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The Real Rooney Problem At Manchester United

Wayne Rooney has been considered as one of England’s best strikers for nearly a decade. With the knowledge of his talent and the expectations for him to perform, he regularly comes under scrutiny when he under performs.

Just two games into the new Premier League season, and the Rooney hate club has reared its ugly head again. Admittedly, in these first two games he has not played well, having started both games as a lone striker, atop of a 4-2-3-1 formation, without scoring a single goal.

Not only is Rooney disliked by some fans, but he is also a favoured target for the abusive ways of tabloid newspapers. In 2010, there were the accusations of him being involved with and expensive prostitute and just last season the press was awash with stories showing that he’d been knocked out by ex-team mate Phil Bardsley. He joked about the latter stories with his knockout goal celebration in the next game.

A lot of tabloids went on another Wayne-Witch-Hunt in 2014, when he secured a reported £300,000 a week contract which would last for 5 years. This caused a bit of a uproar with some fans claiming that it’s unjust and a waste of money. But, Manchester United wouldn’t pay him this much money if he didn’t bring in the revenue to support it.

Aside from that the £300,000 a week claims were false as he actually accepted a contract that pays him something in the region of £240,000 a week and allows for only Manchester United to conduct Rooney’s commercial deals. In theory, this will bring the club even more revenue from keeping Rooney as they can further advertise themselves through his commerce.

Despite all of this, Wayne has proved himself to be a true professional and to always turn up to United games and score goals. In his career, he has played 548 games, having scored 245 goals and set up a further 131.

The biggest problem that people complain about is that Rooney isn’t scoring. This mainly stems from the thought, that some people have, that he’s a striker. These people are wrong.

This article seeks to discover why Rooney hasn’t been able to perform so far this season. What can be done to get him in an optimal scoring mode and hopefully prove to some of the naysayers that he is in fact a world class player and crucial to the United team.

A Versatile Forward

Over Rooney’s career he has played in many different positions and has scored in each of them. In each position he fully inhabits the role and is very strict as to applying himself to the task.

Wayne has made 548 appearances in his career so far, and 21 of these have been as a Central Midfielder. Here, he would be the link between the defence and the forwards, but would rarely push forward himself.

33 appearances have been in the Left Midfield / Left Forward position. The job here was to cover the wing, as a left forward, Rooney would cover the left side in the top third of the pitch, looking to get into the box and contribute to goals. As a left midfielder, the emphasis is more on getting crosses in and helping to defend the wing.

Rooney would also play Right Midfield / Right Forward; these of course have the same role as on the left side. He has made 52 appearances on the right.

For much of the last few seasons, the Englishman has played as an Attacking Midfielder. This is a more advanced role than the Central Midfield one, and will often be supported by a couple of centre midfielders. In this position, Rooney would collect the ball from midfield then either: pass it to the wingers; send it into the box for the striker or; come to the box and shoot. He has 92 games in this role.

Rooney’s second most played position is as a Striker. For 123 games he has been the player left up top to make runs off of the defence and score goals. The Striker’s role is to score goals. That’s it. They just need to wait for the opportunity to score to come to them.

The most common role that Rooney would inhabit is that of a Centre Forward, or a Secondary Striker, where he has 227 appearances. This is where, in the line up, he is started beside a Striker. Rooney will then free roam in the game, collecting the ball from midfield and surging forward with it. This benefits both the Centre Forward and the Striker as not only is Rooney allowed to play his own game, and work hard for his team, but the Striker then doesn’t need to stray from his position.

Location, Location, Location

As could be expected from any player, Rooney scores far more goals when starting upfront than in any midfield or wide role. Only 69 of Rooney’s goals (28.2%) have come when he’s played: wide midfield/forward, central midfield or an attacking midfield role.

The other 176 goals have all come from the Englishman playing upfront. As a striker, Rooney has netted 49 goals. As a player who is often misconstrued as being a striker, having only 20% of his overall goals being from a Striking role should prove him to be otherwise.

It is at centre forward where Wayne has found his greatest goal scoring success. When played alongside a true striker, 127 goals have been put away by Rooney. Having strikers by the likes of: Ruud van Nistelrooy; Louis Saha; Dimitar Berbatov; Henrik Larsson; Alan Smith; Javier Hernández; Robin van Persie and; Michael Owen, has proven to not only be beneficial to those strikers but also to Rooney’s goal scoring.

As a centre forward, Rooney has also played alongside other players who inhabit a centre-forward-esque style of play. Both Danny Welbeck and Carlos Tevez are hard workers, who will stray from the top line to fetch the ball. When played alongside Rooney, both Welbeck and Tevez would do more loitering by the defence rather than running after the ball.

Considering that Rooney has been played in so many different positions, the fact that 51.8% of his goals come from playing off of a true striker proves that for him to succeed, he has to play as a centre forward.

He’s Not a Striker

The 29 year old has been placed upfront for the majority of his appearances. Playing as either a striker or a secondary striker has taken up 63.8% of his total caps; these positions also account for the vast majority of his goals. Rooney has scored 176 goals upfront, which accounts for 71.8% of his total.

Once again, only 49 of the total 245 goals were from Rooney being a striker. The English forward actually has a better strike-rate from the Right Froward/Midfield role.

In 52 games positioned on the right, Rooney has scored 30 goals. The goals only amount to 12.2% of his overall tally. However, it means that in 57.7% of Wayne’s games on the right, he scores, giving him an average of a goal every 1.7 games, when positioned on the right.

This is a slightly better strike-rate than his most prolific position. As a centre forward, Rooney has averaged a goal every 1.8 games and; in 55.9% of his games there, he has scored.

In van Gaal’s current formation (4-2-3-1), Rooney could only really play in one of two positions; either as the attacking midfielder or as the striker. Rooney’s strike-rate for each position is very similar. As a striker, he averages a goal every 2.5 games, whereas when he plays in attack midfield, he averages a goal every 2.6 games. It’s clear that neither position is preferable if you want Rooney to play to the best of his abilities.

Averaging a goal every 1.8 games, over 227 appearances, Rooney clearly plays best when alongside a true striker.

Having only scored 2 goals on the left or as a centre midfielder, they will obviously produce his worst goal scoring record for any position that he has played.

Not All Goals Are Created Equal

Wayne Rooney has scored 245 domestic goals for Everton and Manchester United but how many of those goals were crucial to the success of his club.

Of course, all goals matter. All goals change the flow of the game and add towards footballing success. But some goals are more important.

Being a big club, Manchester United does meet teams that they should easily beat. Even though the Premier League is far more competitive than the majority of other top European divisions, it does include sides that a team of the calibre of Manchester United should beat in every match up. Obviously it doesn’t always work out this way as anything can happen in football but on paper United should beat a lot of the teams, in their league, every time.

There are two fields of goals that I’m considering in this section to grade the value of Rooney’s goals.

The first are Rival Goals; a tally of goals that are scored against opponents that are: even to, greater than or, a major rival to Rooney’s club at the time.

The second field counts what I see as Crucial Goals.
These goals include:
Game winning goals (the scorer has to be the last goal scorer that changes the result from a draw to a win for their team);
A goal in a cup final and;
Any occasion when they have been the only goal scorer for his team and his team have gone on to win the match. (This total counts the occasions when he has been the only goal scorer and the amount of goals scored in these games.)

Rival Goals

Rooney has been accused of not stepping up, and scoring on big occasions, especially when it comes to international games. The international accusations do have some basis as he only has 1 goal in 3 World Cups. But without his goals in qualifying, England may not have even made the tournaments.

Through the years, Rooney’s Rival Goals have come against: Chelsea; Manchester City (post 2008/big investment); Liverpool; Arsenal; Bayern Munich; Tottenham Hotspur; Roma and; A.C. Milan.

He has a total of 53 goals against top teams, which amounts to 21.6% of his overall goal count. Now we can look at his positional bias for his goals against matched or better opponents.

6 of the 53 goals came when Rooney lined up as an Attacking midfielder. 15 came when he played as a striker, one of which was the over-head kick against Manchester City (one of the best goals in Premier League history). But, once again, Rooney’s optimal position, as a centre forward, yielded the most goals. 32 Rival Goals were scored when Wayne played alongside a true striker.

Crucial Goals

In his career, Rooney has scored: 34 equalisers; 10 game winning goals; 5 goals in cup finals and; on 25 occasions, he has been the only goal scorer for his winning team. In these 25 games he has scored 37 goals.

Excluding the equalisers and cup final goals; Rooney has scored 35 goals which have earned his team 3 points a piece. This means that, in his 13 Premier League season career, he has directly earned his teams 105 points through his goals.

If you were to look into the points amassed from some of his equalisers, and the goals which result from any of his 131 assists the points he’s earned for his clubs would be a lot more.

81 of Wayne’s goals have been Crucial Goals, which amounts to 33.1% of his total 245 goals. Once again Rooney is far more prolific in certain positions than in others when it comes to scoring Crucial Goals.

His worst 3 positions for scoring these goals are central midfield, left midfield/forward and, right midfield/forward. He totalled 7 across the 3 roles where he made 106 appearances and totalled 34 goals. This means that 20.6% of his goals in those positions were crucial.

In Attacking Midfield, 19 of his 35 goals were Crucial Goals (34.3%). So over a third of his goals in the role of attack mid’ were crucial. However, these came over 92 appearances in this position and so, he averages a crucial goal every 4.8 games in this role.

Over half (48) of these Crucial Goals came when Rooney played as centre forward. 37.8% of his total 127 goals were game winners, equalisers, cup final goals, or were scored in games where he was the only goal scorer in a victory for his team. But, 48 crucial goals in 227 games as a centre forward results in him averaging a crucial goal once every 4.7 games.

An average of one in every 4.7 games is however his best stat. Despite 38.8% (19) of his goals as a striker being crucial, he only averages one in every 6.5 games. Further proving that he is far better suited to being a centre forward, and not a striker.

Rooney vs. “The Best Player in the World”

Lionel Messi is arguably the best player in the world with Cristiano Ronaldo being the only other real contender to the title. Leo has scored an astonishing 414 goals in 483 appearances for Barcelona, an incredible record.

Recently, Messi has had to suffer Rooney-esque scrutiny for apparently being unable to perform in big games, on the international stage. In the last 2 years his home nation, Argentina, have reached the final of both the World Cup and the Copa América. Argentina lost both finals, with Messi failing to score in either. Lionel also failed to score in any of the quarter-finals or semi-finals in either tournament.

Messi’s and Rooney’s international records look very similar on paper. Rooney has 48 goals in 105 games and Messi has 46 goals in 102 games.

To stop the insinuations now, I do not think that Rooney is better than Messi, nor do I think that they are equal. However there are certain aspects of Rooney’s record that are comparable to the Argentinean, and may allow some to realise that Rooney is actually a world class player. But still, not as good as Messi, as only Ronaldo can realistically compete for that right now.

Using the same criteria as above, Lionel Messi has scored 78 Rival Goals. These came against: Atlético Madrid; Real Madrid; Valencia; Manchester United; Manchester City; F.C. Porto; Paris Saint-Germain; Bayern Munich and; Arsenal. Some of the teams listed haven’t always rivalled Barcelona, such as Atlético or Valencia but Tottenham wasn’t always a rival to Manchester United. Also with Barcelona always being such a giant in their league, it’s hard to tell which teams are actually comparable, given that the La Liga winner is commonly 15 points+ clear of 3rd place.

As the criteria for Rival Goals is quite subjective, I’ve allowed some leeway on both Manchester United’s and Barcelona’s requirements.

Lionel’s 78 Rival Goals only amounts to 18.8% of his overall 414 goals. Rooney’s 53 Rival Goals amount to 21.6% of his total goals. A higher percentage of Wayne’s goals, compared to Messi’s goals, have been against even, better, or rival clubs, instead of the lesser opponents in his league.

Obviously, Messi has scored more Rival Goals than Rooney and when it comes to a footballer’s legacy, it’s only the raw numbers that count but; it does show that a greater percentage of Rooney’s goals have come against matched, or better opponents than those goals scored by Lionel Messi.

When looking through Messi’s goals I found that, after his first few years, he scored a lot of crucial goals. Barcelona has always had a top quality team but Lionel Messi really is crucial to the team.

By the same criteria as above, Messi has scored 113 Crucial Goals. 35 equalisers, 23 game winners, 12 cup final goals and; on 23 occasions he was Barcelona’s only goal scorer in a winning match. In these 23 games, he scored 43 goals.

Excluding the equalisers and the cup final goals (unless they were cup winners), Messi’s goals have earned Barcelona 138 points, which is 46 wins. If all in a row, he could earn the Catalan giants a perfect season, and then get them 100% through to January.

Messi’s mighty 113 crucial goals amount to 27.3% of his 414 goal total. Over a quarter of his goals are necessary to his Barca’s success. However, Rooney’s crucial goals count for 33.1% of his total scored. This implies that Rooney’s goals are more crucial to the success of Manchester United than Messi’s are to the success of Barcelona.

This is understandable as Messi is far more commonly surrounded by a greater number of world class players than Rooney has been.

Wayne Rooney has scored 32 less Crucial Goals than Lionel Messi but, Rooney has had to face a higher calibre of opposition each week, as the quality of teams in the Premier League is far more even than those in La Liga, where Barcelona and Real Madrid overwhelmingly dominate the rest; with the occasional glitch of Atlético Madrid and Deportivo La Coruña. This is greatly due to the unfair distribution of television rights in La Liga but that’s an argument for another time.

Also, Messi has often had a higher calibre of player backing him up in games, so he can receive better balls, and more opportunities of which to score from.

This however could also have an adverse effect on Messi’s Crucial Goals tally. With there being more top goal scorers in his team, and they play against more inferior opposition, the likelihood of his team mates scoring is greater than Rooney’s team mates.

So Messi’s Crucial Goals such as his Game Winning Goal and Only Goal Scorer in a Winning Game total is even more impressive.

Again, this section isn’t to try to claim that Wayne Rooney is better than Lionel Messi as the latter is one of the best footballers of all time however, with Rooney’s goals being more crucial, more often and, in a more competitive league than Messi’s it begs the question why Messi has won the FIFA World Player of the Year/Ballon d’Or 4 times, and has come runner up 4 times, and Rooney has never made the top 3.

I believe that I have presented a fair and unbiased account of the goals scored by both Messi and Rooney but clearly, in the eyes of FIFA, it’s just the totals that count. With La Liga having Barcelona and Real Madrid being able to massively outspend the rest of the league, it will be a long time before a non-Real or Barca player wins the Ballon d’Or.

It’s why the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Suárez moved from the Prem, because it’s a much easier to succeed at Real or Barca as they only really have each other to contend against, the others teams are just a case of how many goals. Plus they won’t be recognised as a top player in the eyes of FIFA or UEFA unless they do. The only exception being when United won the Champions League and Ronaldo won the World Player of the Year.

For recognised glory in the eyes of the corrupt governing bodies of football, you have to play in Spain. Maybe if Rooney did move to Real in 2013 when José Mourinho wanted him, there would be little dispute over the world class ability of the Englishman.

But I digress, back to how to cure Rooney from his poor performances so far this season.


History in a 4-2-3-1 Formation

Through all of pre-season and United’s 2 opening Premier League games, Rooney has started at the top of the 4-2-3-1 formation, as a lone striker. He has not played as well as we all know he can and is yet to score in the Prem.

United have won both of their games 1-0, but it’s not just Rooney who is underperforming. Apart from Schneiderlin, the majority of the defence and new keeper, Sergio Romero, the team has under performed, with the attack looking particularly weak.

Wayne has experienced the 4-2-3-1 formation in previous seasons, quite a lot in United’s 20th title winning season, and then in the year of the Moyes. He has scored 38 goals whilst in this formation which is only 15.5% of his total goals, so this is clearly not an optimal set up for Rooney.

As the striker in this formation, Rooney has only scored 15 goals. In his entire 548 games, with 245 goals, 15 are when he is played as a striker in this formation. He has at least performed better in the attacking midfield role with 23 goals.

The attacking midfield role is similar to the centre forward position that he thrives in as it allows him to free roam into midfield, whilst having an attacking responsibility as well.

As the lead striker in the two opening games, Rooney has looked lost and bored, whilst strictly keeping to the role’s responsibilities of staying up by the defence and waiting for a chance. Rooney’s not a loiterer, he’s a worker.

Louis van Gaal witnessed Rooney’s worst Manchester United goal scoring season last year, where he netted only 14 times. This can be put down to the new manager regularly needing to shuffle the line up and the formation but only 4 of his 14 goals came from the striker position, all 10 others came from attacking midfield or centre forward.

How to Cure Wazza

Arguably, Wayne Rooney is currently Manchester United’s best player, and is their best chance of scoring a goal. Surely, van Gaal needs to adapt the formation and line up to suit Rooney in order to get the goals.

Moving the Englishman back to attacking midfield would bring in more goals and a better team performance. Not only could he assist a striker, but would also create the link between midfield and attack that has appeared to be lacking in recent games. Even if Wilson or Hernández start up top it would still be better than wasting Rooney.

A formation change would be the best option. Any formation with two upfront, where Rooney can play off of a true striker would get Rooney playing at his best again. He’s played very well alongside Hernández in the past, scoring 16 whilst playing off of the Mexican.

With United still playing in the market, there is the best option still available. Buy a striker! Not a squad rotation winger like Pedro, but a true striker who loiters by the defence, takes one touch and smashes the ball on net.

Wayne Rooney has flourished when playing off of a top striker, sometimes not even a top striker. Lining up alongside players like van Nistelrooy, Saha or Berbatov has improved both his and their game.

Rooney being a centre forward massively boosts the team’s performance, he links all areas of the team so well, works hard for his team and scores goals.

Signing a true striker would massively boost United’s title bid and their chances of advancing in the Champions League, especially as Rooney has no real back up if he sustains an injury.

Manchester United could sign anyone that would improve on the calibre of Hernández, United’s current second best striker as they would allow Rooney to play his game to massively boost the performance of the United team.

Personally, I think United could go one of two ways. The first would be to get a very experienced striker, who will just stand up top and wait for their chances, someone like Zlatan Ibrahimović or Francesco Totti, both very experienced strikers who still have an eye for goal.

The second way would be to sign a hot, youngish talent who will work hard alongside Rooney, but will eventually realise that they can wait for the goals to come to them. The best two in this situation are Mauro Icardi, a 22 year old Argentinean from Inter or; Alexandre Lacazette, a 24 year old Frenchman from Olympique Lyon. Scoring 27 and 31 goals respectively, both players were on fire in front of net last season.

One thing’s for certain, Rooney will score and perform to a high standard, if not played as a lone striker. Either his current position or the current formation needs to change to get Wayne Rooney back to his best.

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By Ben

Recently graduated university, life now revolves around sports, and writing about sport.

Has an intricate knowledge of Ice Hockey and World Football but also dabbles in American Football and Heavyweight boxing.

He's a very versatile and hard working writer, who uses exceptional English in each article.

Trying to get his name out there to hopefully become a professional sports writer.

6 replies on “The Real Rooney Problem At Manchester United”

Lets wait n watch the post December session…I believe Wazza shall come good n prove his critics wrong…Lets believe

Quite a long and detailed analysis, had to take a day off work to read and digest it. Credit for time and effort you must have put into it.

My briefer contribution – Rooney looks past his best (when he was brilliant) and fitting him into an effective role at United is looking increasingly difficult.

I don’t think most United fans would say he is anywhere near being our best player. He’s simply been around for a long time. I don’t think we should compare him with Messi or Ronaldo, but we should compare him with forwards from City, Chelsea or even Spurs and he is average when compared with them. I still think it would have been better for us to get rid when he wanted to go to Chelsea.

where do you get all these statistics?

i agree, rooney should play behind a striker and free to roam.
that is where he is most dangerous.

solution to lvg, make adnan the striker. he seems up for it starting
from the barcelona preseason game up to now. plus he is kind
of goal greedy/hungry.

Thank you all for reading this piece and making your comments.

I spent a long time gathering and analysing a lot of statistics and facts to make this article as informative as possible.

Admittedly small areas of it had to influenced by a bit of subjectivity but the vast majority is analysis of stats and fact.

Once again, thank you all for reading, I hope you enjoyed it.

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