Maybe I’m biased when it comes to Wayne Rooney. I see him a lot as we live near each other, and I like him too. He’s not the kind of person who fobs you off, but one who always has time for a proper chat, which probably delights our partners as we talk football when they want to get shopping.
So when I see him getting criticised, my first reaction is to defend him. I don’t do it blindly and if Wayne was playing poorly I’d say so, but there were mitigating circumstances with the stick Wayne was getting this week. I read and heard what people said on my own Twitter feed – that his first touch was poor, that he’s not scoring, that he doesn’t look sharp.
If you’re a striker who is not scoring, you’re going to get criticised and I speak from experience. I’ve picked my kids up from school and they’ve told me that other kids were saying I couldn’t score because their dads told them. Every striker goes though rough patches, it goes with the territory.
Wayne knows that great things are expected of him and I could see he’s been frustrated this season. But to understand why Wayne hasn’t scored yet, you have to look at the way Manchester United now play.
When I played and when Wayne joined the club, players were told to get the ball quickly to the forwards.
“Then let them do what they need to do,” Sir Alex (Ferguson) would say. If the ball wasn’t put forward quickly, the gaffer would be on the backs of the full-backs, the flying wingers or the midfielders supplying the balls. The intent was always to attack.
We’d see a lot of the ball and had chances to convert. I’d play alongside another striker too, two of us helping each other and working for each other. This usually led to goals. It would have been much harder by myself and I’m sure Teddy Sheringham, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer or Dwight Yorke would agree.
The current United team plays differently. They’re hard to beat, hard to score against, but they create fewer chances. Three shots on target in the opening two league games shows that. We’d regularly have 6-10 chances and, even if we went a goal down, we’d be confident of roaring back and scoring.
The likelihood of the current United team conceding is lessened, but so are goals from players in red. Wayne plays alone by himself and you can see his frustration. Against Club Brugge, he wanted to be in positions he couldn’t be in. He wants to get in positions where he can damage, but he can’t because he’s isolated.
In the two league games so far, Memphis (Depay) played a good way behind him in the hole. Memphis scored most of his goals on the left in Holland and was much better there against Brugge, scoring two great goals and setting up one. It could have been three if he’d finished an incredible move down the right before Wayne set him up with an exquisite flick.
Juan Mata, who is most effective in the hole when he gets on the ball and looks for killer passes, is played on the right.
So where does Wayne get his support from? I don’t buy the line that he’d be better further back. Players tend to move back as they get older, but Wayne’s 29, not 34. He’s best as a centre forward, that’s where he wants to play, but there’s no way he’s going to match his tallies of 2010 and 2012 when he scored 34 goals for United in a season. The current team, where emphasis is given to possession and control, just isn’t set up to produce a lot of chances and there’s a lack of pace up front, with Wayne playing a lonely role. Chicharito (Javier Hernandez) is fast, but does he have a long term future at United?
It’s very early in the season and may seem odd saying it of a team which has won three games and not conceded a goal in the league, but this doesn’t look like a team which will win the title. And while the Brugge win was encouraging, United should be beating any Belgian team at home all day long. Like Spurs and (Aston) Villa, they played well in the first 20 minutes before United got on top. Will United do that against the many superior teams they’ll come up against this season? I’m not convinced.
I hope I’m proved wrong, but I watched (Manchester) City against Chelsea on Sunday and it was the best I’ve seen City play for a while. They got their three goals at the right time and the scoreline was harsh on Chelsea, but they’ve got fast players in (Sergio) Aguero - the best centre forward in England - David Silva, Yaya Toure, Raheem Sterling and Samir Nasri. Fast and capable of producing a little magic to change games. Arsenal have really fast attackers too - Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil, Danny Welbeck, Theo Walcott.
Chelsea have Eden Hazard; quick, brilliant and capable of something special. They still look like they’re missing a couple of players and if they can get Radamel Falcao up and running that will solve half their battle. I’d expect them and City to finish above United again. I can’t sugar coat it any differently because they’re better than United at present. How many United players would get in the City or Chelsea teams? And flip it, how many would get in the other way around?
United have bought well. Morgan Schneiderlin and Matteo Darmian have impressed. Pedro would be an addition which is needed in attack, but there’s a worrying lack of pace and creativity up front. When Robin van Persie joined the club three years ago, Wayne was happy because he saw a top attacker who’d help the team he plays for. United won the league. Another quick forward, while the transfer window is open, would help United. And help Wayne Rooney.