 31 previous appearances as a Premier League substitute for United, Rooney has managed just two goals.

They both game in the 2008/09 season when he contributed one goal to the 2-0 win over Fulham and the 3-0 victory against Bolton. This was also the season in which he made his highest number of appearances for United off the bench - nine, totalling 230 minutes - as well as starting 38 times.

It's little surprise that a player who started his career in one of the most physically demanding leagues in the world before he was legally allowed to drive should be showing signs of having too many miles on the clock.

And yet, in the last three seasons, rather than being regularly "serviced" in terms of rest, Rooney has been the man David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal hoped would steer them away from choppy waters.

In his one and only season, Moyes used Rooney off the bench three times while starting 37 matches and was rewarded with 19 goals. The following season, Van Gaal never introduced Rooney from the bench, with all 37 of his appearances coming from the first whistle, while the Dutchman's final season saw Rooney start 38 times plus three times as a substitute.

In one of his books, Ferguson criticised Rooney's lack of fitness, arguing that he needed games to stay sharp. "If he missed a couple of weeks for United," wrote Ferguson. "It could take him four or five games to get his sharpness back."

The same principle applies, albeit on a smaller scale, when coming off the bench into any match in which everybody on the pitch is already fully up at match-pace.

At Everton, Rooney's powerful running made him a threat to tiring defenders but that version of Rooney has long since been consigned to the Premier League Years show on Sky Sports which, between his time at Everton and first few seasons at United, underlines just what a player he could have been.

Rooney has, still, by all rational analysis, had a wonderful career and it shouldn't usually be regarded as a black mark against a player that he can't perform off the bench because, to paraphrase the expression about losers, show me a good substitute and I'll show you a substitute.

Three years after his most famous moment in the 1977 European Cup quarter-final against St Etienne, the original 'Supersub', David Fairclough, started for Liverpool against Norwich and hit a hat-trick.

His reward was to be returned to the bench three days later against Nottingham Forest. Naturally, he scored when he came on, one of 18 goals in 61 substitute appearances.

At United, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer scored one of the most famous goals in the club's history off the bench to win the 1999 Champions League but, in both cases, the players were expected to sniff out goals around the penalty area. Others, such as Teddy Sheringham, could either score themselves or provide a telling pass.

Every substitution should have a purpose for the team but Rooney now finds himself down the attacking pecking order at Old Trafford meaning, like he was for England last week, his introduction is likely to be further back towards midfield.


However, against a fast, hard-running, counter-attacking team like Liverpool, his defensive weaknesses and lack of positional sense as a midfielder could be ruthlessly exposed even if he is brought on tonight to chase a goal.

Even in his final two seasons after initially retiring, Paul Scholes brought either control or impetus to the midfield role depending on what the situation required whereas, at the moment, Rooney is capable of neither.

Instead, he is closer to the final season version of Steven Gerrard, spraying raking passes when in plenty of space which look great when executed properly but rarely hurt the opposition in the way that their skill, pace and power did when they were at their best.

All the while with a manager who suspicion suggests, sees them as more of a problem than a solution.

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