Tuesday, 23 July 2013

For Rooney, See Torres

As the latest updates from what must certainly now all but be confirmed as this summer’s long running will he/won’t he/do we even care anyway transfer saga come through and we prepare ourselves to hear constantly from each of the three parties involved one thought overrides all the others, haven’t we been here before?

Here with Rooney sure (his desire to ask to be put on the transfer list already established when he used the same tactic a couple of years ago to snag the mega contract that Man Utd are so apparently so comfortable running down, something to think about the next time you hear him talk of feeling unwanted) but also here before with Chelsea.  The drawn out signing of Torres in January 2011 was another time Chelsea targeted an established Premier League striker quite fancying a move away and who’d been successful at his present club (with both players being similarly less prolific in the period leading up to their potential transfers).  As with the Torres transfer what looks like both weakening a rival and a decent piece of business could end up as an unmitigated failure.

He’s a special case is Rooney.  He was one of the last street footballers that came through (more through his playing style than his background) before Premier League youth prospects seemed uniformly to adopt a kind of drummed in conformity; a kind of technically gifted, Playstation playing, slightly boring ubiquity.  When Rooney came through it was different.  After his debut there were stories that David Moyles literally had to drag him away from playing football with his friends in the street.  He slept with grandmas.  Can’t see Theo Walcott doing that.  And on the field he played as if he make anything happen.  And often it did.  With all the excellence of Rooney once he’d moved to Man Utd and settled down, and at his best he really was one of the best in the world, (156 goals in 292 appearances in the Premier League, 34 goals in 2009-10 alone) he seemed to have had either lost that sense of unpredictability or had it coached out of him.  Which however he finishes his career will always be the biggest shame about it.

Chelsea signed Torres just as he went through the kind of mid career slump that must still have him waking in the middle of the night in a cold sweat.  The El Nino they signed and the one that started playing for them were two different players.  Even now and after a season where he scored 22 goals there’s the sense that he’s lost that extra yard of pace that once made him so explosive.  With the benefit of hindsight Chelsea overpaid for a player prematurely leaving his prime, possibly due to playing so much top level football at such a young age.  They may be about to do exactly the same with Rooney.

The similarities with them don’t end there.  At 29 Torres is two years older.  He moved to Chelsea at 26, one year younger than Wayne is now.  Both of them started early, Wayne bursting into the first team at Everton when he was 16, Torres playing regularly for Atletico Madrid at 17.  They were both fixtures in their international teams in their teenage years.  The old accepted wisdom over footballers entering their prime was around 27-28.  As the great football thinker Indiana Jones says it ain’t the years, it’s the mileage.  Both of them have a lot of miles under the clock.  With players starting earlier, playing more football and the possibility of burnout we could see that dropping by at least a few years.  Speaking frankly, Rooney like Torres could very well have already seen his best years.

The suspicion that Rooney has lost something about his play, that extra bit of desire that let him impose himself on games, had been in the background even before Fergusson left him out the team before the Real Madrid game.  Everyone points to the signing of Van Persie as the moment Rooney fell down the pecking order but at least as significant was the signing of Kagawa.  After Shinji’s first season settling in he should be a good bet for a run in the number 10 role behind Van Persie this year, something Moyles pretty much said outright when he talked about Rooney featuring if anything happened to the Dutchman (and this is without them yet making a signing this year, Cesc Fabregas’ arrival would make the queue at ten even longer).  With a World Cup looming and facing no longer being first choice it looks ever more likely he’ll be leaving.

It’s been a very twenty first century transfer saga so far, with updates given from Thailand, Malaysia and Australia and twenty four hour news updates on nothing much happening with claims and denials crawling out at a snail’s pace and everyone apart from the people directly involved thoroughly bored of the whole thing already.  Although it’s the first thing that landed in Moyles’ in-tray Fergusson’s fingerprints are all over this.  From dropping him, implying he was carrying a bit too much timber then declaring after his last game that Rooney had handed in a transfer request (something the player still denies) Fergusson has done most of the heavy lifting to ensure Rooney can be moved on while making it look like the club weren’t the ones agitating for the move.  It would be extremely naive to think that three weeks into the Moyles era he isn’t still in contact with Fergusson.  Moyles’ press conferences have managed to walk this line perfectly, giving lip service to the idea of keeping Rooney while offering him no assurances on his role this season. 

It’s all been set up perfectly to force Rooney to admit he’s looking to leave before he’s sold, perfect revenge for Fergusson after failing to deal with his transfer request properly the last time (paying an alleged £250,000 a week to a player asking for a move has proven one of his more debatable decisions).  Sympathy for Rooney will be in short supply, mainly because with demands like that he’s done as much as any other player as to provide us with plenty of opportunity to be cynical about modern football.  It may just have been because watching him go from an unpolished sixteen year old to a managed entitled professional was always going to be disappointing but he’s not helped himself along the way.  In short, he’s come across as a bit of a knob.

Mourinho seems to be enjoying the whole thing, far more than Moyles.  For him he’s in a win/win situation.  Sign Rooney and he’s taken a marquee player from one of his main rivals.  Fail to sign him and he’s managed to ruin their preparation for the new season.  Since his opening salvos back in English football were so unthreatening it’s a relief to see him get his teeth into something he can really have fun with again. 

The actual transfer being a success is harder to predict.  Jose would be gambling on his management being able to restore Rooney to something approaching his peak, no certainty by any means.  It’ll also be, by proxy, an admission that he doesn’t think doing the same will be possible with Torres.  Chelsea will play in the same 4,3,3/4,5,1 that Real Madrid did last season.  Rooney and Torres would be in direct competition with each other for one spot (as well as Demba Ba and Romelu Lukaku).  Chelsea could find that if they sign him Rooney could well end up in a similar run of form as the man he’s intended to replace.

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