Comparing Wayne Rooney to Manchester United Great Duncan Edwards

Terry CarrollContributor IIIMarch 12, 2013

Despite the assertions of Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, this could be a make-or-break year for Wayne Rooney.

He is of course already a legend, and while nobody gets a bigger welcome than Robin van Persie when the teams are announced, Rooney still gets the biggest shout when he scores.

He assured us more than six months ago (and since) he wants to stay and probably finish his career at Old Trafford.

If that were to come about, his role will surely change, and he will move back into midfield before too long, increasing his similarities with Duncan Edwards.

But Ferguson's categorical statement that Rooney will be here next season has not stopped the alarm bells ringing since last August, when you consider players like David Beckham who left after a "vote of confidence" from the manager.

And Sir Bobby Charlton seems equally certain that Rooney will be at United next season and for the foreseeable future (per the Guardian):

There is no way he will ever be allowed to move on, because that is not the way Sir Alex Ferguson works.

So what are we to make about the speculation that won't go away?

Well, it's probably all mind games.

Ferguson has said Rooney will get a new contract, and the pre-negotiation starts here. No doubt United will want to reduce his wage, and they are in a strong position with Van Persie's arrival. Even more so if Robert Lewandowski arrives.

His statements also mean that the ball is firmly in Rooney's court as to what happens next. Is he prepared to put in the hard yards, get himself super-fit and start next season with a bang?

Meanwhile, Bayern Munich are just one of the teams that supposedly may test United's resolve.

The one man who can't lose is Sir Alex. If Rooney's agents turn down the new contract offer and/or another club makes United an offer they can't refuse, the manager can stick by his view that he wanted to keep him.

On the other hand, if Rooney is firing on all cylinders at the start of next season, with a new long-term contract and especially if he's in midfield, then the comparisons with United's "greatest ever player" can begin again.


The Boy Wonders

In his 2006 book "The Boy Wonders", Colin Malam described Manchester United players Duncan Edwards and Wayne Rooney as "two of the greatest players to have graced English football in the post-war era."

It is interesting that he chose to compare these two.

When Phil Jones first played for United, immediate comparisons were made with Edwards. That was more likely because Jones started in defence and Sir Alex Ferguson had been trying him out as a defensive midfield.

Sir Matt Busby described Edwards as "the most complete footballer in Britain, possibly the world."

And Sir Bobby Charlton said, "Duncan Edwards has always been in my mind as the best player I ever played with or against."

So it is interesting to compare here two apparently very different players, both of whom could be said to be "the complete footballer."


Duncan Edwards the legend

Wherever I go in the world I meet legions of Manchester United fans. All of them know about the Busby Babes, and those overseas will often mention them early in the conversation.

And yet Wayne Rooney is the best known of all the current Manchester United players, even beyond legends Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs.

It sometimes seems hard to credit that the ex-Evertonian has been at Old Trafford for almost nine years. He made his Premier League debut at16, signed for United at 17 and, at 27, has already made 550 top-level footballing appearances.

Who says Ryan Giggs' record will never be broken?

The big challenge for Rooney is his body shape and, ironically, Edwards could have had the same sort of challenges later in his career if he had lived.

Everybody who remembers him talks about him having thighs like tree trunks. He was a very strong man. But he was only an inch taller than Rooney and weighed 13 stones at 21. For comparison, Rooney is just over 12 stones at 27.

Duncan Edwards was a dedicated sportsman and a humble man. In many ways he was ahead of his time, especially being, for those days, a fitness fanatic.

Like Rooney, he wanted to play every match, worked constantly at his skills and was prepared to play anywhere the manager picked him.

He also wanted to do everything: take the free kicks, corners, throw-ins, anything except play in goal.

I remember being stunned to read in a Manchester United Annual when I was quite young that Edwards had even gone to ballet classes to improve his balance and flexibility. He also had a passion for folk dancing while at school.

And we think Ryan Giggs was ahead of his time with yoga and pilates! You cannot see Rooney joining Coleen at yoga or pilates.


Similarities and differences

It has often been suggested that Rooney is prepared to play anywhere the manager picks him. For example, in the first leg against Real Madrid he was up in attack and back in defence as he thought fit.

There are many of us who think it is inevitable that he will eventually find himself in central midfield, probably as the creative player, but you could not rule out holding midfield as he matures.

He has the skill, determination and capability to play as an out-and-out striker, winger, No. 10 or in midfield.

In the days of Duncan Edwards, positions and tactics were different. The standard formation before Sir Alf Ramsey and the 1966 World Cup Campaign was 2-3-5.

You had two full-backs, three half-backs (right-wing half, centre-half and left-wing half) and three "forwards" (right wing, inside right, centre forward, inside left and left wing).

Of those, the nearest to midfielders in the modern game would be the wing halves and the inside forwards. Sir Bobby Charlton was an inside forward. Edwards was a wing half.

But as Don Revie was quoted as saying:

You don't hear many professionals talk lightly of greatness because it is so rare, but that is what I saw in Duncan Edwards the first time I set eyes on him. He reached the same fabulous standard at left-half, centre-half, inside-left and centre-forward. He is the kind of player managers dream about.

And if he was fully fit all the time that is surely what you would expect Sir Alex to be saying about Rooney.

Of course, much of what we might say about Edwards must necessarily be speculation because he lost his life so young. But there are further comparisons.

When history is written, Rooney may be widely held to have been the greatest English footballer of his generation. Surely the same would have been true of Edwards had he lived.

The Dudley lad got his first cap for England at the age of 18 years and 183 days, a record which stood until Michael Owen came along in 1998. That was an extraordinary achievement in those days. Edwards played his first game in the old First Division aged 16 years 185 days.

Rooney broke Owen's record with his first England cap at just 17, but he made his competitive debut for Everton also at 16 and scored his first Premier League goal five days before his 17th birthday.

So truly they were both boy wonders.

It may be that Edwards started as a wing half and progressed to be able to play anywhere in what we would now call midfield, or up front. Rooney started up front and may well end up in midfield.

Edwards captained the England Schoolboys team at the age of 15. There are many who believe that, taking nothing away from the great Sir Bobby Moore, Edwards would have held up the World Cup in 1966 if he had lived. No doubt England would have gone on to have more success.


So what can we say in conclusion?

In some ways Edwards and Rooney are very different. But while both were quietly spoken, there is no way of knowing whether the modern day salaries and lifestyle would have changed Dudley-born Edwards.

If he had been playing today, he would surely be England captain and indeed Rooney may yet succeed Steven Gerrard in that role.

They were both nuts about football. It was their lives from being kids. So OK, Edwards entered into a carpenter's apprenticeship just in case he didn't make it as a footballer. His decision to join Manchester United may well have been made to increase his chances in that respect.

Both were prepared to play anywhere and do anything for arguably the two greatest football managers that ever lived, in Sir Matt Busby and Sir Alex Ferguson.

Duncan Edwards is already a legend despite being barely 21 when he died. He was a prodigy, as was Rooney. He might well have gone on to play well into his 30s as Rooney surely will. We can only guess as to whether his body shape would have given him similar problems.

In those days, as Denis Law found to his cost, players were given pain-killing injections to play through injuries. Edwards was a strong committed player, as is Rooney. We can only speculate about whether old injuries have been part of Rooney's problems in maintaining fitness.

Whatever the differences and the tragically young age that Duncan Edwards was taken from us, we can be sure of one thing.

In the years to come, both will be remembered as legends for Manchester United (unless of course Rooney joins City!)

Despite the difference in ages and lifestyle, both have done enough to be highly regarded forever.

It is to be hoped that Rooney will stay at Old Trafford to the end of his career, during which he would surely demonstrate further his versatility and utility for the team.

Edwards had already shown that.

Manchester United have been blessed by the talent of both.


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