When we look back through history as significant events and figures, you will often find a noticeable difference between perception and reality. This issue is even more pronounced in the world of professional sport (particularly football), where sectarian loyalties tend to polarise opinions on players, managers and coaches alike.
Take Wayne Rooney, for example, who latter career has provided a tantalising glimpse at the difference that can exist between perception and reality. After all, his last few seasons have played out like an endless testimonial year, as he has continued to accumulate accolades while his form and influence has waned.
The Truth About Rooney and the Power of Marketing
One can only imagine the game’s leading managers staring intently at a jaded and increasingly bloated Rooney, only to see the reflection of the fearless youth who was once the pride of a generation. They see the starlet who emerged within a few years of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, whose initial talent and promise overshadowed his now peerless contemporaries. This is a persuasive image, particularly when you picture the explosive and gifted Rooney staring as a teenager during the European Championships in 2004.
Make no mistake; it is the aura and promise of a young Wayne Rooney that has been expertly marketed to create the conundrum that we have today. Even as his performances have declined (while Messi and Ronaldo have gone on to entirely different level), Rooney has continued to share the stage with them as an equal during everything from Pepsi commercials to new FIFA game launches.
Rooney is also a savvy operator too, using his last period of sustained form for the Reds to negotiate a bumper contract renewal under Alex Ferguson back in 2011. His perceived status as a world class and coveted performer who was pivotal to the Reds’ success also encouraged David Moyes to increase his wages further, despite United’s gradual fall from grace. This not only highlights the obvious differences between Moyes and Ferguson, but also the way in which Rooney has leveraged his image to guide his latter career.
How Rooney has become a Conundrum for Club and Country
Since then, even esteemed managers such as Louis Van Gaal, Sam Allardyce and latterly Jose Mourinho have followed a similar course, guaranteeing him a starting central role and the captaincy of both club and country. This is despite the forward’s increasingly inconsistent and peripheral form, which has manifested itself in Rooney dropping deeper into midfield and struggling to exert any sort of influence.
In Rooney’s case, the difference between perception and reality is fast becoming a chasm, and one that is impeding the form and evolution of both Manchester United and England. No longer a natural number 10, his lack of movement and acceleration often cause him to be swamped in an age of frenetic, front-foot pressing football, causing him to drop deeper and wider to retain possession. As a result, he is becoming increasingly peripheral, as the shadow of his former self grows ever longer behind him.
The Future for Rooney and his Status as a Top-level Player
Of course, there are other factors that have exacerbated Rooney’s obvious decline. A lack of natural fitness and the suggestion of burn-out are all viable triggers, of course, as is the loss of aggression, hunger and tenacity that personified a younger Wayne Rooney. Some may also cite the fact that he was constantly played out of position during his younger days, in order to accommodate similarly talented but less selfless players.
Above all else, however, the inability of managers to recognise and challenge Rooney’s form over the last five years or so remains the most pertinent factor in play. This has perpetuated the gap between perception and reality, which was highlighted by England Sam Allardyce’s admission that Rooney can play where he wants to in his side. While the remark was taken slightly out of context, it reaffirms the fact that despite his declining influence, Rooney continues to be held in a dangerously high regard by his peers.
Some will argue that this is a metaphor for Rooney’s late career, as a slew of records (the backs of which were broken during his youth) and accolades have curtailed his development and hunger to improve. What is clear; however, is that the continued failure to recognise Rooney’s decline will not only damage his club and country, but it will also change the way in which history remembers this uniquely talented forward.
Such a realisation may even save Rooney’s career, as he undoubtedly still has a great deal to offer in terms of his experience and vision.