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Manchester United 2012-13 player review: Wayne Rooney

This was perhaps the most disappointing season from Wayne Rooney during his nine-year Manchester United career, and after his second transfer request in three seasons, his future is uncertain.

Jamie McDonald

The Busby Babe continues with the ninth installment of our 2012-13 Manchester United player reviews. Next up is Wayne Rooney.

* Manchester United 2012-13 season review

I'm going to be dividing each of the player reviews into three categories: 'what was expected' will be a brief and general explanation of what the expectations were for the player prior to the season's start, 'what we got' will typically be the section with the most depth as this will be the heart of the review, and 'what's next?' will be an examination of the player's future at United.

What was expected

When Rooney left Everton in the summer of 2004 to join Manchester United as an 18-year-old, he was a prodigy. The Englishman matured brilliantly over the next few years and he eventually became a key player in the great 2006-09 sides -- he was the Robin to Cristiano Ronaldo's Batman. The Portuguese superstar, though, made the move to Real Madrid after United were defeated by Barcelona in the 2009 UEFA Champions League final. For the next three seasons, Sir Alex Ferguson built his side around Rooney: the versatile attacker responded by becoming a world-class No.9 in the 2009-10 campaign and he was reinvented as a world-class No.10 -- after asking for a transfer request in the fall of 2010 before being generously given a new contract with wages believed to be around £250,000 a week -- for the run-in of the 2010-11 season.

For the 2011-12 season, Rooney impressively bagged 34 goals in 42 appearances across all competitions while nominally being deployed as a No.10. There was a problem though: he was still tasked to drop deep in order to link the midfield to the attack while he was also responsible for defending the opposition's deepest-lying midfielder. The England international increasingly stalled attacking moves with either a poor touch, a wayward pass, or a poor decision. In addition, United were often being overrun in midfield because the formerly energetic attacker showed no desire to deliver on his defensive responsibilities. The goalscoring return was a mirage on his actual effectiveness as a player.

In the past summer, United purchased a world-class No.9 in Robin van Persie and a hugely promising and former Bundesliga player of the year in No.10 Shinji Kagawa. Many wondered how this would affect Rooney. Would he resume in his nominal No.10 role and be challenged by the incoming Japanese playmaker? Surely he wouldn't be nudging RvP -- at the time, the reigning Premier League player of the year -- away from his No.9 role. How might he respond to these hugely talented players coming in that would challenge him in his two preferred roles?

What we got

Rooney's response was this: he went on holiday to America after a personally disappointing Euro 2012 for England and he then returned to United -- by his own admission -- 7 lbs. overweight. After a poor display at Everton in the season-opener, he was dropped by Fergie for the Fulham match the following weekend. In the contest against the Cottagers, both RvP and Kagawa scored their first goals for United on their Old Trafford debuts while Rooney eventually came on as a substitute. The Englishman then would suffer a horrific gash in his leg and wouldn't be seen for a month.


GS (sub)





Avg P

Pass %

FT %



LB %


C %




22 (5)
















5 (1)















* GS: games started (substituted appearances),G = goals scored, A = assists, Min/G = minutes per goal, SH/gm = shot attempts per game, Avg P = average passes per game, Pass % = passing accuracy percentage, FT % = final third passing accuracy percentage, KP = chances created per game, LB = accurate long balls per game, LB % = long ball accuracy rate, C = successful crosses per game, C% = accurate long ball percentage, TB = successful through balls per game, DRB = successful dribbles per game

To Rooney's credit, he did hit a patch of solid form for much of the winter -- the highlight for him being the first-half brace he bagged at the Etihad in United's 3-2 December defeat of Manchester City. In fact, 13 of his 16 goals for United across all competitions occurred between the months of December and March. Some of this was timely because it coincided with a brief van Persie goalscoring drought in the late winter months.

For much of the season, especially after Rooney's return from injury after the early-season Fulham match, Fergie seemed intent on trying to get his former talisman into the side as much as possible. For one, the gaffer continually declared publicly that Rooney needed consistent games in order to hit peak fitness and form. United, though, were well-stocked this season in the central areas of attack. Therefore, the (formerly) versatile Englishman was tasked all over the pitch throughout the season. According to, in his combined 27 starts in the Premier League and Champions League, Rooney started 17 times as a No.10 or support striker, just two times as a No.9, four times on the right, twice on the left, and twice as a box-to-box central-midfielder. In addition, second-half substitutions by Fergie often resulted in Rooney being shunted out wide from an initial central-attacking position or into central-midfield.

Many have pondered if all of this moving around, from a positional sense, was detrimental to Rooney finding consistent form. Perhaps it was. However, between 2004-09, the Englishman exhibited incredible versatility while excelling in multiple roles. Perhaps then, after becoming United's talisman for a few seasons in a central-attacking role -- whether that be as a No.9 or No.10 -- he simply lost his feel for roles out wide. Or perhaps he no longer had the enthusiasm to handle such roles after being such a central figure -- literally and methaphorically.

In the first-leg at the Bernabeu during a massive European knock-out tie against Real Madrid, Fergie deployed van Persie up front as the No.9, Kagawa as the No.10, and Rooney... out wide to the right. It was quite clear early-on that this wouldn't work as right-back Rafael was screaming at his right-sided partner for his poor defensive positioning and after United opened the scoring in the first-half from a Danny Welbeck header, Rooney immediately darted to the touchline to signal to the coaching staff that he and Rafael were not compact enough in their defensive shape. This was obviously hugely important because that was the same side tasked with containing Ronaldo and Fabio Coentrao. Rooney struggled mightily that night in Spain and was substituted off in the second-half.

One of the many sad things about that performance was that that used to be a role a younger Rooney excelled at in the past. Fergie used to have complete confidence in the eager and energetic youngster. By the time Madrid came to Old Trafford for the return leg, Rooney's standing in the side was clear after he was left out of the starting lineup: he was no longer an automatic selection for United's most important matches because he no longer could be tactically trusted to play even a peripheral role -- and he had originally been asked to play a peripheral role because he was no longer the best choice for a central role*. By the end of the season, Rooney -- according to Fergie -- had put a transfer request in and it was his second in three seasons. As as a result, the legendary manager kept his former talisman out of the action for the celebratory final few weeks of the seasons.

* By the end of the season, it was Kagawa or RvP that was the clear best choice for a playmaker's role in the space between the lines. If a strict defensive job needed to be done, Welbeck was the option for this disciplined tactical job -- and it's one Rooney used to be able to do. Against Madrid and their influential deep-lying playmaker Xabi Alonso, Welbeck was brilliant in nullifying him and then breaking past him with pace and power on the counterattack.

What's next?

Quite obviously, the future is uncertain for Rooney. New manager David Moyes -- who is familiar with the player from their Everton days together (and from libel suits) -- has expressed his desire for the Englishman to remain at Old Trafford. However, that's a predictable public stance and it's impossible to know what his private stance really is on the matter. If another club -- preferably abroad, although a premium could be charged to a domestic rival -- came calling offering United north of £25 million for a 27-year-old that is becoming increasingly mercurial and petulant, then it would be difficult to say no -- and it would be prudent to say yes.

It remains to be seen, though, on how things will play out. If Rooney stays, then hopefully it's an inspired and rejuvenated player under a new manager -- the peaks are still incredibly high with him on his day, but the valleys sink to low depths when he's not in the mood and much too often for a player on his wages. That's, though, a big part of issue: he's unpredictable and no longer reliable. When he's in-form again, there will be lingering concern from many when the next dip in performances will come. It might be best for both United and Rooney if they parted ways this summer.