Premier League: Wayne Rooney, the ultimate survivor who adapted to changing scenarios to achieve greatness

And so, 15 years after Wayne Rooney announced himself in the Premier League as a prodigious English talent, he has finally scored his 200th goal. This is a moment to offer fond applause. A genuinely stark achievement, the second ever footballer to break through the 200 goal barrier in the Premier League.

This of course is a man who built his reputation and his career on a goal that broke a 30-match unbeaten streak (a goal etched in Arsenal’s psyche so deeply, that Rooney has plundered them 10 more times, the third highest of any other Premier League club). Clive Tyldesley’s ‘Remember the name’ couldn’t have been more prophetic.

Wayne Rooney has survived difficult times to become only the second player to score 200 Premier League goals. AFP

Wayne Rooney has survived difficult times to become only the second player to score 200 Premier League goals. AFP

Rooney of course, was also the chief orchestrator, and villain extraordinaire, as Arsenal’s Invincibles chased their 50th consecutive unbeaten game at Old Trafford in 2004. His perfectly choreographed dive, hurdled over an outstretched Sol Campbell limb, earned them the penalty that set them on course for the victory. Little surprise that he scored the second, a tap in from an Alan Smith cross later in the game.

Arsenal weren't the only rival that suffered at his hands, Manchester City have been at the wrong end of Rooney's brilliance far too often. Rooney has scored his 50th, 150th and 200th Premier League goals against City. And after years in Manchester red, his joy was obvious.

Its fifteen years since David Moyes trusted a teenager with leading the Everton attack, and curiously enough it’s the perfect rounding off of a career arc that has seen him fill the roles of teenage wild card, young‑gun, Ronaldo-wingman, senior pro, club captain, centre-forward, No 10, right winger, inside-forward, central midfielder, prince of the good times, useless cling on and lastly, gloriously welcomed back local lad carrying the good times.

It is an often missed fact, but when Sir Alex Ferguson signed Rooney from Everton in 2004 he had to defend the blowing up of United’s entire transfer budget on a teenager. Another curious fact is missed. If Newcastle had stumped up £5m more than United’s £27m, they could’ve had him. Instead he spent the peak of his career at United. That £27m fee looks like one of the best-value budget-blowing transfer deals ever made. Bear in mind the same summer Jonathan Woodgate went to Real Madrid for just over half as much, and the following year Chelsea would pay £21m of actual, real money for Shaun Wright-Phillips, scorer of four league goals across four seasons of meandering about on the wing.

Alan Shearer’s figure looms large, and Rooney may or may not ever get to his 260 goal mark, but the reality is, he has more titles, more Champions Leagues, and an era shifting presence that is vastly more important than Shearer’s tally.

Also, Rooney, for all his failings, has been much more than a center forward. Earlier this year he became only the third Premier League era footballer to reach 100 assists, after Ryan Giggs and Frank Lampard both of who were of course, midfielders.

This is his sixteenth season in the Premier league. The first eight yielded 106 goals in 256 games, at 0.4 goals a game. Those were the seasons littered with titles. The second half of this remarkable tale has been 94 goals in 206 games, at 0.45 a game, marginally better, statistically, but worse in public perception. The sheer volume of those numbers though is outstanding. In his first eight seasons, Rooney played 30 or more games in each season. In the second half, that feat has only occurred twice (11-12, 14-15), and yet the goals have kept coming. Whatever the weather, the colour of his shirt, in both good and slightly less good times, his sheer appetite is remarkable.

But then, nobody has ever accused Rooney of being lazy, or not trying hard enough. Watching a reel of Rooney’s goals is a crash course, on how to adapt to survive. The early goals are an unbound treat, dangling limbs, fast feet, zigzag movement capped off with long shots, thunder finishes, dinks, volleys, they were all served over the same denominator: young Rooney wanted to break the net.

He became a counter attacking force in the Ronaldo years. And then mid-career, he turned into a close range finisher, finding both feet as useful as each other. There was maturity now, where earlier there had been power. Of course, there still was, and is the natural ability to spring a surprise, but no one should ever lose that. The late-career Rooney is a footballer whose mental edge has become as dulled as the zip that was also once a prime asset. Where an earlier Rooney may have run, he merely jogs.

It hasn’t all been sweet though. Rooney was after all the man, who treated a fellow player’s delicates, like his personal treadmill. His list of misdemeanours for physicality are long too. Two public wrangles over deals at Manchester United cooled the public off him a bit. The ludicrous £300,000 a week didn’t help.

Under José Mourinho last season the fall-off was dramatic. Suddenly Rooney’s legs were heavy and he was reduced to a lumbering spectator in many of the games he played in.

At only 31, he is now an extremely high mileage footballer. Injury, overwork and the relentless fury of English football have played their part. Rooney is sometimes portrayed as a compromised player, a what-might-have-been-if-managed-properly. In reality he is a survivor, a patched up, bruised and scarred footballing machine, making it up the hill, tyres bald, chassis shuddering.

But forget all that. The real definition of Wayne Rooney is actually this ad. It is classic Rooney. Skill and footballing brilliance come first. Then indecision, and an underwhelming ability to be a creator, a team player. All of that is followed by Rooney’s inward mind map, a mad jumble, a fear of being scrutinised publicly, and perhaps failing in the eyes of the undeserving many. The anger, the rage. The dissapointment, and the eventual Rooney as a trailer truck tramp.

But no, Wayne Rooney must track back. Because Wayne Rooney has heart. And heart triumphs evil.

In reality that tackle is a foul. And Rooney gets sent off. And England lose on penalties.

But then this is reality too. Wayne Rooney, the all-time top scorer for Manchester United is now the second player ever to score 200 goals in the Premier League. He has scored two in two so fat this season, when everyone predicted he was ‘done’ and should wash up in China. Good on him for sticking around.

Updated Date: Aug 22, 2017 17:01 PM

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