Wayne Rooney’s come a long way, and he’s traveled that distance in the searing spotlight that being an English prodigy provides.
He’s had hair, lost it all, and miraculously got it all back — and then some. He is the shining example of Everton’s youth academy, the captain of the Three Lions, and the guy who has been wearing the #10 at Old Trafford for over a decade. And he still hasn’t hit 30.
Yet despite all those immense qualities — and they are immense, just not on the level of Cristiano or Messi’s qualities — Rooney’s accolades are just the precipice of who he is as a footballer. Wayne is simultaneously everything that stands before your eyes and everything he never could be.
There was a time where Wayne Rooney was arguably the third best player in the world. He was banging in goals left-and-right for Manchester United and was featured in the center, forcing Cristiano Ronaldo out wide. In fact, there was even a time where Rooney was supposed to be more than his former Portuguese teammate. Rooney had promise, Ballon D’Or promise — maybe even multiple Ballon D’Or promise.
If Wayne was everything the world thought he was going to be, the 20-goal EPL plateau would be a mere formality to him. He’d be featured up top for the Red Devils day in and day out, hanging around the Ballon D’Or top three while being featured in the FIFPro Team of the Year constantly.
Yet, he isn’t in any of it. Rooney has only broken the 20 goal barrier twice and hasn’t done it in each of the last three seasons. He wasn’t even in the running for Ballon D’Or top three, and wasn’t even close to sniffing the Team of the Year.
But that’s all okay…
Wayne Rooney isn’t a Ballon D’Or candidate, but he doesn’t need to be.
The fact is, for the English captain chasing Messi and Ronaldo was a dumb pursuit from the beginning. Rooney was chasing what he couldn’t actually be all that time, and he’s only truly became a great presence when he forsaked that pipe dream, evolving into the world’s most versatile player.
After playing defensive midfielder against Chelsea this past weekend, Rooney has played five different positions this season, featuring at central mid, center forward, attacking midfielder, and left winger. And he can play all those positions quite handily. He’s not Xavi in the midfield, but he can provide capable passing and a threat to shoot anywhere. He’s not Messi up top, but can be excellent to link up and an apt finisher.
Rooney also isn’t the out of position maniac of the past few years, which was a strange sentence to type.
Wayne has been polarizing for his intense work ethic lately. He was always running, which many pundits admired for being a team player, but there was always an air of trying to do too much. No one doubted that he was always moving; what they doubted was what he achieved in that movement.
Against Chelsea, you could see the final form Rooney has been taking over the course of the year. He held positions quite well. He only ran up to the edge of the box a handful of times, and when he did he made it matter with shot attempts.
For once in his career, Wayne Rooney picked his spots, much like he has been the past few months. He may not be Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi, but he doesn’t have to be.
He can be Wayne Rooney.