With slightly less than two months before the end of the season – or almost four, for those of you who care about international football – it’s fair to say that 2012 will be remembered as the year of the strikers – or, as David Cameron would put it, the year of the strikes. But that’s for another time… – since this season has seen forwards under the spotlight even more than usual.
We all know about the brilliance of Lionel Messi, who recently became Barca’s all-time top scorer with 234 goals at the still relatively tender age of 24. We’ve watched in astonishment as Cristiano Ronaldo became the quickest player to reach 100 goals in La Liga and we’ve found the living proof that, while football is a team sport, having Robin Van Persie in your ranks might help a great deal the fortunes of a struggling team.
Likewise, the media have been relentless in highlighting the lows of Fernando Torres and Andy Carroll, who couldn’t imagine that a curse would be cast upon them when they put pen to paper in January 2011.
There’s a name missing from the list, a name that seemingly doesn’t get mentioned when experts analyse the best strikers on the planet. That player is Wayne Rooney.
Following a traumatic end to 2010, and a less than positive start to 2011, the Croxteth-born man burst into life scoring crucial goals in the closing stages of the campaign.
The United number 10 had gone from hero to zero within a few months, from scoring for fun and virtually carrying United within a twisted ankle of a Champions League semifinal and a league title the previous season, to a “get-me-out-of-here” plea as he labeled United “not fit to match his expectations”.
A goal draught and abysmal performances are hardly solid foundations upon which a player can express his disenchantment for his team’s performances and ambitions.
I, for one, wanted him out of the club. I felt betrayed and ashamed by his words even though I never booed him as I refuse to jeer any player wearing the United shirt.
My mate Ryan – a fellow season ticket holder with whom I share joy, despair and beer when watching United – and I joked that we’d only forgive him in case he scored the winner in the Champions League final – to be fair to Wayne, he did score – and express our dissent with a silent response whenever his name was announced and so did many others around us – although the fickleness of football fans was such that he was quickly greeted as a hero again by the majority at Old Trafford.
The goal against City, the hat-trick against West Ham which led to a ludicrous ban by the FA, the penalty that sealed the title at Ewood Park and the goal against Barca at Wembley went some way to restore Rooney’s credibility in the eyes of United fans.
More importantly, Rooney has carried the momentum into this season, becoming as crucial for United as he’s ever been. Perhaps, even more.
Sure, he’s had a few barren spells. His first touch let him down at times, granted. But he has scored 29 goals so far, most of which could prove crucial if United are to retain the title.
For a player widely accused of not shining when it matters – a critic that, baffling, was directed at Cristiano Ronaldo as well, when he played for United – Rooney has scored twice against Spurs (home and away), a hat-trick against Arsenal (at home), three times against Chelsea (his two goals at Stamford Bridge sparked a comeback from 3-0 down), both goals in a 2-1 win against Liverpool at home and twice in a 3-2 win away at City in the FA Cup.
Add to this a brace in the 2-0 against West Brom as well as a winner against Fulham and the picture is pretty clear, 21 league goals in 26 league games is a record any striker would be proud of.
Furthermore, this season is probably Rooney’s best-ever season in a United shirt as he has shone not only in front of goal, but also when operating behind other strikers, being them Welbeck or Hernandez, and his four assists are a small return when compared to the number of chances he’s set up this season.
Many would point at Rooney’s goal-scoring record in the 2009-10 season but scoring for fun when play as lone striker and, therefore, being the focus of every move, while an amazing achievement, isn’t as complete as scoring almost 30 times when playing further away from the goal.
Silence has characterised Wayne’ season as much as goals have, with the striker adopting a low-profile off the pitch – his red card against Montenegro is the only time he made the headlines for the wrong reason this season – and that has definitely helped his focus as well as his relationship with the fans.
As amazing as it might sound for a player that has already scored 175 goals since joining the club in 2004, the best might be yet to come for Rooney at United, as he’s destined to grow in leadership, on and off the pitch.
Now, not to be picky Wazza, but what about that winning goal in a Champions League final? Wembley next year? That will do us, thanks.