It hasn’t been the smoothest of seasons for Wayne Rooney, a slow start to the campaign after another dismal major tournament experience with England and the prolific form of Robin Van Persie, which has meant the normally talismanic attacker has had to slip under the radar somewhat and settle for an auxiliary role as Manchester United hunt down their 20th league title.
Van Persie’s arrival and subsequent lightning form that has yielded 22 goals as the club’s main striker has meant Rooney has had to take a step back from his own responsibilities as a goalscorer, slotting back into a withdrawn role rather than being relied upon to deliver the 38 goals of last year, or even the 35 goal tally of 2009/2010.
The headlines have now passed on to his Dutch colleague but Rooney’s quality is still in evidence and now ready to accelerate to full speed. On Wednesday night it was he who emphatically dismissed any remaining doubt about the compatibility of his role alongside Van Persie and Shinji Kagawa.
First he latched onto a sublime lofted pass from Kagawa to thrash the ball beyond Artur Boruc for United’s first, then prodded home Patrice Evra’s knock-down (which came via a Van Persie free-kick) for his second in a 2-1 win over Southampton.
This bought up Rooney’s 13th goal of a season which has also yielded nine assists from twenty-three matches so far. It has been a productive season all the same, despite a struggle with injury that eventually ruled the striker out over Christmas, and it’s all come from the position of the withdrawn striker from which Rooney made his carefree breakthrough back in the forgotten age of 2004, before his £25 million move to Old Trafford.
The reckless abandon that personified the young Rooney’s exuberance and enthusiasm as one of the last “pure street footballers” has shown signs of returning in the 27 year old who has mellowed to operate more off thought, rather than pure instinct.
His one touch set-up and drive from the edge of the box in the FA Cup rout of Fulham was a hark back to the joyous Rooney of yesteryear, rather than the volatile one who had to harbour so much pressure and expectation back in the anti-climactic World Cup year of 2010 when injury curtailed his supposed coming of age.
Rooney now has Van Persie and the effervescent Javier Hernandez, who has chipped in with his own supply of 14 goals, to share the burden which has usually crippled the Englishman in the past, a large degree of the pressure has gone.
It was testament to Rooney’s continued importance to United however, that Tottenham manager Andre Villas Boas pinpointed the striker as United’s main threat ahead of their recent meeting at White Hart Lane.
“I think he’s the player who makes Manchester United tick” said the Portuguese boss. “Because of his movements and he always sacrifices himself for the team. And he has the team spirit, desire to win, and the focus. He has had some difficult moments in his career but always came back. He is a top-quality footballer.”
Now, with United heading towards the culmination of the season still hunting a treble, a difficult moment in Rooney’s career this is certainly not.
The striker is currently on an ominous run of nine goals in his last nine, a run that began with a show of clinical finishing in the Manchester derby. It is a return to form of impeccable timing as United seem set to reap the full force of what Villas-Boas righteously called “a top quality footballer”.
More importantly, he’s one who is now enjoying his football.
Written by Adam Gray
Follow him on Twitter @AdamGray1250
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