It has to go down as one of international football’s most one-sided encounters as England managed to put six goals past accountant (you read it right) Aldo Simoncini, who also happens to be San Marino’s man between the sticks, with a goals balance sheet that makes depressing reading. A familiar name opened the scoring, the man with the armband stepped up to the spot and converted a neat penalty, his fifth for his country in a total of 49 goals, which sets him alongside the legendary Sir Bobby Charlton in the record books. While the latter is a World Cup winner and unanimously regarded as one of the greatest ever marksmen to have come from England, the former, much to everyone’s surprise is still deemed somewhere in between good and great.
Not many can divide opinion like Wayne Rooney does in that one day he could turn up and score a hat-trick in a Champions League game whilst also remain goal-shy for close to 1000 minutes in the Premier League. Not many can get criticized the way he does after every bad game, but still somehow remain on the verge of breaking two of the most envious goal-scoring records as far as English football is concerned – top scorer for England and Manchester United; Not many. Now that Rooney is almost certain to become the country’s finest ever goal-scorer with the remaining dead-rubber qualifiers and the all important Euros ahead, he has still got a long way to go until he can overcome Sir Bobby’s club record of 249 goals.
Then and Now
Three years is a long time in football. Three years it has been since Rooney hit the magic 20-goal mark for Manchester United playing as an out-and-out striker, what we are used to labeling – a number 9. Raw pace and tenacity and the ability to create something out of little to nothing, the like of which you would associate with the perfect age when everything clicks and the whole 2011/12 season was truly spectacular on a personal level for the now 29-year old. He scored a total of 27 goals in 34 appearances, a scoring rate which can be termed world class in a league as competitive as the Premier League. But what set him apart from the rest then, was not his blinding pace, as people think, as he was never really ‘blinding’ at any stage in his long career, but tactically more aware and comfortable in his position than the rest far too often than not.
Before anyone screams at the screen, yes, Rooney has lost half a yard of pace now and is a touch too slow to react to an offside trap these days but at the same time, it’s cruel to expect the Manchester United captain to play as well as his manager wants to, when he finds himself less comfortable leading the line than he would have liked to. For a player spearheading the attack, Rooney has had very few touches inside the box in his last few games and considering Manchester United’s large dominating spells with the ball home and away, he or any ideal forward in that team should be getting the ball in the box more frequently and not outside of it nor somewhere by the corner flag.
It’s strange when you consider the fact that out of 186 passes made by United in the attacking third against Swansea, only 3 have found Rooney inside the box. And what is more peculiar is that Swansea’s forward Gomis who scored the winner on the night, found himself with the ball thrice inside the box and this has been the outcome of the Swans’ 91 passes in the final third, half of what Van Gaal’s United managed.
From the above representation of Rooney’s touches against Swansea, it can be understood that a lion’s share of it is found close to and around the centre circle and down the flanks and rarely can one see him with the ball or vying for it at the business end of the pitch, where a number 9 should be. To be honest, if your forward has had to pass the ball the most number of times to your defensive midfielder, you simply are not a natural number 9 or at least not playing like one.
But what Van Gaal can look at after the international break is the possibility of utilising Rooney to the fullest by playing to his strengths and not somewhere he can get a couple of touches leading to tame shooting attempts from inside the box and thereby deprive him of his willingness to maraud around and take control of the game or pretend to. With devastating pace in front of him in the form of new signing Martial and on the left in Depay, there is a potentially lethal trio in there untapped and waiting to be harnessed and with the presence of a creative force in Juan Mata by his side, Rooney can only end up contributing to more goals than what he is doing at the moment and end up becoming Manchester United’s greatest goalscorer, from Merseyside.