Despite the goals, Wayne Rooney isn’t Manchester United’s player of the season

Without a fuss in Sunday’s 2-0 win over Swansea City, Wayne Rooney strolled off, looking resigned, and accepted his substitution. Manchester United were bringing on Dimitar Berbatov for the last 10 minutes of a game that had already been won and just as Rooney was coming off, he received a warm ovation. United fans, in the last league game at Old Trafford this season, had acknowledged his efforts in this campaign — he did score 26 goals from 33 in Premier League games, after all. That statistic, in isolation, is good enough for some to go far enough to say the forward has been United’s best player this season.

But Rooney has a lot to answer for. He is not just their chief goal-getter; but also their playmaker. It is partly true that United rely on Rooney too much for his own good; indeed, he has only really fulfilled his role as the goalscorer, and yet not much else. This season, it’s been a bit of both and neither, played everywhere and nowhere; given the target of 40 goals and yet, at the same time, (probably) told create goals for others, too. You should never read too much into number of assists because they’re the most devilish and worst-behaved of statistics (well, after, pass completion rates, which is like a youth offender) but he’s only managed four this season compared to last year’s 11, at least giving an impression of his general profligacy.

This is what I had thought and seen before looking at the numbers (which should only be used to back up an observation); that he’s been far too wasteful and negligent than he’s ever been, especially after the most impressive second halves to a season you’ll ever see in the previous campaign; where Rooney forgot all that happened in the first and shrugged off not only a lengthy run of bad form caused partly by injury, but the pressure exerted by those not interested in football, but by what was on the front page of The Daily Star. Then, even with a ludicrous swearing ban which served in keeping up appearances, he was able to balance creating and scoring goals — against Barcelona in the Champions League final, he looked the only player who could turn it around from what may have seemed a perilous position. It was a fine spell that Sir Alex may or may not have tried to take advantage of — logically, I would say — but it hasn’t quite worked.

Is it possible to be your side’s most important player and yet not their best performing one? It seems so in Rooney’s case. He seems to be used as a goalscoring playmaker, but Diego Maradona he is not, which at least goes to show the Pelé comparisons (‘The White Pelé’) are a little more suitable. In simple terms, being a goalscorer means you have to be generally central and so your freedom is restricted — but freedom is surely what you need as a playmaker, which Rooney doesn’t always get. He’s expected not only to start attacks, but finish them, too.

Too often this season, when Rooney has tried to assume that playmaker role, he has played a bad pass for every good one, being far too negligent and careless and a bit of hindrance as United go forward. That, typically, followed by a strop or a sudden goal from the penalty spot. Which might then, therefore, indicate that it’s more than just a change in roles — that he’s most accustomed to one thing over another, rather than it being a choice. Perhaps Rooney needs to be deployed higher up the pitch and United sign an attacking midfielder that can alleviate the burden. Whatever the solution, what is clear is that this is not Rooney’s best season at the club, only a good one, despite what some say. It’s also worth pointing out that Sir Alex has been less reluctant to take him off than in seasons passed.

And in last Thursday’s Football Writers’ awards, he finished second behind Arsenal’s Robin van Persie, which is quite interesting, given the Dutchman has made a similar refinement to his game, albeit with more success (slightly, in the goal department) and (crucially) clarity. The margin between the two was roughly 100 votes and even with only about 250 in total anyway, was a still lot less than it perhaps should have been. Harsh? Yes. But that’s the beauty of value judgements — they’re not at all beautiful and nobody wants to agree, or, indeed, even hear it. But there were other players who deserved to be runners up. Furthermore, while the awards might suggest otherwise, he hasn’t even been United’s best player this season, or their second best, or even their third*.

Thankfully, Rooney recognises this. After he had scored two in April’s 4-0 win over Aston Villa, he accepted, post-match, that goals alone do not tell a story:  “It was nice to score two goals but I didn’t think my performance was good enough. The rest of my play wasn’t great. I am disappointed with that and I will be working hard to put it right.” Given the amount of times Rooney has been written off without any real basis, you can’t doubt he will at least try to find a solution, if, indeed, he is still a Manchester United player next year.


*For the record, and just for a bit of fun, this is my Top 5 this season in order (feel free to share your own below): Michael Carrick, Jonny Evans, Rio Ferdinand, Antonio Valencia, Wayne Rooney. (Though Danny Welbeck and Paul Scholes have claims.)


15 responses to “Despite the goals, Wayne Rooney isn’t Manchester United’s player of the season”

  1. Abigaba Jzan says :

    i like your analysis but probably my rating would be; Jony Evans, Antonio valencia, Scholes, Rooney and Evra

  2. Paul Mc Cannon says :

    Nice piece. I agree that Rooney’s impact has not been so substantial that he gets POTY at Utd. Valencia for me has been the driving force behind the team this year. It’s no coincidence that his absence in the autumn saw Utd’s attack dip and subsequent poor goal return. His presence throughout our drive from mid Dec to March was significant in that he contributed key goals and crucially assists to the team. A winger is judged on what he can set up and 14 assists in 22 starts is impressive.You are on the money with Utd requiring a guy of this calibre in the centre to give Rooney greater help.Perhaps a new signing or a coming of age season for one of the young guns, time will tell…COYR

  3. Dike chimezie says :

    Rooney is only trying to be humble with his comment. He is obviously our best player this season, no doubt about that. A Rooney-less Man United lost to Liverpool.

  4. Samuel says :

    Like your ratings but it should be Antonio Valencia, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Paul Scholes and David de Gea.

  5. united93 says :

    my order would be:
    carrick, valencia, evans, welbeck, scholes

  6. Yang says :

    I think Rooney playing well, forward must be judged by scoring goals, however I think there is issue with how to use Rooney, He is quite useless when team play three men midfielders,When it is matter most like Base game He is MIA.

  7. john jerome says :

    i wonder how fans think sometimes,what’s the importance of striking without scoring goals?torres would have being the pfa player of the season ai. Rooney,not only being united best,its england’s best. Rooney playd deep midfield during united’s midfield crises,yea,fans were satisfied being dat carrick alone can’t function well.yet he cant b united’s best?having only 1 booking diz season in the league,1 in champions league last year september?has assist,and goals ontop.34 goals in 41 appearances diz season,while RVP scored 35 in 46 appearances. Being the only united player to be included in premier league first 11,wat else do you want? If other’s were,they would have been included in premier league’s first 11 ai.well,one cant write off jonny’s effort.

    • Yang says :

      I agree, the problem is that, for example, Messi played very well but somehow team lose title to Real, I don’t think Messi is problem but it need to change how to play for winning title again. Rooney played very well but he is not suit for leading striker role which cost few important games. I don’t know how we can solve this problem, Need super duper midfielder? Need some adjustment but I think Rooney did his job.

  8. Doug says :

    Problem is with Scholes and Carrick both playing, ManU have two deep lying passing midfielders and no one to carry the ball up the middle. Maybe Ando someday if he’s ever healthy. But in the meantime Rooney has to come back for the ball and that lessons his effectiveness.

  9. Farhan says :

    It has to be Antonio Valencia for me. He is the main reason United have scored so many goals this season. His accurate crosses have set up the likes of Rooney, Welbeck, Hernandez and also Ashley Young. Also he’s contributed to some crucial goals this season , like the one against Blackburn and Arsenal and i think if he had started against Manchester City at the Etihad then we may have had a better chance. 14 assists in 22 is very impressive compared to David Silva’s 15 in 32.

  10. Heinn Linn says :

    I agree with Rooney not being our best player this season, but only because his own standards and our expectations are very high. He would have been the best player of the season in a lesser team.

    My top 5 would be Carrick, Valencia, Rooney, Evans and Scholes. (Scholes would have been first choice if he played the whole season with this performance)

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