When Wayne Rooney burst on to the scene as a 16 year old in 2002, he became a record breaking, goalscoring prodigy, the likes of which many in English football had never seen. At the time of his first-team debut, he was the youngest player in Everton’s history to make an appearance for their senior side. Goals seemed to come easy to the youngster, with him scoring more than one memorable effort in his first full season in top flight football. After scoring an unforgettable last-minute winner against Arsenal in the same season, Arsene Wenger said of Rooney, “Rooney is the biggest England talent I’ve seen since I arrived in England. There has certainly not been a player under 20 as good as him since I became a manager here,”. For a man of such high standing to lavish such praise on a player is worth noting, particularly when you consider the young talent Wenger, himself, had nurtured at the time – he was responsible for the breakthrough of the likes of Thierry Henry and David Trezeguet in an exciting the exciting young AS Monaco side of the mid 1990s.
Chart Rooney’s club career scoring records from then, however, and a worrying pattern appears to have emerged. His scoring prowess peaked in the 2009/10 season, when he scored 34 goals in all appearances for Manchester United, a feat he managed again in 2011/12. Look at the rest of his seasons in top flight club football, however, and his scoring record is somewhat less remarkable. Despite being considered a world-class striker in some quarters, Rooney has only scored 20 or more club goals in 4 of his 13 seasons so far. Hardly the type of scoring record worth comparing to other great strikers of the last 20 years. His scoring record for England has, of course, been much better. With 47 goals in 103 appearances for the national side, Rooney has been nothing but prolific. These stats flatter to deceive however, with the majority of these goals coming in qualifying games rather than on the big stage at major finals.
We all know Rooney has the natural ability to be one of the best strikers in the world. Why, then, should a man who undoubtedly possesses natural talent as a finisher be unable to reflect this in his scoring statistics? You only need to look at his most recent appearance for Manchester United to find your answer.
Having lost 1-0 to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge this Saturday, Man Utd had the lion’s share of the possession for the majority of the first 60 minutes. The football they played was exciting and dynamic – they always looked a threat in front of goal. With a degree of inevitability that runs through most of Jose Mourinho’s matches, however, Eden Hazard was able to snatch a well-taken goal in the 38th minute for the champions-elect to secure a win that leaves Chelsea needing only 6 points to wrap up the title.
Despite the dominance of Man Utd throughout a lot of the match, there was one aspect of their play that many United fans will have found more than frustrating – and it comes back to our man Rooney. As previously said, Man Utd played some great possession football – they sprayed passes left, right and centre, desperately looking for the key to unlock a resilient Chelsea defence. But who was at the centre of most of this play? Rooney. Commendable, you might say. But all too often, Rooney could be found dropping as far back as his own half to retrieve the ball and send Hollywood passes out to the wide areas. This is a trait of Rooney’s which is widely praised in the British game. His aptitude for ‘tracking back’, ‘making a strong challenge’ and generally being seen to work hard are all aspects of his game that those supposedly ‘in the know’ love about Rooney.
But here’s where I begin to disagree with that widely-held notion. There is, of course, a lot to be said for a player being willing to work hard for the team. Most successful teams are not able to carry what might be considered a luxury player, one who is not willing to stick the boot in when required. But, for me, when Rooney is found doing that, it’s at the expense of doing what he’s best at – being in dangerous areas in the final third of the pitch where he can be lethal. He’s an average midfielder at best but up front, he can be world class.
So often throughout the Chelsea match, Man Utd would get so far and have no further options. Falcao has come in for much criticism over the season, but he could often be found in dangerous positions at Stamford Bridge and, with a little better service, could have been on the scoring charts himself. Rooney never really posed that threat because, every time the ball would be in an area where it could cause problems for the Chelsea defence, Rooney seemed 20 yards behind the play. Mourinho had cleverly nullified the recently-effective threat of Marouanne Fellaini by having him closely marked by Wilfred Zouma, so United were always having to search for other options – options Rooney didn’t give them.
There is an argument, however, that Rooney has been encouraged to take up the role he now seems only too willing to, dropping deeper into midfield. He has been used in central midfield as far back as 2011, when Sir Alex Ferguson selected him to play there in a Champions League group match against Otelul Galati. This was as a result of injuries to many of United’s fist team choices of the time and Rooney was widely praised for his performance, including from Ferguson himself. For me, however, a good performance from a player with the natural talent of Rooney against a side of such questionable quality is possibly not worth the praise it received – he could have played anywhere that night and would have been able to put in a more-than-competent performance.
So the question remains – is it Rooney ignoring instruction and dropping deep of his own accord? Or is this a role he has been encouraged to take up by the managers he has been under? Either way, I don’t think it matters. The fact remains that where you could find countless better options in midfield than Rooney, you would probably struggle to find many better striking options in Europe. If he played up front consistently, surely his scoring records would reflect that. And so, I would steal the advice my brother had for Van Gaal after watching the Chelsea match and say only this – play Rooney up front or not at all.
Jack Wilshere’s injury shows why Arsenal shouldn’t renew his contract
The 26-year-old has been struck down by yet another injury.
Jack Wilshere will be pleased with the progress that he has made since returning to Arsenal from his loan spell at Bournemouth.
He was initially nothing more than a squad player that was out in the cold at international level too, but the midfielder worked hard to gain more game-time in North London.
Across all competitions, he has played more than 30 matches and his form earned him a call-up to the England squad.
It looked like he was getting a once-promising career back on track, but almost like clockwork, he has suffered an injury to set him back once again.
Gareth Southgate confirmed that he wouldn’t be travelling to the Netherlands for Friday’s match and the quotes were reported by Sky Sports.
“It is not a specific injury and over time they flare up and they need to settle down over a couple of days.
“We are hopeful it will settle down pretty quickly. It’s an ongoing problem and it’s not something new for him. He’s very disappointed not to be involved in the game.
“He’s trained well though but if you think about the journey he’s had in the last two years and his big injuries then he’s progressing really well.”
Although it is encouraging that it isn’t a serious injury, it is a reminder that Jack Wilshere remains a risk for both club and country.
It is difficult to build a team around a player that is susceptible to miss matches and the quote from Southgate is a worry as he refers to an ongoing problem.
Arsenal have had a difficult campaign and they will be planning a rebuild over the next 48 months as they transition away from the Arsene Wenger era.
They will have to make tough decisions on many players at the club and Wilshere’s future will be brought into focus over the next few weeks as his contract expires at the end of the season.
There have been numerous reports regarding contract talks between the two parties and there is hesitancy on both sides.
This latest injury suffered by Wilshere and the comments from Southgate referring to an ongoing problem show why it is Arsenal who need to end this association.
Wilshere can’t be relied on to stay fit and to feature prominently in a busy schedule. Arsenal will have ambitions of challenging at the very top of the game and will likely be involved in European competition every season. They need to have a squad of players that are reliable and the 26-year-old isn’t that.
Aside from that, Wilshere represents what Arsenal have become over the last decade. He is a player that had a lot of potential, but he has failed to fulfil it and been very inconsistent at the highest level. Of course, he isn’t to blame for the club’s problems, but he is also unlikely to offer the solutions.
This season has been a nice farewell campaign for him. It would have been sad if his Gunners’ career had ended after being shipped out on loan to Bournemouth.
He has returned to earn some of his credibility back, but the club need to move on and progress if they are to get back to the top of the English game.
A lot of contentious decisions will need to be made and the first should be the release of Jack Wilshere this summer.
Why Jose Mourinho’s treatment of Luke Shaw has crossed the line
The Portuguese manager has been highly critical of Luke Shaw this season.
The fractious relationship between Jose Mourinho and Luke Shaw plumbed new depths when the left-back was substituted at half-time in Manchester United’s FA Cup victory over Brighton & Hove Albion. The 22-year-old had been handed a rare opportunity to impress at Old Trafford but lasted only 45 minutes.
Speaking about Shaw in his post-match interview, Mourinho said: “Luke, in the first half, every time they came in his corridor, the cross came in and a dangerous situation was coming. I was not happy with his performance.”
The differences between the pair now appear to be irreconcilable. Shaw, who was signed by Louis van Gaal in the summer of 2014, has been used sparingly by Mourinho. The former Southampton starlet has made just 18 Premier League appearances under the Portuguese in a career that has been blighted by injuries.
Being substituted at half-time is almost as embarrassing as it gets for a player and Shaw’s mood will not have improved after being publicly criticised by his manager. It’s certainly not the first time Mourinho has chosen to talk candidly to the media about his concerns with the 22-year-old.
Some players require an arm around the shoulder to perform at their peak, while for others it takes a kick up the backside. Mourinho, opting for the latter, does nothing without reason and has clearly tried to spark a reaction from Shaw, without success.
From being one of English football’s brightest prospects after making his World Cup debut aged just 18, Shaw, who has seven England caps to his name, is in danger of not fulfilling the potential that convinced United to spend what was then a world-record fee for a teenager.
Mourinho’s tactic of singling out individuals who have not met his standards is in stark contrast to Sir Alex Ferguson, who never blamed his players in public. It has divided opinion among pundits, with Southampton legend Matt Le Tissier claiming the United manager is ‘destroying’ Shaw.
Mourinho is an expert at using smokescreens to distract from his side’s unconvincing performances. And this latest controversy has moved the narrative on from United’s shock Champions League exit at the hands of Sevilla.
Tough love is one thing, but the sustained, public attack on Shaw is unacceptable. If Mourinho genuinely believes he is not good enough to represent United, then fair enough. But to continually vilify the youngster’s performances is a step too far and one that could irreparably damage Shaw’s confidence.
This is not to say that Shaw is a completely innocent bystander. Mourinho’s predecessor, Louis van Gaal, also questioned his desire and general conditioning when he joined United four years ago. Indeed, the Dutchman signed Shaw up to a tailored exercise regime in an effort to improve his fitness.
But while van Gaal’s treatment had the desired effect, Mourinho’s has done the opposite. Being publicly humiliated on a routine basis does neither party any favours.
In all likelihood, Shaw’s disappointing United career will come to an end this summer. A fresh start away from the toxicity under Mourinho is exactly what he needs.
Keanan Bennetts has perfect opportunity to impress Mauricio Pochettino this week
The left-sided star has a chance to impress in first-team training during the international break.
With the international week in full flow, plenty of teams in the Premier League have seen their squads diminished by call-ups to national teams.
Tottenham Hotspur are one such side. Nonetheless, with most of the first-team squad away with their respective nations, work continues at Hotspur Way.
In order for Spurs to have a full complement in training, plenty of young talent needs to be pulled in to the ranks.
Mauricio Pochettino will, therefore,e get a chance to see some of his young players training with regular first-team players such as Fernando Llorente, Erik Lamela and Lucas Moura.
One player who will be training with the first-team this week is talented wide-man Keanan Bennetts, according to London Live.
The 19-year-old left-winger has been catching the eye for the club’s youth team in recent weeks, making the news after scoring a fantastic goal for the under-19s against Monaco in the UEFA Youth League last month.
Bennetts has also been attracting interest for his positional dexterity. The wide-man has played at left-back in recent times and it could be that is his future best position.
This week he will be up against some excellent players such as Lamela and Moura, who did not receive selection to the Argentina and Brazil national teams, respectively.
If he can prove himself with this calibre of player, Pochettino will have to take notice.
It is coming to a point in his Tottenham career when Bennetts has to make such an impact. The teenager is out of contract at Spurs in the summer and needs to ensure he is kept on for at least one more season.
Tottenham fans who follow the youth teams are certain he is deserving of such a chance. If he can show Pochettino what he is capable of this week, then a new deal will surely be in the pipeline for the talented wide-man.
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