“I have to talk every week about Rooney. Why?”
That was the response from Louis van Gaal after another disappointing performance from his captain against Manchester City brought yet more questions of the striker.
Upon the reply that Rooney “is a top player,” and therefore deserves scrutiny, an irked Van Gaal replied: “Then you have to write it down. It is your opinion.”
And so they did…
Where better place to start than with Jamie Jackson of The Guardian, whose impassioned defence of Rooney raised more than a few eyebrows on Friday in the build-up to the game. Jackson himself admits that Rooney was ‘as ineffective as he has been for a while,’ adding that his ‘only headline act was to have staples administered to a head wound.’
Barney Ronay, also of The Guardian, was slightly less reserved in his assessment:
‘Before kick-off the Manchester police could be seen enforcing a strict “no persistent standing” rule inside the stadium. For the more disaffected among United’s support there may have been a temptation to wonder about the effects this restriction might have on Rooney’s afternoon.
‘Van Gaal’s great skill has often been the primacy of the team, the only outsize ego tolerated his own. And yet at a club that has often trusted its bold attacking talents Rooney will be an issue for as long as he continues to play like this as United’s senior central striker. Much has been made of his loss of snap and spring. If he moves, at times, like one of the oldest 30-year-old all-star athletes you’re likely to come across, then this is perhaps because he is.
In effect he arrived as a ready-made 16-year-old, fully mature with a long junior career behind him, the moving parts in that stocky frame already well-seasoned by competitive football. Rooney may have hit a milestone birthday this weekend but his key component parts – the legs, ankles, hamstrings, muscle fibres – were those of a 30-something footballer some time ago.’
Matt Dickinson of The Times adds that Rooney ‘was part of the problem’ in an insipid and underwhelming Manchester derby, and that the 30-year-old ‘could not find a pass, never mind a goal,’ while ‘no other top player does such a passable impression of a mediocre one when he is out of sorts’. When was the last time Rooney was ‘in sorts’, we ask? The striker was again given match rating of five out of 10, equal to Raheem Sterling and one higher than Wilfried Bony. Poor Wilf.
Moving on, and ‘Rooney’s role blunts impact of Martial arts,’ is the headline to a piece from Ian Herbert in the Independent. You can tell where this is going.
Herbert recalls perhaps United’s brightest moment of the whole game, when on 83 minutes Anthony Martial clipped a wonderful ball into Jesse Lingard, who hit the crossbar with his first-time effort. Herbert uses this moment to lament that Martial, a player City clearly ‘feared’, ‘had been consigned to the margins because of a misplaced faith in Wayne Rooney’.
The Independent’s chief sports writer continues, adding that ‘the very least to be said is that the man is struggling’. A match rating of five out of 10, the lowest of any player on the pitch, was awarded to the Englishman.
Leave it to Martin Samuel of the Daily Mail to go against the grain. He begins by saying that United ‘may as well have played without a striker’, but goes on to use the performance of Bony as proof that Rooney wasn’t all that bad.
As usual, Wayne Rooney’s performance was the lightning rod for much local dissatisfaction but he wasn’t the only striker who made no impact. Wilfried Bony was woeful and did not match Rooney’s work-rate. At least the Manchester United man looks busy, even on his quietest days.
He ran around a lot, bless him. Rooney is handed a match rating of 5.5 out of 10. Juan Mata was rated at a five.
Richard Tanner of the Daily Express heads down a similar path. He claims Rooney was ‘well-shackled’ by City’s defence (to put it mildly), and that Rooney ‘was not the only one to disappoint’. Kevin de Bruyne, Yaya Toure and Wilfried Bony joined Rooney as the only starters on the afternoon on five out of 10.
The Sun then bring us five things we learned, the second of which involves Rooney:
Wayne Rooney is into his thirties now and his claims that he can play on for several more years at the top are hard to believe. Manchester United’s captain no longer looks convincing leading the line and the clock is ticking for him.
He receives an Opta-powered match rating of six out of 10, equal to David de Gea, Chris Smalling and Juan Mata.
The common theme from each newspaper is that Anthony Martial was by far the brightest spark for the Red Devils, and that he should not be shunted out wide to accommodate the ailing Rooney.
You asked for this, Louis.