What’s the deal with Wayne Rooney? I am genuinely starting to think that he was never very good in the first place. Ok, so he scored a cracking late winner for Everton when he was 16, zinging on the ball over Dave Seaman’s tribute to the porn industry of a head – and let’s be honest, it’s not like we’d never seen that trick before. He was awesome at Euro 2004 – but hasn’t scored at a major tournament since. He scored tons of goals last season – but, looking back, it feels like most of them were headers and he’s looked lost without his wingman Antonio Valencia. He scored a great (properly great, brilliant, superb, exciting) goal last weekend – this weekend he got booked for kicking a lower league journeyman to whom he’d just ceded possession. What’s going on?
Yet we all agree, apparently, that he’s class. A ‘proper’ striker, etc.. Why?
By far the most surprising thing, to my mind, in Sid Lowe’s excellent interview with Xavi for The Guardian was this:
Many have described Barcelona‘s 5-0 win over Real Madrid last November as the greatest performance ever. Even Wayne Rooney admits that he stood up in his living room and started applauding.
[Xavi’s face lights up]. Yeah? Really? Rooney? That makes me proud. Rooney, wow! Rooney is extraordinary, he could play for Barcelona.
I find that extraordinary. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, it seems, couldn’t play for Barcelona. What makes Xavi Hernandez, a man so fixated on possession and fluidity, on thought, think that this hulking, sweaty product of the world’s most physical league could fit into his regime of death by cushioning? Of all the world’s ‘world class’ players, an abstract group admittedly but one whose constituents are widely known and agreed upon, Rooney has, undoubtedly, the worst first touch. Yet Xavi, who in the same interview describes the ideal of the ‘half-touch’ (control-see pass-play pass, all in one motion), wants him in his team. Strange.
Rooney, for some reason, benefits from a sort of Keyser Soze scenario. Like The Usual Suspects’ super villain, ‘the white Pele’ lives by reputation alone. Wayne Rooney is no longer a man, but an idea. No matter that they keep actually playing against Verbal Kent, ‘Rooney’ remains a name so terrifying that defenders literally soil themselves upon hearing it and tiki-taka totalitarians forget themselves and their footballing fascism.
‘The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was making people believe he didn’t exist’. ‘Wazza’s having a pretty good go at pulling the same heist.