The real reason for Wayne Rooney’s decline

Wayne Rooney, as one of the most famous men in the planet, has already, inevitably, been appraised accurately somewhere. There have been enough monkeys with enough typewriters to assume that someone has written the definitive piece already. But the problem is, he plays for one of the most famous teams in the world, he plays for one of the most historically important national teams in the world, and he captains them both.

As well as that, he was once the most exciting young English player in decades, and didn’t look out of place when compared to players from other countries. That, amusingly, is a rare quality in an Englishman. Usually the self-loathing that accompanies being English is because, deep down, you know that another man or woman from another country is doing it better than you.

His excellent performances lasted longer than for any great English soccer hope in the last few decades. As good as Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard were, they were incredibly English. Paul Scholes, Rio Ferdinand, and Ashley Cole might also have claims to be considered more European than English on the field, but none were as thrilling as Rooney.

From 2011, though, it all started to become a little prosaic.

England Training and Press ConferenceGetty Images

The speed went, the touch went, the explosiveness went, the creativity went, the passing went, and finally the finishing went. The highlights became dulled, irregular and infrequent, and life for Rooney seemed to be a plod that he resented and also failed to understand. On the pitch that is. Off the pitch, he seems far more content than before, years after his first transfer request, and years after his second—disputed—transfer request.

But this has been done before, better. What has been done too is the discussion on why this happened. There have been a few suggestions.

The first suggested problem was his approach to his diet. He was pictured smoking. He was pictured drinking. He was pictured smoking and drinking. He incurred internal suspensions for going out on the randan over Christmas, when he should have been in bed or training. He returned from holiday and injury overweight and out of shape. This has curtailed his ability, it is said. His body is aged ahead of its time due to neglect, and the impressive physicality—speed, strength and acceleration—has faded noticeably. That could be one problem.

The next suggestion was that he’d been overplayed. Rooney has suffered the strains of a career without a winter break. In the Premier League, with its extra physicality. And in a team that relied upon him more each season as the quality around him diminished, and the chances to rest him became far less obvious. With no rest and plenty of action, and the occasional muscle injury, his body has started to let him down. He can no longer play as he did, because he no longer has the physique he once did.

The third suggestion is a lack of hunger. He has known for years that to be the United and England top scorer was easily achieved compared to other players who have had a chance. He captains both. He earns $460,000 a week when all bonuses are activated. He is rumored to have a say in transfer activity at United, and his influence is obvious in the dressing room, where he is a popular man. He has won every trophy in England except the FA Cup. He has seen off Shinji Kagawa, Dimitar Berbatov, Robin van Persie, and Radamel Falcao. Perhaps, there’s no more fire because he knows there’s no more for him to do. He is on a hugely generous contract that he can be sure will be replaced by an equally fancy contract in the Middle East or America. He has his children and a wife and a secure future.

Perhaps he doesn’t need soccer like he once did. There is no anger anymore.

But that’s not really what the problem is. When the decline began in 2011, and when it accelerated in 2013, it is obvious what happened. The first hair plugs came four years ago, and the top up treatment two years after that. Rooney has been punished by the gods. Baldness is a curse, yes, and it is humiliating, but it is asking for more punishment to not take it all in your stride. Toupee, hair rubs, plugs—there is no escaping baldness, it is just a shame it took the ruined career of Rooney to demonstrate that.

[Ed: he just scored a penalty]

Oh wait, he’s got the record now. Perhaps everything will be OK in the end. Perhaps, in fact, Rooney’s whole career is an allegory to tell us that hair plugs are acceptable. Though that does seem an anticlimactic thing to spend 814 words building up to. And perhaps that is an allegory for Rooney’s goal-scoring record.