As the dust settles after a convincing win against Sunderland and we prepare for Birmingham, a lot of talk has been about Rooney’s ‘goal drought’. He has now gone 9 months without scoring from open play for Man United (he has only scored 2 penalties this season).
As most people would know, Rooney is very much a confidence player and has never managed to be a consistent goal scorer. Last season, which was an exception to the rule, he was banging them in fairly regularly but before then, he had always scored goals in bursts of good form. United fans were never too worried, given we had a goal machine in the form of Ronaldo. When the Portuguese left, the doubts were louder and more widespread. Rooney kept his head down and dragged United through the season, having the highest scoring season of his career. But by the time he scored his last goal against Bayern Munich, he was tired, unfit and looked very prone to injury. He then had an anonymous and frustrating World Cup where Super Rooney was meant to win all matches single-handedly! He was, to be fair, quite poor and continued to be poor in front of goal as we neared the October revelation of his desire to leave United in the summer (which seemed to explain the dip in form). Having made a U-turn and come back in the team, he is now under pressure to score goals for fun again.
Sir Alex says that strikers need to score goals to feel happy. When they are not scoring, they feel like they will never score, but when they do, they think the scoring will never end. If confidence is a problem for Rooney, then it hasn’t seemed so in the matches he has played since he came back from injury. If there is one thing Rooney is consistent at, it’s industry and creativity. A lot of his work on the pitch tends to get ignored as pundits and fans value goals more than anything else. It is true that strikers are paid to score goals, not to make Hollywood passes, but Rooney does more than attempt Hollywood passes (which by the way, come off more times than they do for Stevie Gerrard, who is a midfielder).
Rooney does more than his fair share of tackling but he is now doing it more often up front rather than running back to our own penalty area to tackle. His range of passing is also often not lauded enough. Some have suggested that he would be the best replacement for Scholes, and the idea is not that crazy! On top of everything, he has a creative mind on the pitch and is a very intelligent player despite his resemblance to Shrek.
All of the above are just arguments for us valuing Rooney more than just his goals. When Rooney scores, he is as close to being a complete footballer as possible. But if he is not scoring and we are winning and doing well in all competitions, we have nothing to worry about as long as he continues performing as he currently is. The assist for Berbatov’s first goal yesterday was testimony to what Rooney can do on a pitch when he is in inspiring form. The goals will come, but for now, we should be happy with him pulling the strings in attack while others around him like Berbatov and Nani share the burden of scoring.