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    Wayne Rooney: A Tale of Unfulfilled Potential?

    Wayne Rooney has been at the forefront of English football for well over 13 years now. Since that memorable day in October 2002 when he smashed home a 20 yard winner past David Seaman as a fresh faced 16 year old, he became the new poster boy of the Premier League. 

    Rooney became the (then) youngest goalscorer in Premier League history against Arsenal in October 2002

    Wayne Rooney's future greatness was obvious even at such a young age. The moment he signed his first professional contract at 17 years old, he became one of the top three highest paid youngsters in world football, along with Javier Saviola of Barcelona and Javier Portillo of Real Madrid. The case of Javier Portillo is interesting as this was the pretender to Raul's crown at Real having smashed his records at junior level, but he never made the transition to the first team and now plays in the Spanish 2nd tier. The perils of unfulfilled potential.

    David Moyes described Rooney best the day he signed his first contract, saying "He's got wonderful strength and pace, and the desire to go past people. I think when he gets the ball 40,000 people at Goodison will stand up - so that tells you what the fans think of him". Credit must be given to Moyes for Rooney's early development, he shielded him from the intrusive English press and kept him focused on the pitch, much like Alex Ferguson had protected a young Ryan Giggs years before and the long term rewards were invaluable. 

    Wayne Rooney became an established Premier League star for Everton and amassed 67 league appearances and 15 goals at the tender age of 18. He was becoming the real deal and his style of play was developing into something every major side would want. He was able to combine great strength with amazing technical skill that an English player hadn't been blessed with since Paul Gascoigne. He was capable of playing across the entire frontline but had an unbelievable amount of energy and would often chase back and do the work of a holding midfielder, before busting a gut to get himself back into an attacking position. His dedication and work rate was often praised amongst the international media, and it wasn't long before Manchester United came calling. 

    Rooney became the most expensive player under 20 years old when he signed for Manchester United in a £25.6m deal

    In his time at Manchester United Rooney has become a divisive figure, and it has been asked many times if he can be called a truly world class player. It sounds ludicrous to even argue that the man who (as it stands) is 12 goals shy of becoming United's top goalscorer ever cannot be considered a world class player, but such was the expectation of the young Rooney who arrived in 2005 this question is always asked. So what are the reasons that people are constantly slating him?

    One of the major criticisms leveled at Rooney his entire career has been his lack of big game influence, for both club and country. After he barnstormed his way through Euro 2004, even though England crashed out at the quarter final stage, Rooney's reputation was enhanced by his 4 goals and his naming in the team of the tournament. Since then, he has only managed 1 World Cup goal in 3 different World Cups and another solitary strike at Euro 2012, and during this time he has still never made it past the quarter final stage. His list of individual achievements for Manchester United does make better reading but he has played in two FA Cup final defeats as well as two Champions League final defeats in which he was outshone by opposition players.

    A dejected Rooney was a common sight when it came to the big tournaments

    Another criticism has been his fluctuating levels of fitness over the years. Ex Man Utd fitness coach Mike Clegg said the difference between Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo was that Ronaldo loved to train and Rooney hated it. Simple. Not to say that Rooney is lazy but the man himself said he struggled with weight gain, and that he wasn't 'all bone and lean muscle' like Ryan Giggs. He was even fined by Alex Ferguson for turning up to preseason training half a stone overweight. Roy Keane has also questioned his fitness levels after his recent dire performance against PSV, saying he looked 'awful' and that he looked physically and mentally out of shape. 

    On the other hand, you have to consider that Rooney has played in the relentless pace of the Premier League since he was 16. In the previous 13 season that he has played he has never played in less than 27 league games, nor has he ever played in less than 37 games in all competitions. That's not even factoring in international games. For the style of play that he was used to, so much football would have taken a toll on Rooney's body and it's understandable that he is slowing down now. The problem is that he's not being effective enough. Other players have gotten older and lost their ability to run all match long but they have changed their game and reinvented themselves, examples such as Paul Scholes or Ryan Giggs show how it can be done.

    The final reason that many Manchester United fans have consistently questioned Rooney is his attitude and commitment to the club. He flirted with the idea of joining United's biggest rivals City in 2010, claiming that United couldn't match his ambitions. After he performed a u-turn and signed a new deal many felt that he exploited the club to earn more money and it left a sour taste in many mouths. 3 years later, after Alex Ferguson announced his retirement, Ferguson confirmed Rooney had again asked to leave the club after falling behind Robin Van Persie in the Old Trafford pecking order. Although bids from Chelsea were rejected, Rooney was still open to the move but again he performed another u-turn and signed another new deal later in the season. Did he really want to leave or was he just throwing his toys out of the pram because RVP had outshone him? 

    Throughout his career Wayne Rooney has been an emotional man and this emotion has often got the better of him. Since becoming captain of Manchester United many fans and pundits alike feel that Rooney has stagnated and lost that edge that made him so effective in his youth. You only have to search Rooney's name on Twitter or Facebook these days to see how much fan opinion has turned against him. He can still produce great moments, but I firmly believe his best days are now behind him and Manchester United may well be looking to move him on in the summer. It is sad for Wayne and Manchester United that the thought of parting ways brings up feelings of relief rather than hesitation.

    By Darren Beck (@DarrenBeck13)

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    Item Reviewed: Wayne Rooney: A Tale of Unfulfilled Potential? Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Darren Beck
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