The Wayne Rooney transfer saga continues to churn along, with every passing day another weight on the shoulders of every party involved. Two offers from Chelsea have already been declined by Manchester United, but as the transfer window gets narrower and narrower, a potential sale to the Blues could still be on the cards. That being said, Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich may do well to keep his wallet in his pocket – he may not need Rooney at all.
While Rooney is off with the England national team for a game against Scotland, the story has had its ups and downs for weeks now. He’s trained with the reserves and made it clear he wants out. Thing is, Manchester United will be keen to keep him, and will, at the very least, try not to sell him to another title contender.
As Alan Hansen wrote for The Telegraph, “There’s a golden rule in football: you never sell to your biggest rivals.” And while he argues that the Rooney transfer will dictate the result of the 2013 Premier League season that may not be the case at Chelsea.
The potential move to Chelsea would be the club’s first big move of the off-season. André Schürlle was just signed by the club after the German forward scored 11 goals last season with Bayer Leverkusen. Though he is an unproven commodity in the English Premier League, he, alongside Demba Ba (15 goals) and Fernando Torres (also 15 goals), give Chelsea three goal-scoring forwards to slot in up top.
Now, taking a look at Wayne Rooney and his 12 Premier League goals, it’s hard to see what the fuss is all about, but numbers alone do not define the hot-tempered Englishmen. Rooney is a mover on the field, able to create chances out of nothing and is constantly a danger in front of goal. There are certain elements to Rooney’s game that the likes of Torres, Ba and Schürlle don’t have, namely, a tenacity and a ferociousness moving forward coupled with a clutch element that makes him such a valuable player for Manchester United. Signing Rooney would significantly help Chelsea’s chances of winning the EPL title in the 2013/2014 season, and would cement their role as a favourite for the title.
However, there is one problem with Rooney’s potential move to Chelsea, and it’s the same reason he wants out at Manchester United – Rooney may not be the number one choice at Chelsea Football Club. He could very well play second-fiddle to Torres, and if Mourinho’s precedent of using only one forward up top holds true, he would need to compete with numerous forwards, many more than he had to compete against at Manchester United (we’re looking at you, Robin van Persie!). It’s safe to say that this is a major reason for Rooney’s desire to depart the club, since the rain of silverware hasn’t exactly dried up at Old Trafford.
Mourinho’s preference for a single striker is well documented. Besides using Didier Drogba at Chelsea, in Mourinho’s first year at Inter Milan, the tactician primarily used a 4-2-3-1, using Zlatan Ibrahimovic up top. He changed the formation in the second year of his tenure, using Samuel Eto’o and Diego Milito up top together, ultimately winning the UEFA Champions League. At Real Madrid, he once again switched to a single-striker formation, switching between Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuain up top. Mourinho, like many coaches in Europe, utilize powerful wingers in combination with attacking midfielders, the preferred formation being a 4-2-3-1 or the 4-3-3 and its many deviations.
At Manchester United, Rooney benefited from a flatter, 4-4-2 formation which allowed Shinji Kagawa and Antonio Valencia to move up the flanks and cross the ball in, but gave Rooney and Van Persie plenty of room up top to move around in. This is Rooney’s greatest strength, drifting from left to right, dropping back, pushing forward, and being mobile up top. At Chelsea, in Mourinho’s preferred style of play, Rooney’s preferred style of play would be detrimental to the roster’s natural line up. Juan Mata, Oscar and Eden Hazard each need their own space to connect with, and with Torres or Ba up top, Rooney would need to slot into an attacking midfield or second striker role. The problem is, he won’t have the kind of space he’s used to, since there are players like Juan Mata or Oscar pushing forward from the middle of the play as well as wingers who prefer to cut in than to cross.
If Chelsea stays in the same formation, there is simply no room for Rooney without dropping a starting player onto the bench. If Mourinho switches the formation to a two-forward model similar to his second season at Inter, Rooney will have much more room to operate up top but the line up would need to drop a defensive midfielder to allow for Chelsea’s attacking options to start. Mourinho used two defensive midfielders at Real Madrid and doesn’t look like changing this style in a much more physical EPL, either, so Rooney’s position and style on the field at Chelsea would need to be changed to accommodate for Chelsea’s style of play and not the other way around.
It’s not impossible, though – Rooney could very well adjust his game to fit with Chelsea’s, but the precedent with the English national team shows that this isn’t something Rooney can do on a whim. Rooney’s best games for England have come from having an open role up top while some of his effective games have come from being limited in his mobility due to defensive obligations or from sharing the role up top with players like Daniel Sturridge.
Second fiddle, Wayne Rooney is not, but at Chelsea, Rooney won’t be the only player up top. He’ll share the role with a (very) full cast and crew and while his quality makes him a valuable asset, he’ll have a hard time convincing managers to change their tactics and line-ups to best accommodate one player who may or may not be able to adjust to his new surroundings and teammates. If Rooney is looking to be “the” guy at Chelsea, well, maybe he’ll have to look somewhere else. As amazing as it would be to have a real-life duo of Jose Mourinho and Wayne Rooney, perhaps the idea should stay on Special 1 TV. The players and teams involved would be better off for it.