Persistence of Time

 Father Time catches up to everyone. Has it already caught Wayne Rooney? (image via  Wikimedia Commons )

Father Time catches up to everyone. Has it already caught Wayne Rooney? (image via Wikimedia Commons)

Yesterday, Manchester United announced that Wayne Rooney will get a testimonial at Old Trafford in 2016- and justifiably so. Rooney has been a fantastic servant to the club, having won just about everything there is to win while threatening some of the club's hallowed individual records. The skipper is 14 goals away from breaking Sir Bobby Charlton's club scoring record (Rooney has already broken Sir Bobby's English national team mark) and is tied with former United striker Andrew Cole for number-two on the all-time scoring list for the Premier League (he's 73 goals from matching Alan Shearer - that might be a bridge too far given his current form).

He has also scored more goals in the Manchester derby than anyone in the history of English football. He's tortured the noisy neighbors over the years with such great goals like this overhead kick that was named "Goal of the 20 Seasons" by the Premier League in 2012. Indeed, if it weren't for Rooney's multiple attempts to leave the club and his rumored desire to return to Everton to close out his career, then you could see them putting up a statue of ol' Wazza outside Old Trafford some day.

On Sunday, he was about as useful as a statute when Manchester United played Manchester City to a 0-0 defensive stalemate. In other words, he was about as good as Angel Di Maria has been since October started (Laurent Blanc has already called him out for not buying into the team philosophy- sound familiar?) 

For United, it was a huge missed opportunity. City was without its two best offensive players and showed less attacking verve than it has since before the current regime took over. Despite that, there were some bright moments for United. Anthony Martial continues to dazzle, and seemed like the only player likely to score. Jesse Lingard nearly won the game, and made the case that he deserves to play more. The defense also looked good, as Chris Smalling continues to dominate while Marcos Rojo surprised some with an outstanding display at left back. The much-maligned Argentine held City's top threat, Kevin De Bruyne, in check for most of the match, before sticking speedy substitute Jesus Navas in his pocket as well. 

Rooney, however, was terrible. He had the fewest touches of any United outfield player, managing two fewer than Martial, who had two defenders draped all over him for most of the afternoon. Rooney only completed 54.8 percent of his passes, which was well below his season average of 80.7 percent. He also gave it away 28 times - five more than anyone else, and created zero chances and had zero shots on target. Ratings are an imperfect science, but WhoScored and Squawka both agreed that Rooney's performance against City was his worst of the season - even worse than the stinkbomb he detonated against lowly Aston Villa in August.

And yet, here was Louis van Gaal singing his usual tune after the match. "I have to talk every week about Rooney, why?" van Gaal said. "You have your opinion - write it. I don't give any more answers about Wayne Rooney. I am sick of them."

So, now we know that van Gaal is sick of some things relating to his undroppable captain. To clarify, he is not sick of Rooney's horrendous first touch, his lack of pace, his inability to play as a lone striker, or his tendency to slow down United's attack. No, he's sick of reporters questioning his captain.

Maybe van Gaal believes what he said after the Everton match last week and is convinced that Rooney will go on a scoring binge. Maybe he'll start finding the net the way he did in 2009-10, the first season after United sold Cristiano Ronaldo and let Carlos Tevez leave. That year, Rooney scored 34 in all competitions and carried United to within 2 points of the league title. He was, arguably, better in 2011-12, but his 2009-10 season really was a one-man show. After all, he had help in 2011-12 -- that wasn't the case in 2009-10 when only one other player hit double figures in goals (Dimitar Berbatov bagged 12). Once Rooney got hurt in the Champions League tie against Bayern Munich in March 2010, everybody knew United's season was over. And indeed it was. 

It would be nice to see that Rooney again. Instead, based on his current form, it's looking likely that those dominant seasons are a thing of the past -- precisely the kind of thing that you celebrate at a testimonial.

Victor Li

chicago, il