In the wake of his team’s 0-0 derby draw at home against Manchester City, the England striker’s name was trending on Twitter. For all of the wrong reasons.
Over the course of the entire match, his stats were as follows: 0 shots, 0 key passes, 0 crosses, 55 per cent pass accuracy, 6x disposed. So no shots and not even a chance to set up a team-mate, in 90 minutes of football at Old Trafford.
Worse, with 50 touches of the ball, Rooney had fewer touches than any of United’s outfield players, including Juan Mata, who was subbed off after 66 minutes. And yet somehow, even with such scant possession, he lost the ball 28 times - more than he kept hold of it - and five times more than United’s second biggest offender, Marcos Rojo.
Towards the end of the game, right as the hosts started to apply some pressure, Louis Van Gaal took him from the no.10 position and put him in the no.9 role, while shoving the lively and altogether more impressive Anthony Martial out to the wing; which only highlighted what a poor game Rooney was having, leaving many United fans bemused as to why he was still on the field at all.
After the game, Van Gaal refused to comment on his captain’s performance, saying: “I have to talk every week about Rooney, why? It is your opinion. I don’t give any more answers about Wayne Rooney. I am sick of them.”
We're not surprised. It's not the first time the Dutch coach has been under pressure to drop Rooney, the same striker who scored that now-iconic overhead kick in the Manchester Derby of four years ago, and looked simply lost yesterday. Going by the reaction on social media, it seems even the staunchest of United fans believe Rooney’s not quite the player he once was.
Over time, Rooney has developed into an entirely different player than the cocksure teen who blitzed onto the Premier League scene with Everton, beating men at will and leaving defenders for dead. While his football brain and composure may have grown, his original sharpness, burst of pace and ability to beat a man have all but deserted him, forcing him to drop deeper to pick the ball up and influence the game. Even Paul Scholes, who himself used the pace around him to pull the strings at United, has said midfield might be the best position for the striker as he enters the twilight of his career.
The finishing is still there of course – he did just notch his 50th England goal (admittedly most of which have come against lowly European opposition in friendlies and qualifiers) - - but he can't seem to get on the ball or find a position to get in front of goal.
So, could he be suffering from career burnout having peaked too early? Could confidence be all that’s standing between a drought and a few hat-tricks? Is Van Gaal’s team actually supplying him enough to get on the ball? Or Hodgson’s for that matter?
What we can be sure of is that Rooney finds himself at a real crossroads right now, and with Jamie Vardy and Harry Kane scoring for fun at the moment, the striker will want to find his form - and quick - if he wants to cement that starting berth at next summer's European Championships.
It might just be his final chance to show planet football that the world class tag was justified.