In England supreme footballing talents are supposedly born rather than manufactured. This unfair definition has been attached to the nation’s potential saviours for decades, most notably the effervescent Paul Gascoigne and more recently Wayne Rooney, suggesting that their fortunes have been predetermined rather than the consequence of an innate desire to succeed.
However in truth such majestic abilities are only attained with arduous amounts of dedication. The psychologist Anders Ericsson’s theory of ‘the 10,000-hour rule’ states that a genuinely world class talent only arises after at least 10,000 hours practice in any specific field, whether it be concert violinists, chess players or sports stars.
Wayne Rooney most certainly reached this milestone earlier than most. Growing up in Croxteth, an under-developed neighbourhood in Liverpool, he knew nothing but football as a child, testing his own abilities by utilising urban monuments like stop-signs as targets and passing cars as five-man walls. Wayne’s background in street football reads more like the childhood of a great South American 10, a pristine presence in the dreary, impoverished suburban landscape of his home-town.
The first time he drew astonishment from the Everton faithful he was a ten-year old mascot, casually lobbing one of the best goalkeepers in the land, Neville Southall, repeatedly during a warm-up. While the retort from the Welshman, who made 578 appearances for the Goodison outfit, may have seemed cruel, it was worn as a badge of honour by the “flash git” 28 years the keeper’s junior.
One might have expected the matured Rooney to have been cherished by all around him and coveted by others abroad. However it is impossible not to assess the Manchester United striker’s career in recent years and not wonder where has his ability to sparkle and dazzle the world disappeared?
Rooney is truly unique in the sense that not only does he possess the cerebral brilliance to decide games of significant magnitude but also phenomenal physical attributes allowing him to forcefully drag trophies to the north-west. He covers an almost excessive amount of ground for an attacking player, essential in modern ‘leftist’ football where forwards must defend, while his broad frame and impermeable stamina level allow him to brush off powerful defenders with ease for the ninety minutes.
Rooney, often derided as a blunt, unintelligent Neanderthal figure approaches the game in a way which makes a mockery of his public persona. Not only does he study the art of scoring goals and calculating spatial patterns on the pitch, but the Liverpudlian considers the avant-garde sporting technique of visualisation as an integral component of his success. "Part of my preparation is I go and ask the kit man what colour we're wearing -- if it's red top, white shorts, white socks or black socks” before the Premiership champion’s number 10 visualises himself in various match situations while lying in bed before he rests. “You're trying to put yourself in that moment and trying to prepare yourself”; Rooney’s goal-scoring success is testament to his mental preparation.
However despite collecting his fifth league title this week it has been an ultimately disappointing and almost embarrassing season for Rooney, who has been reduced to a tactical pawn in key games, or worse a substitute like against Real Madrid on the biggest night of the year at Old Trafford. For a footballer once applauded by the likes of David Beckham and Michael Owen at his first international training session for slaloming beyond two defenders before toying with David James, this is borderline criminal.
Yet on paper it seems illogical as to why a club of this stature would part with a marketable footballer of immense talent during what should be considered his peak years as a professional.
Perhaps United have serious doubts over whether Rooney can regain his place as one of the best forwards in the world. He has been involved in first team squads for Premiership teams since the age of sixteen at Everton and as an integral part of Alex Ferguson’s squad often plays close to fifty high intensity matches a season. Burn-out is increasing common in early-starters at the elite level across Europe in modern times, the recent struggles of Fernando Torres stand out as arguably the most comparable case study on the problem.
Rooney himself certainly hasn’t helped his own situation. The coaching staff at Carrington have grown disillusioned with his biennial pre-season return overweight from international tournaments.
But the biggest error Rooney, so often well advised by his agents and PR bosses, has made was publically denouncing the ambition of the club under Alex Ferguson in the autumn of 2010. While it initially appeared as if the player was the winner in the saga, earning an enhanced lucrative contract, the dogmatic Scot has never forgotten the betrayal.
Ever the pragmatist, Ferguson only cares for his own club. Two years ago he was willing to cede power to his sole premium level attacker, fully aware that his team couldn’t compete to win honours in Europe without Rooney. However with the inclusion of Robin van Persie last summer, Rooney is now a dispensable figure at the club.
With the 27 year old desperate to stay in Manchester, he’s having to alter his game and prove himself in a deeper midfield role during what could prove to be the eleventh hour of his United career. While some always believed Rooney possessed the tenacity and energy to play in the heart of a great United team initial signs suggest he’s not the answer to Ferguson’s midfield issues.
Over the years Rooney has transformed into a complete striker, capable of finishing chances with either leg or distorting his neck muscles to direct crosses towards the goal regardless of the quality of the delivery. Should he stay at Old Trafford he will in all likelihood become the leading scorer of England’s most decorated club as well as The Three Lions. Dropping Rooney deep and away from the scene of his spectacular bicycle kick against Manchester City devalues his capabilities and undoubtedly lessens his contribution to the team. Against West Ham last week Rooney only had one solitary touch of the ball in the opposition box.
Whether we see Rooney score goals like his flawless volley against Newcastle or the sublime chip lofted over David James in the Portsmouth net appears increasingly unlikely as time progresses towards the summer and if we do it may well be in different colours.
The market for Rooney could ensure he remains in England beyond the Summer. However, while a risk, shipping him away against his wishes would ensure Ferguson’s glass of red would be even more enjoyable than usual after October 2010. Gravely, the most talented individual England has produced in twenty years broke the golden rule in belittling Alex Ferguson. “If anyone steps out of my control, that's them dead”. He may have outfoxed the master politician on one occasion, but Rooney still lacks the judgement of his boss when it comes to picking his battles.