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The Rooturn: can Manchester United finally rely on Wayne once again?

Is Wayne finally in the kind of form that can start making a difference for Man United?

by Andrew Boulton | January 6, 2016

The most confused I have ever seen another human being was when a drunk man dressed as Hulk Hogan woke up on a train to discover he’d overshot his destination by 150 miles. But even waking up in Durham, with fresh sick all over your muscle-vest and bandana, can’t be as baffling as the Wayne Rooney conundrum.

This season you have probably arrived at, and vigorously shared, the opinion that Wayne Rooney is worse than pooing yourself on Beyoncé’s yacht. This is particularly true if you’ve been exposed to dangerously malfunctioning hyperbole machines like Sky Sports News and that thing where odd and furious people phone in to be patronised by Robbie Savage.

But, like all good bandwagons, if we wring out the indignant spittle from our hipster beards, we see that the fundamental story is pretty accurate.

Wayne Rooney has scored three times in the league this season. Even if we ‘do a Farage’ and pretend no other nationality exists, that is fewer goals than Englishmen like (deep breath) Jamie Vardy, Harry Kane, Jermain Defoe, Troy Deeney, Dele Alli, Ross Barkley, Nathan Redmond and Callum Wilson (who’s effectively been on the sofa, binge-watching Gossip Girl since September).

In fact Rooney has precisely the same amount of league goals as Saido Berahino (whose toys are so far out of the pram they are off somewhere on an adventure, being voiced by Tom Hanks and Cliff from Cheers) and Cameron Jerome (who is Cameron Jerome). Even Daniel Sturridge took a brief spell away from nursing his sprained nostril hairs to bang in two goals.

And yet, if you watched (or indeed, didn’t) Manchester United nudge their way past Swansea City last weekend, you’d be forgiven for thinking Rooney had returned. And, in a brief, desperate and very tiny sort of way, you might be right.

Against the Swans, Rooney looked confident, purposeful and (for the first time all season perhaps) very experienced. He took twice as many shots as any other United player on the pitch and scored with the kind of instinctive back-heel you usually only see when a 4-year-old Korean boy is destroying you at FIFA.

Wayne-Rooney-in-training

But does one good showing, and a deliciously filthy goal, really signal the return of a player almost everyone – apart from his club and international managers – has written off for lumpy, ginger scrap?

And if we retract our elbow-deep arms from the cow’s anus of this particular debate, Rooney’s season looks even more confusing. It is, after all, a year when he has become England’s all-time record goalscorer; overtaken Denis Law to become Manchester United’s second highest goalscorer; captained the national team to a flawless qualification record and played almost every game for a team that sits just 3 points off the Champions League places (a competition the club values so highly they forgot to stay in it).

But, if anything, this string of broken records only serves to remind us of what a player Rooney used to be. Travel back in time like Marty McFly (without fondling your teenage mum) and we see that, in the last season leading up to a European Championship Finals, Wayne Rooney smashed in 27 goals in 35 games.

What also seems to be frequently forgotten about Rooney is that, had Sir Alex Ferguson spent just one more season in charge, Rooney would probably now be sat on the Everton bench chatting gloomily to Stevie Naismith about the goats cheese soufflé from last night’s Masterchef.

Can Wayne ensure Manchester United have a simple Roo-ute to the FA Cup 4th Round?

This Saturday’s FA Cup tie against Sheffield United is a chance for Rooney to build on his season’s (only) stand-out performance. The Blades, despite 3 back-to-back league wins in December, are plodding along on the fringes of the League One play-offs and only line up in this round thanks to a very-nearly-bungled 1-0 win over Oldham in the last stage.

It’s a game that should be like shooting fish in a barrel (except for a Louis van Gaal side, shooting fish in a barrel would first require the bullets to be passed sideways down a line of 900 different people, by which time the fish have evolved legs and escaped).

If Rooney scores 10 goals, foils a terrorist plot and simultaneously impregnates all six Kardashian children (including the fat boy) we’re unlikely to learn too much more about this supposed ‘Rooturn’. But if he drifts back into the panting, puffing, shuffling form we’ve seen for most of the season, it might just be worth digging out the number for Cameron Jerome’s agent.

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