As much as we love to hate him, Wayne Rooney has this manner about him that makes us hate to love him.
He is an inexplicable enigma. Something about him is very much like Paul Gascoigne.
His style is similarly contradictory. His body is rigid and bull like, but his feet can move with the balletic guise of a prima ballerina. A brute filled with brawn but at the same time brainy brilliance. Those charging runs can be forceful while at the same time fantasy.
Sometimes, his feet twinkle like a dancer before he applies the predatory finishing touch. Other times, he is sluggish and childish --- making demands which turn him into public enemy number one. But then, at the height of loathe, he can rise in the air, suspend his body horizontally and bicycle kick a goal past Manchester City. His arms now raised as an abhorring public become an adoring one.
Wayne Rooney. The boy wonder whose temper always seemed to tamper with his talent is now a man who has fulfilled his potential. But that potential has not been fulfilled in full. That boy who was a star for England at Euro 2004 seemed a greater talent than Cristiano Ronaldo. As such, his Manchester United debut also indicated as much. A Champions League tie against Fenerbahce SK saw Rooney score a hat-trick. Immediately, he became an assured starter where Ronaldo was struggling.
But in time, Ronaldo would rise to surpass him. From prodigy teenager, Ronaldo became an £80 million man. All the while, his all-encompassing power left Rooney to do the donkey work for the team --- hurrying and bustling where Ronaldo could not. He merely lit the fires which Ronaldo blazed.
On Ronaldo’s departure, Rooney became main man at Manchester United. So important was he that in the Champions League quarter-final against Bayern Munich in 2010, Sir Alex Ferguson decided that a patched up Rooney was worth a start over other fully fit individuals. It worked for 30 minutes at Old Trafford before the Bavarians started kicking at him. Injured and withdrawn, United crumbled.
From then on began a love-hate relationship with the inner most feelings of many a Manchester United fan. Demanding a ridiculous amount of wages, and that United get astute signings, he was ostracised. But when his demands were met, he slowly came back to the fold. By May 2011, he was scoring in a Champions League Final --- albeit a goal that only featured as a statistic on the scoreline as Barcelona outplayed the English champions at Wembley.
Last season however seemed to be the end. His call for a marquee signing was answered with the purchase of Robin Van Persie. Now relegated to assistant superstar as he was in the Ronaldo days, he became fussy once more. Unwilling to play where deployed, unhappy and eventually, cast away by Ferguson.
In the end, Ferguson almost seemed to have signalled the end of his Man Utd career. And when Davd Moyes arrived at Old Trafford, it was under an air that Rooney was going. Presumably, to Chelsea or PSG.
He did not. Convinced otherwise, it became a move that seemed to take so much of United’s time that they forgot to sign anyone else apart from Marouane Fellaini.
Even so, his presence, much appreciated for his work rate, is enigmatically not enough to raise a struggling Manchester club. His claims that he wants to be a forward have seen him spend too much time waiting in the penalty box where he once was used to be the creator outside of it. It has also meant that with him and the ever-scoring Van Persie on show, Shinji Kagawa cannot get a start in his favourite position down the middle of the attacking third. Neither can January signing Juan Mata, who has to be shunted out wide.
And yet, he has signed a new deal that sees him become the most paid player in the Premier League. Thus the rebuilding around Mata will have to wait for some time. Rooney has always wanted to be the king of Old Trafford. Wage-wise, he now is king of England.
That is what brings out the hate towards this Gazza-looking lad. All that money paid to a man who has showed discrepancies in his loyalty levels. Is he worth all that money?
He creates, and he scores goals. He is eyeing the record books at Manchester United. And yet, he somehow seems to never deliver as much as his initial potential indicated he would.
Call it over-hype by the English media but there was a moment last year when Rooney’s appreciation was justified. Playing for England at the Maracana, there was a cheer as his name was read out on the public announce as the starting lineups were being mentioned. It was almost as if the Brazilian crowd appreciated Rooney more than the English do.
But then English fans will remember that red card against Montenegro that meant he would miss the start of Euro 2012. That stomp on Ricardo Carvalho that saw him dismissed against Portugal at the 2006 World Cup quarter final. Indeed, when his powers peak, he has this odd tendency to perform the needless downfall.
Ánd while the debate continues over his real value, and whether United should have handed him all that money, comes a game against Crystal Palace where he is silent for the most part of it. Then, he makes a loud noise with his spectacular goal. Ball in the air, left foot firmly on the ground, right foot swung; he controls his power to unleash a majestic shot. The technique is as beautiful as that of a figure skater.
When he does that, everything else pales into comparison and one cannot help but love him all over again.
image: © wonker