Early Doors

Is Wayne Rooney actually rubbish?

Early Doors

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It is still a slump, or is this just the player Wayne Rooney has become?

Last night, Rooney played about as badly as it is possible for a professional footballer to play.

He was comfortably the worst player on the pitch in a match of little quality between Birmingham and Manchester United, contributing nothing useful at either end of the pitch.

While Dimitar Berbatov was back in his own box scrapping for possession, Rooney merely went missing.

It was like he and Berbatov had swapped souls.

Actually, the bits where Rooney disappeared were his best moments - certainly preferable to the wild shots, wayward passes and atrocious attempts to control the ball.

It might well have been worse than the Algeria debacle in the World Cup.

In Rooney's defence, he was shoved out on the left flank in a 4-5-1 formation while Berbatov loped through the middle.

Equally, he only found himself out wide because, on current form, Berbatov is a much better player.

Also, when played on the wing to accommodate Cristiano Ronaldo, everybody marvelled at his versatility, work rate and lack of ego.

The malaise started, as everybody knows, when he twisted his ankle against Bayern Munich on March 30.

At the time of the injury, he was on a run of 17 goals in 14 games.

And, as we also know, he hasn't been the same player since.

Even now, some nine months later, the eternal optimists claim a return to glory is just around the corner, underpinned by the maxim that form is temporary and class permanent.

Statements like 'Once he starts scoring, you won't be able to stop him' and 'He just needs games under his belt' still burble from the mouths of pundits.

In recent weeks, Fergie has even tried to claim Rooney's form has already returned - a claim rather undermined by last night's no-show.

ED realises you don't have to score goals to play well, but plainly Rooney is doing neither.

And the guff about needing time to regain match sharpness is obviously ridiculous.

Do you know how many competitive matches Rooney has played since sustaining that fateful injury?

Twenty-eight.

That's more games than it took Diego Forlan to get off the mark for United. It's over half a season, during which time Rooney has scored once from open play (for England against Switzerland) and twice from the penalty spot.

Twenty-eight games. Rooney is actually in danger of going straight from undercooked to burnt out without ever being any good.

And we are going to have to consider the possibility that maybe - just maybe - Rooney isn't that good any more.

At this rate, a year from now Wayne Rooney's Street Striker will become Bebe's Street Striker.

So what is going on?

One theory (and ED stresses it is just that), is that he is still carrying an injury.

Rooney's ankle problem did not seem that serious, but injuries are never quite as straightforward as we imagine.

Repairing the human body is not like taking your car in to get fixed.

Any average Joe who has broken, dislocated or sprained something will know the effects of injuries can be lasting - whether in the form of scar tissue, prolonged swelling or a loss of flexibility.

Of course, Rooney has had top class physios working on his ankle. United say he is fit and should be taken at their word.

But the fact that he often seems to turn the same ankle, and does not rampage with the same intensity, does make you wonder.

Injured or not, Rooney has certainly got a lot of miles on the clock.

He has been a first-team regular at club level since the age of 16 and a fixture for England since 18.

He has played 440 senior matches for his club or country - that's the equivalent of 10 seasons' worth.

You might be able to survive such a heavy workload if, like Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, you stay free of injury and live a life of monastic professionalism.

Photos of Rooney apparently smoking and urinating in the street during the summer suggest that he is not blessed with such powers of self-denial.

All players go through ups and downs, but as Rooney's slump enters its second year, it seems increasingly valid to wonder if he will ever recover his mojo.

Maybe Wayne Rooney is now just rubbish.

- - -

QUOTE OF THE DAY: Ian Holloway (again) actually asks to be sacked: "I look at (managers) opposite me week in, week out - not today - and I think, 'I don't want to be you because you look so worried, it's frightening'. I don't worry for my job because I am trying to do a good job and at this level, it is so mad, it is so crazy. Sam Allardyce lost his job when he was 10th, Chris Hughton lost his job. How come those people can lose their jobs and I am still in mine? I was behind them when they got sacked, so what's it all about?"

COMING UP: Those Premier League games keep on coming thick and fast. Tonight we have full live coverage of three good ones: Chelsea v Bolton  (19.45 k.o.), Wigan Athletic v Arsenal (19.45) and Liverpool v Wolves (20.00)

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