He remains rough around the edges and may never be totally smoothed but the 26-year-old's performance against Stoke City proved that he has plenty yet to celebrate
By George Ankers
The greater the player, the greater the frustration when they dip below their own standards.
Ten years after his arresting strike against Arsenal barged him into the footballing consciousness, some fans and writers have been wondering if Wayne Rooney has passed his peak or if he has quite fulfilled his incredible potential. He may well not have done.
Even if, however, that is the case – that this might be as good as the Manchester United man ever gets and no more – then frustration should not be allowed to overshadow the ability that he has. Nor should it diminish his importance; not for his club and not for England either.
The 2012-13 campaign began slowly for Rooney. He himself admitted that he had failed to rein in his gut over the summer and, as all of a child's old favourite toys do when they are given something shiny and new, suddenly looked a bit shabby in comparison to Robin van Persie. Then came the nasty injury and resulting time off.
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The signs of revival had already been there, just not obvious thanks to a lack of goals. Although United were defeated by Tottenham, Rooney's introduction at half-time inspired his side's fightback. He starred with two assists for Van Persie against Cluj and excelled in the hole against Newcastle. His energy and drive were very much back in play.
After that start, the opportunity to captain England against San Marino clearly inspired Rooney. He was superb at Wembley, once again everywhere in the final third as he grew into the honour. And then there was his Wednesday in Warsaw, where he suddenly deflated.
It is never clear whether a poor England performance leads to Rooney doing badly or if the opposite is true. It happens more frequently than is ideal but it is impossible to picture the United man as anything other than the lynchpin of his country's forward line any time soon.
His ability to link play between attack and midfield is a capability that none of the other current squad members possess and, as was shown against San Marino, when he gets his teeth into it, he lifts the whole team.
That was the case at Old Trafford on Saturday and not even an own goal could stop him. There was a hint of poacher's instinct about Rooney's slight lean forward to divert a Stoke corner into David de Gea's net and it may well have precipitated groans of "it's going to be one of these games" around the ground.
But he recovered and did so quickly. His superb run through the Potters' defence to reach Van Persie's cross and put right his earlier error showed impressive confidence given the circumstances. Thereafter, he was constantly involved.
That Rooney should cap the 10-year anniversary of his breakthrough goal by scoring his 200th in club football was a delightful symmetry – and his 20-strikes-a-year average is reminder enough of his ongoing importance. In between his double, a key pass in the build-up to Van Persie's finish and the brilliant cross for Welbeck's underlined it.
With United lacking a great deal of creativity through the middle – especially when Shinji Kagawa is not even in the matchday squad – Rooney offers more invention than he is given credit for. Instead of hindering the England man, Van Persie's arrival up front may actually prove the making of him.
Given freedom to play from deeper and make things happen, while haring forward when the Dutchman drifts wide, the 26-year-old now has the decade of experience to flourish rather than fade under the responsibility. And it will help England, too, if he plays in such a role, as it is there where he will be needed at international level as well.
At this point, it seems safe to say that Rooney will never be a footballing deity on the same level as the sport's most elite. Ten years in, you look at the player in front of you, not the player into whom he might grow. There are one too many immature outbursts still, a poor game just slightly more frequently than there should be.
But you cannot argue with 10 years and 200 goals. Rooney is already a United great and, considering England's level these days, probably a semi-final away from the same status for the Three Lions. And he is still the key man for club and country.
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