Rooney departure backed by the numbers

Blog by: United Rant

Swansea City v Manchester United - Premier League

Time to say goodbye! – Wayne Rooney

Sir Alex Ferguson announced his retirement after sealing Manchester United’s 20th league title last May. The greatest football manager in history could and should have just enjoyed the plaudits that poured in. Instead, he made public Wayne Rooney’s second transfer request to let loose a maelström of media coverage that has lasted to this day.

United’s fans turned against Rooney remarkably quickly. David Moyes had been chosen as Sir Alex’s successor long before the actual announcement. And given the history between the new United manager and the former Everton prodigy, Ferguson conceivably put out the transfer request story to aid the fellow Scot should the incoming man deem Rooney expendable. It is likely that a previous assertion, arguing that the time had come to let the forward go, may now find greater favour.

Continental Europe, though, has never been a realistic destination. With everything tallied Rooney is the third highest earner in world football and even those few continental teams with financial muscle to handle the deal have shown little interest in a player clearly in decline. Rooney does not offer an improvement over players in teams such as Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Barcelona or Paris Saint Germain.

It would be a risky deal for all parties. Rooney has never left the north west, let alone England and there is a genuine risk that the player would not settle in a new culture. The former PFA Players’ Player of the Year is not in a position to gamble in a World Cup year, while two very young children complicates matters. Simply put, Rooney cannot rationally move to a club outside the Premier League with, possibly, his last major international tournament closing in.

Nor is domestic competition for his services fierce. In 2010, Manchester City attempted to recruit Rooney, but United’s neighbours now boasts a stable of talented players in the striker’s position.

Chelsea, on the other hand, has shown a definitive interest in signing the wayward England ace. Because of a dearth in quality in the country, Rooney remains the best English player. Moreover, Chelsea could rid itself of the nouveau riche tag should the London club succeed in capturing the “White Pele.”

But Chelsea’s rise would come at United’s expense. The transfer should be carefully considered.

Rooney versus van Persie Rooney RVP
Average Pass Accuracy 83% 80%
Average Pass Length 17m 17m
Key Passes Per Game 1.8 1.8
Rooney 2011/12 2012/13
Average Pass Accuracy 81% 83%
Average Passes Per Game 50 46
Assists Per Game 0.12 0.37
Key Passes Per Game 1.5 1.8
Goals Per Game 0.79 0.44

Data offers some insight into Rooney’s performance over the past two years.

United’s tactical approach – to control matches through ball retention – remained more or less the same during the period. In 2011/12, the Reds accumulated 20,184 passes. In 2012/13, the figure was 19,686, leaving United right up there with possession based teams such as Arsenal and Swansea City.

Rooney scored more in 2011/12, but assisted more a season later – Robin Van Persie’s acquisition is the obvious cause. Despite playing nominally at number 10 in both seasons, Rooney was used much more in a supporting role in 2012/13 due to the Dutchman’s arrival.

Given that Rooney’s form noticeably dropped in Ferguson’s last season, the 27-year-old should be commended for putting up decent numbers – as good a sign as any of Rooney’s natural talent.

Having said that, the former Arsenal captain’s arrival released Rooney from being the only reliable source of goals at United. Whether by instruction or instinct, Rooney spent increasingly more time in central midfield. He should have seen a lot more of the ball as a result, but the decrease in passes made indicates that Rooney failed to stamp his authority on games in 2012/13.

Wayne Rooney

Let go! – Time for Moyes to let Rooney go

Curiously, there is virtually no change in Rooney’s defensive statistics from 2011/12 to 2012/13. Despite his increased presence in central midfield, the number 10 contributed very little defensively. It is risky to make assumptions based on just one game, but Danny Welbeck played a very similar role in the season opener against Swansea and made three interceptions – Rooney averaged 0.5 per match last season.

Rooney’s physical decline has been frequently noted too. The player’s visible puffing last season has not quelled critical observations. And a big manifestation of this is Rooney’s inability to break past opponents. In 2011/12, Rooney, on average, completed one dribble per game. The number shrunk to 0.4 in 2012/13.

The numbers offer some indication of Rooney’s decline, and while Chelsea being the player’s only admirer complicates matters greatly, any decent offer should be accepted if finance is a concern.

Chelsea, meanwhile, has nothing to lose. Despite the obvious deterioration Rooney demonstrated his inner genius by managing 12 goals and 10 assists last season. Just as no club was blamed for Paul Gascoigne’s decline, Chelsea will not be held liable should Rooney continue on his current path.

The club could win the public relations game though. After all, José Mourinho once convinced Samuel Eto’o to play full-back, and he can certainly bring Rooney’s mental state around. Not only will Chelsea benefit on the pitch, the club would also be hailed for saving the man who could finally bring the nation glory at the World Cup.

But the west London club is not just interested in PR. After all, Rooney is still a pretty good player, with all the attributes to adapt his game to the role at number nine Mourniho seeks. Crucially, the Liverpool-born player can use his natural understanding of space to bring other players into the action.

The London club boasts a fine set of attacking midfielders and Rooney can bring fluidity, while providing the goalscoring that Chelsea’s forwards lack.

However, the transfer may impact United more than Chelsea. After all, Mourinho’s squad boasts more quality than United’s – for the Portuguese, Rooney is not essential to his tactical vision. Moyes, however, needs Rooney or someone of similar talent and quality.

United’s shortages are affecting Moyes’s approach. In the Swansea game, United bypassed the midfield entirely and the manager asked his team to attack opportunistically. The inclusion of Ryan Giggs raised a few eyebrows, but the selection was forced by the composition of United’s squad.

United’s central midfield lacks a player who can push forward and provide creativity. With little imagination in the squad’s attacking midfielders and wingers, the direct approach was a pragmatic effort. But even against a mid-table side, the brute-force plan cannot be relied upon and Giggs was included to provide moments of creativity.

Meanwhile, Shinji Kagawa, who is quite possibly the most specialized playmaker in the league, has not been used by Moyes. The Japanese can certainly do a job as a classical playmaker, but he exists to play the final ball. To use the Japanese to his fullest extent, the team needs to be built around him; at the very least Kagawa needs Cesc Fabregas, or a similar player, behind him. Such an acquisition looks increasingly unlikely.

Until then, Rooney is still is a good player, albeit in decline, who can cover a variety of positions. Even if a big name or two arrives Rooney can provide might provide Moyes with a good rotation option. If anything, big signings could stoke the fire in the Scouser’s heart.

It is a key decision for Moyes to take.

While Ferguson’s shadow will always follow future United managers, this is especially true for Moyes. Ferguson’s man management has often been lauded and his successful relationship with Eric Cantona is frequently cited as an example. The Reds supported Cantona through good times and bad. With fans seemingly against Rooney, Moyes faces a much tougher task this time around.

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