In Defense of Wayne Rooney

Gareth Southgate decided to leave Wayne Rooney out of England’s starting XI today against Slovenia in a World Cup Qualifier. This comes after Rooney was booed in a 2-0 win over Malta at Wembley and was left out of the Manchester United starting XI the last couple of weekends. This is the latest in what feels like a firestorm of criticism for the Three Lions’ captain. I’m not saying Rooney is about to turn back the clocks and put in a 30 goal season, but let’s pour some cool water on the “Rooney’s career is now over” hot take.

 

Rooney’s most prolific scoring season in the EPL came in 2011-12 when he netted 27 for the Red Devils. Since that season, Rooney’s scoring has been on the decline. He hasn’t gotten within 10 goals of that mark in any of the four seasons since, and he certainly isn’t on track to do so this year. When you look at his scoring numbers on a per 90 basis, it hasn’t been pretty.

Wayne Rooney, Goals per 90

Rooney isn’t the forward he used to be, now at 30 with a dozen years of top flight experience on his legs, it appears he’s lost a step. This looks to be confirmed, especially since 2013-14, by looking at successful dribbles per 90:

 Wayne Rooney, Dribbles per 90
There’s no arguing the numbers above, they are what they are, but that certainly doesn’t mean all is lost. I know United fans won’t take too kindly to the mention of expected goals when their club captain has only scored one real one this season, but humor me here. When looking at cQxG per 90, Rooney has actually seen a serious uptick from his days under LVG and even a slight rise from the Moyes experiment and SAF’s final season.

Wayne Rooney, cQxG per 90

The aforementioned fact that this has only resulted in one goal so far for Rooney tells us his finishing hasn’t quite been up to scratch, but he has worked his way into scoring opportunities.

 

Again, I’m talking expected goals not real ones here, but Rooney’s cQxG assisted per 90 this season is higher than it’s been in any of the previous five seasons and is second on Man United this season. If you don’t care about expected goals, let’s talk about the real ones he’s assisted this season: a stoppage time, tap-in game winner for Marcus Rashford and a well delivered cross that Zlatan Ibrahimovic powered home to open the scoring for United against Southampton. It is also worth noting that Rooney’s current 0.43 assists per 90 is again higher than his output in that category any of the previous four seasons and is more than double what it was last year.

 

Wayne Rooney, cQxG Assisted per 90

 

 

I’m not saying Gareth Southgate or Jose Mourinho were wrong to drop Rooney from their respective XIs, the fact is both managers have other quality players who give the skipper competition, that’s a great thing. What I am saying is, it is ludicrous to call time on England’s all time leading scorer and captain, and Manchester United’s second all time leading scorer and captain at the ripe old age of 30. He won’t replicate his goal scoring form of seasons passed, but he doesn’t need to do that to be an important player in either side. Rooney has still been an impactful player for United this season in terms of chance creation and, when he gets back on the field for them, I think we’ll see some mean reversion with his finishing and, before too long, he’ll become the all-time leading scorer for his club.

 

The fact that he’s been dropped from both England and Man U’s starting XIs, to me, speaks more to each team’s depth than the decline of Rooney’s ability. I think the issue is that when you’re in as high profile a spot as being captain of both England and Manchester United, for better or worse there is a mountain of expectation and when you don’t seem to be climbing that mountain, critics will come for you.