May 30, 2009


Wayne Rooney may need to complain to avoid becoming the odd-job man: Marginalised on the left against Barcelona, Wayne Rooney is fast becoming a victim of his own versatility (Paul Hayward, 28 May 2009, The Guardian )

Wayne Rooney's eagerness and versatility were two of his best calling cards until a starting berth on the left against Barcelona reduced him to the role of spectator. Among Sir Alex Ferguson's many dilemmas now is whether he should bring England's leading striker in from the cold to attack through the middle.

With Barcelona imperious in Rome, Rooney looked more than ever a victim of his own gift for multitasking. Even his usual hyperactiveness was missing as the game passed by without him, in the central midfield areas where Andrés Iniesta, Xavi Hernández and Sergio Busquets eclipsed the Manchester United trio of Anderson, who was a passenger for the 45 minutes he stayed on the field, Michael Carrick, who had an off day, and the 35-year-old Ryan Giggs, who was asked to perform a task beyond his defensive abilities and ageing legs.

In this dispiriting scenario Rooney was a remote presence on the left, while Park Ji-sung scuttled fruitlessly up and down the right and Cristiano Ronaldo filled a centre-forward's role which, he grumbled in the mixed zone, is not his real vocation. At the end, United were chasing the game in a 4-2-4 formation, with Rooney, Ronaldo, Carlos Tevez and Dimitar Berbatov all failing to pose much of a threat.

Obviously the best player in the world--which is what Man U is desperate to believe Christian Ronaldo is--ought to play through the middle. But, as even Ronaldo apparently concedes, you can't put him there and create offensive chances. His scoring is, to a stunning degree, a function of kicking the ball only when it's stationary.

Their weaknesses had become glaringly apparent by mid-Winter, but they managed to win the EPL again on muscle memory--they just know how to win the League better than others because of their experience doing it--and the role their reputation plays in refereeing. In many ways, it is their actual mediocrity by comparison to other recent iterations of the team that makes their league championship all the more remarkable.

If Alex Ferguson is extremely fortunate, Ronaldo will leave now that he's not only not getting the calls he used to get for diving but starting to be targeted by refs for his petulance. Such a departure would afford an opportunity to rethink the entire attack and liberate Rooney, who's easily their best player.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 30, 2009 11:00 PM
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