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Captain Rooney Needs To Step It Up

Ian Ladyman writes in the Mail On Sunday that new United captain Wayne Rooney needs to move to the next level in his career if he is to become the United legend he so craves to be.

10 years ago yesterday Rooney signed from Everton for £25 million. A fresh-faced 18-year-old, Rooney had just exploded onto the scene with England and Everton and was believed to be the next very big thing. A hat-trick on debut against Fenerbahçe  (After recovering from an injury sustained in the European Championships) in the Champions League at Old Trafford was the perfect start. Rooney went from strength to strength, playing on his potential and fulfilling it to boot.

10 years on and Rooney is still playing on that potential and the bravado that he must be played if we are to win. The only difference is he isn’t 18 anymore, he’s 28, and the small matter of being captain for both club and country, and we don’t need him to win. 217 goals in 444 appearances is no mean return – just under  a goal every two games in fact – but recently his influence has been growing less and less, his happiness was following suit. Slowly the Golden Boy of English football was dulling.

When he handed his first transfer request in 2010 he asked for more quality to be signed. 2012 heralded the arrival of Robin van Persie, the quality Rooney had asked for. United won the league, but at the end of the season Sir Alex Ferguson revealed Rooney had again handed in another transfer request. Shown up by his strike partner, who almost single-handedly steered us to our 20th title, many believe Rooney’s nose was out of joint at no longer being head honcho. However, rather than being like a moody teenager believing it’s everyone else’s fault, it may have been more beneficial to look closer to home.

Rooney had already started his decline into mediocrity. The odd flash of brilliance (such as the goal against West Ham last season) were exactly that, odd. His goals were a valued asset last season, but he still wasn’t playing to his brilliant best.

It would be fair to say he had gone backwards. Whether it was the weight of expectations he was feeling or simply he wasn’t enjoying it at the club any more, something had changed. So often seen as an infallible member of the first team, doubts were raised. Van Persie showed us there is life other than Rooney. And then to back the point up further, in our darkest times this season Rooney has been nowhere to be seen. In a side starved of quality and cutting edge Rooney is one of those you look to provide the spark, but he’s run out of gas.

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Though he may now be in shape (more so than ever on the surface) he is not the same in ability. His decline has led to many circles believing that not selling him may well come back to haunt us. The ‘curse of Wayne Rooney’ hanging over us like the Sword of Damocles, waiting to drop and punish us. That may already be happening. Making him captain ultimately means he is guaranteed a start, forming a system to accommodate him with players unfamiliar to it plunges the blade further into the stomach. Whatever way you look at it, we’re stuck with him.

Of course to blame him wholly is exceedingly unfair and one of the problems he faces Internationally. But when you are widely known as the most influential player in a squad you have to be able to handle the pressure attached. Rooney seemingly can’t. And as captain he has to find the ability within him to manage it, or he may well be moved on.

This season so far has offered nothing to convince anyone he shouldn’t be moved on, but there is obviously time to change perceptions. He hasn’t been good enough so far, but turn it around and he will be ok. Rooney hasn’t been our star man so far, carry on down this road and he should expect to be sold. Frankly, before he once more disrespect the club that made him what he was, I believe he should be anyway. But what do I know?

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