Take solace, Manchester United fans. There may be a reason why Wayne Rooney looked so bad in his one Premier League start. At least, there may be a reason beyond “maybe he’s just not as good anymore.” He might be out of shape.
That news comes after the Guardian published excerpts from Rooney’s upcoming book, one chronicling 10 years in the Premier League. It’s Rooney’s second book, with the 2008 release My Story chronicling the hard-earned lessong of a 22-year-old soccer protegé who’d already earned a move to Manchester United.
Busy cranking out these tomes rather than training (as if he writes them himself), it’s no wonder Wayne’s put on a few pounds. How much weight? A whole seven pounds, which doesn’t sound like a big deal considering the peak state at which most soccer players play through their seasons (at the end of which, it’s not uncommon for them to be under-weight). For Rooney, however, the scales were quite a shock:
Early July: the first day back at pre-season training. I’m like most blokes, I put on a few pounds after a holiday. Even if I don’t train for a week, I put on two or three, but when I get back to Carrington for the first day of work, I’m in for a shock. The scales in the club gym tell me I’ve put on a few more pounds than expected – seven. Seven!
As Rooney later hints, the weight shouldn’t be a problem, but if he was more out of shape than normal when he returned to Carrington, it’s no wonder he looked behind the pace when United opened their season at Goodison. Rooney concedes as much when talking about the demands on a center forward:
As a striker I need to work hard all the time. I need to be sharp, which means my fitness has to be right to play well. If it isn’t, it shows. It would probably be different if I were a full-back. I could hide a bit, make fewer runs into the opposition half and get away with it. But as a centre-forward for Manchester United, there’s no place to hide. I’ve got to work as hard as I can, otherwise the manager will haul me off the pitch or drop me for the next game.
So Rooney probably wasn’t surprised when he was benched for Fulham.
The weight revelation, headline-material though it may be, is one of the least interesting parts of the Guardian’s excerpt. More compelling (and quiet sad, considering Rooney’s age), is his current physical state.
Physically I’ve taken a bit of a battering over the years; being lumped by Transformer-sized centre-backs or having my muscles smashed by falls, shoulder barges and last-ditch tackles, day in, day out, has left me a bit bruised. When I get up in the morning after a game, I struggle to walk for the first half an hour. I ache a bit. It wasn’t like that when I was a lad. I remember sometimes when I finished training or playing with Everton and United, I’d want to play some more. But football has had a massive impact on my body because my game is based on speed, power and intensity.
All of which makes you wonder how much longer Rooney can be a top player. His rings count 26, but his miles count closer to 32. While we marvel at the collection of attackers Alex Ferguson has been able to amass (signing another one, Angelo Henriquez today), that depth looks entirely different when you consider the minutes piling on Rooney’s body. Undoubtedly, United’s staff have witness the effects.
Particularly with post-Cristiano Ronaldo United, Ferguson has had to rely on Rooney to an uncomfortable degree. Perhaps that time is over.