Time for the real Rooney to show himself

Where is the player who scored 26 goals in 32 English Premier League appearances for Manchester United in the 2009-10 season and 27 in 34 in 2011-12, who was universally renowned as perhaps the only world-class Englishman in the top flight, asks Frank Malley.

Where is the real Wayne Rooney?

Where is the man former England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson dared compare with the young Pele at EURO 2004?

Where is the player who scored 26 goals in 32 English Premier League appearances for Manchester United in the 2009-10 season and 27 in 34 in 2011-12, who was universally renowned as perhaps the only world-class Englishman in the top flight?

There is no doubt that player has not been seen this season at Old Trafford.

Unfit. Overweight. Lacking match sharpness. They are all accusations which have been levelled at Rooney, culminating in Ferguson dropping him to the bench for United’s UEFA Champions League encounter with Real Madrid and sparking speculation that he could soon be on his way out of Old Trafford.

That would be a mistake for Rooney and for United.

You can see why Ferguson might get infuriated with Rooney when he looks across the changing room and sees the lithe shape of 39-year-old Ryan Giggs, a man who has fashioned his fair share of front-page headlines but who has let nothing compromise his physical attributes in his chosen profession.

One glance at Paul Scholes, too, reveals a man who has put United first and himself second for the best part of two decades.

In Rooney, Ferguson doubtless does not see the same longevity, the same relentless pursuit of physical excellence, nor the same undying loyalty considering Rooney’s transfer request two and a half years ago.

It is easy to throw that unedifying contract wrangle back in Rooney’s face.

But, for the Rooney bashers, here’s something to consider. Is there a player at Old Trafford in the past decade, who has worked harder on the pitch or been more willing to sacrifice his own ambition for that of the team?

It is doubtful. Rooney, a man whose talents as a goal-scorer and goal-maker are undeniable, invariably has been pushed out wide on the left to accommodate a line of strikers whose effectiveness lies solely through the middle.

He has been used as the second striker, the player in the hole tasked with providing the glory for others. Let’s be honest, his ferocious work ethic when fully fit at times has seen him take on the duties of the full-backs as well as his own. Rooney has risen uncomplainingly to whatever positional challenge he has been given.

Once he has crossed the white line, Rooney cannot be accused of shirking. After all, he has scored 11 goals in 20 league appearances this season. Yet, still, he must face the truth. No longer is he the Premier League’s most wanted man.

He has been overtaken by players such as Liverpool’s Luis Suarez, United’s Robin van Persie and Tottenham’s Gareth Bale. On the world stage he is no longer spoken of in terms of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

At 27, Rooney should be in his peak years but instead gives the impression he has gained a pound or two and lost a touch of class. The same could be said of United and Ferguson.

It is all very well being magnanimous when you are winning and Ferguson has had plenty of practice at that. The real test of a manager’s class and that of a football club comes when he and his staff are spitting blood in defeat, especially when it comes with a well-cooked sense of injustice.

Yes, the controversial dismissal of Nani against Real was harsh but it was understandable in a European game which is bent on outlawing dangerous play.

By contrast, Ferguson’s finger-jabbing protests were truculent. His refusal to speak to the media, along with that of his players, was puerile.

It was hardly the message football needed from a 71-year-old knight of the realm. Sadly, however, it was the one it has come to expect.

Not that Ferguson will give any subsequent UEFA fine or punishment a second thought and not probably with a 13th EPL title to occupy his mind.

Where is the real Wayne Rooney? Does he still have a future at Old Trafford?

A clue to the answer to those questions is needed. Surely the real Rooney is worth searching for.

* * *

Anyone still unsure that football’s economics are located in the madhouse should take a peep at QPR’s accounts.

Last season, when QPR secured survival in the EPL on the final day, wages at Loftus Road soared from GBP27.6 million to GBP56 million.

Since then they have twice broken their transfer record by bringing in Loic Remy and Chris Samba, following a host of expensive signings in the summer, including Park Ji-sung, Julio Cesar and Jose Bosingwa.

Yet, QPR chairman Tony Fernandes, oblivious to the contradiction, maintains the board are “conscious of the need for expenditure to be closely monitored and controlled.”

QPR are rock bottom, having won just four league matches this season. Quite where they would be if they were not monitoring things closely is anyone’s guess.

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