Has Wayne Rooney Underachieved on His Talent? a Statistical Analysis

Will TideySenior Manager, GlobalMarch 7, 2013

Wayne Rooney's omission from Manchester United's starting lineup against Real Madrid has prompted a rush to question the received wisdom he belongs among the world's best players, and also to speculate a move away from Old Trafford this summer.

The Guardian's Daniel Taylor reflected that Rooney has not scaled the peaks we once thought he might. Is it fair to say the 16-year-old man-boy we once hailed, who announced his precocious gifts with that goal for Everton against Arsenal, never quite became the force of nature his talent pointed to?

Injuries have played their part; a petulance bred deep within him, too. But watching Rooney sit on the bench while his former team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo took to Europe's biggest stage as the undisputed second-best player on the planet, told the story of their respective trajectories since their time at United together.

Should we take this to mean Rooney has underachieved? Or is it simply the case that Ronaldo was always destined to be the bigger star? To take a closer look, let's start with Rooney's career numbers at Manchester United.

There's not much here to suggest Rooney has suffered a noticeable drop-off. As a goal-scorer he set his highest Premier League total just last season, with 27. 

In terms of assists, Rooney's 12 this season have him on track to match the 14 he delivered for United in the 2005/06, 2006/07 and 2007/08 campaigns—his joint-most productive in that category for Ferguson's team.

But is consistency enough? Shouldn't we be looking for player like Rooney to be improving on his numbers season-on-season? Shouldn't he become more dominant and more influential with every year he gets closer to 30?

Ronaldo has managed to achieve that since leaving United in 2009. He scored 33 goals for Madrid in the 2009-10 season, 53 in the 2010-11 campaign and 64 last season. His Champions League output has improved in the same period, when you factor in combined goal and assist totals.

The one thing that keeps coming up is Rooney's fitness. Miguel Delaney's EPNFC column points towards the 27-year-old returning heavy from the summer break, infuriating a manager who insists on the utmost levels of professionalism. Mark Ogden, writing in the Telegraph, claims Rooney's "mobility and energy have been compromised."

With Robin van Persie to call on Ferguson is no longer as reliant on Rooney as he once was. Allowances he made in the past have been tempered by both Rooney's dips in form and the perceived lack of focus Ferguson gleans from his weight issues.

Maybe it's not so much about Rooney being in decline; more the suggestion he has only himself to blame for not fulfilling the enormous potential he showed as a fearless young striker ready to take on the world. Ferguson fought hard to keep him in 2010, but it's unlikely he'll fight as hard this summer.

Rooney's legacy as a United great is already assured. The question now is whether he rests on those laurels or looks to his old friend Ronaldo for some inspiration on how to get the very best out of the gifts you were given.